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Landmark College Student Excels in Education

Sam Mayo smiles for the camera, sitting on a park bench. He is wearing a light blue shirt, a patterned blue tie, and navy pants. He has short blond hair.

This article was originally published in the Johnson Scholarship Foundation’s 2023 annual report about Landmark College, a grantee partner of the foundation. Click here to read more content from the annual report.

Sam Mayo, a person with autism, had a significant speech impediment as a young boy. As he got older, school became more of a challenge. By junior high, he had been labeled a troublemaker. 

“His communication skills made it difficult for people to understand him,” his mother Stephanie Mayo said. “He would zone out but then come back, and Sam didn’t want to raise his ideas or questions. One teacher thought he was an incredible kid, but everyone else came down on him. That was heartbreaking.” 

Stephanie knew her son’s education was at stake, so she enrolled him in a homeschool resource center in their hometown of Lexington, South Carolina. When it was time to think about Sam’s future, Stephanie had to face a new challenge. She learned about Landmark College’s dual enrollment program from her sister, who taught science at the homeschool center. 

In 2022, the Mayos visited Landmark College to learn about the online dual enrollment program, which JSF helps fund through a matching grant. Located in Putney, Vermont, the college provides highly accessible learning approaches to individuals who learn differently. 

“I looked all over. Many schools had a department for kids who learn differently—but these kids don’t have a neon sign,” said Stephanie, explaining that not every student learns the same way. “As soon as we got on campus, I knew what Landmark was about. It was an easy decision.” 

“He was excited and also a bit apprehensive about dual enrollment, college-level education,” she wrote in an email. “[Landmark went] out of their way to make him feel heard, accepted, and understood.” 

Just two weeks after Sam started taking classes, his attitude toward schoolwork changed. That fall, Stephanie learned about the Johnson Scholarship. 

“We knew the tuition cost—we were looking at the yearly tab thinking, ‘Oh, help!’” she recalled. “The scholarship covered nearly all of the costs, and gave Sam the opportunity to get to know Landmark’s style and prepare for an actual college experience.” 

“As soon as we got on campus, I knew what Landmark was about. It was an easy decision.”

Sam is currently a freshman* at Landmark, where he says he’s glad to be near other students with autism. Sending a child to college is a big change for any parent. Still, Stephanie says she feels safe knowing her son is at Landmark. 

“For the first time in his life, [Sam] is interested in his own education and pushing himself,” she said. “We are so proud of him, and I tell him that all the time.”

 

 

Sam Mayo was a freshman at the time this article was written.

When Discussing Diversity and Inclusion, Include People with Disabilities

This item originally appeared on the website of Minnesota Diversified Industries.

Minnesota has come a long way when it comes to diversity and inclusion in the workplace. We’ve learned that our differences are assets, and diversity of thought, experience and identity translates into meaningful work, success and growth, no matter the industry. Companies and their leaders have made commitments to diversity and inclusion, setting goals and benchmarks for success – but most of those commitments are missing a huge piece of the puzzle.

People with disabilities represent an untapped workforce that is continually left out of the diversity and inclusion conversation in the business community, and it shows. While Minnesota faces a deepening workforce shortage, individuals with disabilities are 2.6 times more likely to be unemployed than the general population among people ages 18-64, according to a 2017 report from the Minnesota State Demographic Center.

MDI employees work in a sterile room to package items such as medical supplies.
MDI employees work in a sterile room to package items such as medical supplies.

At MDI, we operate on a social-enterprise model, successfully hiring and training people with disabilities who make up nearly 45 percent of our 450 employees. Our operations in plastics manufacturing and assembly services are second to none, providing high-quality and efficient services to everyone from food distributors to medical device companies to the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx, UPS and Amazon. People with disabilities bring unique skills and talents to the table that make our organization great, and it doesn’t take much to create an inclusive environment for them. Support, limited accommodations and focusing on their abilities – instead of disabilities – are the key ingredients to creating an inclusive and productive culture for people with disabilities.

Businesses cannot be truly diverse if people with disabilities are continuingly ignored on leadership agendas and in diversity, equity and inclusion statements. In honor of October’s National Disability Employment Awareness month, we are calling on all of Minnesota’s incredible organizations, both large and small, to reexamine or rewrite their diversity and inclusion statements to intentionally include people with disabilities.

We know that our differences make us stronger – but it takes inclusion to make them matter. Unified work brings us one step closer to realizing it.

Peter McDermott is president and CEO of Minnesota Diversified Industries, Inc., a not for profit social enterprise serving people with disabilities by offering inclusive employment opportunities and services.

Looking Closer: Raising Expectations of People with Disabilities Helps Us All Move Forward

This item originally appeared on the Campaign for Disability Employment’s blog.

It is not unusual for waiters and waitresses to look only briefly at my son Jacob before turning to ask me what he would like to eat. With a shrug, I almost always say the same thing: Ask him.

