Government of Alberta: New funding to make post-secondary more inclusive for students with developmental disabilites

LETHBRIDGE – The University of Lethbridge is joining with 19 other post-secondary institutions in Alberta to offer more educational opportunities to students with developmental disabilities.

On Monday, July 16, Minister of Community and Social Services Irfan Sabir announced the province is providing more than $575,000 to help Inclusion Alberta support six students at the U of L and Portage College.

Sabir says the funding will provide additional opportunities for people with developmental disabilities to pursue post-secondary education.

“I think first and foremost it’s important for a government to have opportunities available to everyone in this province. Everyone belongs, and in particular, a person with developmental disabilities deserves a chance, an opportunity to be successful and live a meaningful life,” Sabir said.

In a release, the province states students with disabilities gain experience by doing the same assignments, practicums and exams as their peers, but with the added support of classmates and inclusive post-secondary facilitators.

The funding to Inclusion Alberta’s Inclusive Post-Secondary Education program brings the total number of participates universities and colleges to 20 – making Alberta a world leader in supporting inclusive post-secondary education for people with developmental disabilities.

Post-Secondary institutions already offering inclusive education opportunities:
– Athabasca University
– Bow Valley College
– Concordia University College of Alberta
– Grande Prairie Regional College
– Keyano College
– Lakeland College
– Lethbridge College
– MacEwan University
– Medicine Hat College
– Mount Royal University
– Norquest College
– Prairie Bible Institute
– Red Deer College
– St. Mary’s University College
– The King’s University College
– University of Alberta
– University of Alberta (Augustana Campus)
– University of Calgary

“As a government, we are always looking to expand those opportunities to every nook and corner of this province,” Sabir continued. “In total, there are 67 students in the province that are so far supported by Inclusion Alberta.”

Sabir says he’s met with Inclusion Alberta, parents of students, and some students who are now entering into the program.

“Education makes a difference in the lives of an individual, and everybody is really excited about this opportunity. You can see so many people showed up here for this announcement, so certainly they’re excited about these opportunities on their campus as well,” Sabir added.

Inclusion Alberta provides a range of programs and services that help people with developmental disabilities live their best lives in their communities.

Barbara Nish, a past president of Inclusion Alberta, says part of the work that they do is all about community inclusion.

“Real inclusion, not just the integration, but the inclusive piece of it. While I was president of the association, inclusive post-secondary was just an extension of everything else. We believe in those normal pathways that people follow in their lives, and post-secondary education for a lot of people is part of that pathway,” Nish said.

IA works in partnership with government departments, schools, employers, service agencies and community organizations to ensure the concerns of Albertans with developmental disabilities and their families are heard.

The Ministry of Community and Social Services is investing more than $4.7 million from April 1, 2017, to March 31, 2019, to support Inclusion Alberta’s IPSE program and Rotary Employment Partnership.

Nish says it gives her goosebumps to think about the opportunities that will now be available for so many students who never thought they would be.

“We’ve been working with this for a long time and we really and truly understand the benefit it has, not just for the student, but for their families and for the community in general,” she continued. “I appreciated some of the remarks that talked about what other people can learn from having students who are different, who fall outside the norm if you will, and being apart of a collective where they can proudly say they’re a student of the University of Lethbridge, or Portage College, or Lethbridge College.”

From what she understands, Nish says the money will go towards development and the hiring of staff who will then provide that support to the University and the students themselves.

“The person who does the inclusive post-secondary stuff at the University will work both with the professors and teachers as well as the students and families. I can’t say where every dollar will go, but I know that is a piece of it. Starting with three students here, three students at Portage and I know there are three students at Medicine Hat College, it begins to set the atmosphere,” Nish said, adding it sets the tone for the future.

“Maybe in another couple of years we’d be able to increase the number of students benefiting from the program.”

As far as interest in the program is concerned, those involved in the announcement believe it will be there in Lethbridge.

“I know that in many post-secondary institutions where this is an initiative, many times the applications far exceed the number of actual spots there are. Whether that’s the case here I’m not certain, but I have a feeling there could be a waiting list or the potential for more students interested than spots available,” Nish said