Jacob, 26, has apparent physical and cognitive disabilities. His arms sometimes hang awkwardly, and his eyes can wander. His speech isn’t always fluid. To many, it is the appearance of someone lacking agency—someone who needs help. It’s an appearance that belies a keen sense of observation, strong personal desires and a quick wit. Jacob knows what he wants. Ask, and he’ll tell you.

When meeting him, even people who interact regularly with people with disabilities tend to speak at enhanced volumes and reduced speeds. When this happens, Jacob will ask them why, and, ironically, check that they are okay (his emotional intelligence and sense of humor have always outpaced those of others his age). These exchanges are mostly innocuous and even funny, if not a bit awkward for the would-be do-gooders. But they reveal a worrisome truth about our society.

The term “stigma” is often used in the context of discrimination. And although stigma is certainly problematic, it is not always actively pernicious. Those waiters are not avoiding Jacob to be insulting. They are trying to spare him embarrassment — and perhaps themselves some discomfort. But in doing so, they rob him of his voice and his volition. For whom is that good?

Society has certain expectations of people: expectations of education, of employment, of contributions to the common good. But, for totally outdated and cynical reasons, those expectations do not typically extend to those with disabilities, especially when it comes to work. Rather, it’s seen as a miracle that they get out of bed in the morning.

Smart people — and smart businesses — do not subscribe to this tyranny of low expectations, however. Rather, they know that including people from all walks of life, with different perspectives and experiences, is the key to success. People with disabilities are above all problem solvers; in the workplace, this translates into innovative thinking. It’s no coincidence that businesses that excel at disability inclusion — for instance, those recognized as National Organization on Disability (NOD) Leading Disability Employers™ — are among the nation’s, and in fact world’s, most successful organizations.

National Organization on Disability logo

As president of NOD, I have the privilege of working with these companies, as well as those at different points in their disability inclusion journeys. Those more towards the beginning often have the same question: What kinds of jobs can people with disabilities do?

There are more than 50 million Americans with disabilities in the United States today, constituting a remarkably diverse group that includes people with Autism, asthma and arthritis, as well as cancer, depression, dyslexia and myriad other conditions. They are black and white, young and old; they live in Brooklyn, San Francisco and Iowa City. No two people have the same talents or interests — regardless of disability status. So, what kind of jobs can people with disabilities do? Any jobs that people can do.

The frequency with which this question is asked was a significant driver for NOD in launching the Look Closer campaign, as well as joining the Campaign for Disability Employment. Through these initiatives, we are working to recast Americans with disabilities as a capable, untapped workforce, with new terminology and new archetypes. The key is sharing their stories. Some of the individuals featured in our Look Closer campaign are low-skilled, hourly workers. Others are senior managers and C-level leaders. In almost every case, the individual’s disability played either no role in their career whatsoever or created competitive advantages. It turns out, disability has very little to do with ability.

So, have people with disabilities failed to exceed the low bar set for them? Or has society failed to set the bar high enough? It’s time for us all to look closer at our beliefs, expectations, and yes, our stereotypes.

Carol Glazer is president of the National Organization on Disability. For more information about the Look Closer campaign and how individuals and employers can get involved, visit nod.org/lookcloser.

Creating Career Pathways at Mount Allison University

Life had thrown him another curve ball! He had always bounced back, had worked through them and make it out the other side. This time it was different. The circumstances seemed to be beyond his control. He was tired and ready to give up. By the time he came to my office, he was not going to write his last exam that would qualify him for graduation. He had studied for five years, had contributed to university athletics, had given of his time to help first-year students. But he was done! This setback was more than he could imagine overcoming. He was ready to throw it all away. He didn’t care anymore and didn’t have the energy to go on.

Two women at a desk looking at a laptop screen

Then came along a professor who believed in him and she had an opportunity to help: a unique internship with an organization where she knew he could shine and be valued. But she needed funding to make it happen. When we dug into every pot of funding we had left, we came up short. The professor persevered; she wasn’t going to give up on him and neither were we.

Our fundraising office had an idea. Find a philanthropist who would be interested in funding an internship for a student with a disability. The philanthropist loved the idea and those few dollars were life-changing. The Johnson Scholarship Foundation (JSF) Pathways Program was developed to have three components: pre-orientation programing, pre-graduation programing, and professional development and experiential learning opportunities in between, in the form of internships designated for Meighen Centre students.

Teacher speaking with a student in an office

My student completed his degree requirements and was awarded his bachelor’s degree. He is now onto his second job and doing something he would never have imagined doing three or four years ago. His sights are set on graduate school where he can further his skills. That’s the power of philanthropy and the JSF Pathways Program at Mount Allison University.

Anne Comfort is the Director of Accessibility and Student Wellness at Mount Allison University. She is also the co-chair of the CACUSS (Canadian Association of College and University Student Services) Community of Practice on Inclusion and Accessibility.

‘Hearing But Deaf All the Same’

This essay originally appeared in The Washington Post.

On the deafness scale of mild, moderate, severe or profound, I am profoundly deaf. With the help of cochlear implants, I am able to “hear” and speak. The devices are complicated to explain, but basically, external sound processors, worn behind the ears, send a digital signal to the implants, which convert the signal to electric impulses that stimulate the hearing nerve and provide sound signals to the brain. The implants allow me to attend my middle school classes with few accommodations, but I’m still quite different from people who hear naturally. When my implant processors are turned off, I don’t hear anything.

I regard myself as a deaf person, and I am proud to be among those who live with deafness, yet I often feel rejected by some of these same people. My use of cochlear implants and lack of reliance on American Sign Language (I use it but am not fluent — I primarily speak) are treated like a betrayal by many in the Deaf — capital-D — community. In the view of many who embrace Deaf culture, a movement that began in the 1970s, those who are integrated into the hearing world through technology, such as hearing aids or cochlear implants, myself included, are regarded as “not Deaf enough” to be a part of the community.

People deaf from birth or through illness or injury already face discrimination. I wish we didn’t practice exclusion among ourselves. But it happens, and it’s destructive.

Those in the Deaf community tend to think of deafness as a defining factor of who they are and how they live. Many have never heard anything and have never communicated by speaking. That is a different experience from mine, but, in the end, none of us can hear without assistance. I think much of the tension between the Deaf and the deaf stems from this inability to completely experience each other’s lives.

Deaf child holding a toy and pointingMany Deaf people, and hearing people, think of cochlear implants as a “solution” to deafness. It isn’t. The technology simply helps me live with my deafness in a certain way. My parents decided to get cochlear implants for me when I was a year old because they felt that I would have an easier life with them. Whether this is true or not I’ll never know. But in making the decision, my parents debated many pros and cons of cochlear implants. It is a debate that tens of thousands of parents have had since the implants became a practical option in the 1980s.

My parents felt that the implants would give me more opportunities, but they worried that my having them would close off my access to a Deaf identity. They worried I would be rebuffed by Deaf people who did not understand what it’s like to live with cochlear implants.

I’m sorry to say that my parents were right. They hired a Deaf ASL teacher to work with me when I was only a few months old, but she stopped coming after she found out that I would be getting cochlear implants. When I was a toddler, I was unwelcome in an ASL playgroup. My parents did eventually find a Deaf ASL teacher who respected my family’s choice. I’ve dealt with hearing people not understanding my deafness — staring at the equipment, asking insensitive questions, congratulating me on “passing” in the hearing world — and I’ve dealt with Deaf people denying it. I’m glad to be part of my school community, acting in plays, singing (and signing) in the chorus and studying spoken French, and I’m grateful for all that I can access because of my cochlear implants. Still, I avoid swimming with hearing friends and attending sleepovers because I need to take my implant processors off in water and for sleeping.

white crumpled paper

I recently found a crumpled piece of paper I wrote on four years ago, when I was 10. It read: “There is a color between yellow and green that no one can agree on: I think of cochlear implants — hearing but deaf all the same.” I will always feel separated from the hearing world in important ways; I have also had to live with feeling excluded by a community that might have provided assurance that I wasn’t alone, that others felt the same way.

I hope that in the future, deaf children — regardless of whether they wear technology, speak or sign — will grow up with a sense of being accepted. To achieve that, we in the deaf world need to see each other for our similarities, accept that we may never agree on this issue, and start working together.

Juliet is a ninth grade student in Massachusetts, and a former student at JSF grantee partner Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech. She enjoys drawing, acting and playing Ultimate Frisbee.

Unwrapping the Gift of Potential at Clarke

The spirit of the season filled the classrooms on a recent day at Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech in Jacksonville, Florida.

Clarke Schools LogoIn one class, a teacher led her energetic preschoolers in an assignment that involved decorating a Christmas tree. Later that morning, a student practiced her language skills by reading her letter to Santa aloud to a group of visitors. Schoolwide, classes were preparing for an upcoming holiday concert.

Other than the hearing aids and cochlear implants worn by the children, the scene was no different than in any other preschool anywhere.

Administrators at Clarke know that visitors are sometimes surprised when they visit one of their campuses for the first time. In a post for Giving Matters earlier this year, Chief Development Officer Lillian Rountree challenged anyone new to Clarke to “just spend a few moments with our preschoolers to see—and hear—the potential.”

Young girl holding a toy out for a womanFor me as a first-time visitor, that definitely was the case, even though I was aware that Clarke is where deaf and hard of hearing children learn to listen and speak.

Clarke has been involved in this work for some time. In fact, 2017 has been a year of celebration for Clarke, which has been serving deaf children and those with hearing loss for 150 years. Its Jacksonville location also celebrated its 20th anniversary this year.

Indeed, there is much to celebrate. Clarke serves more than 1,300 children annually at its five campuses along the East Coast. In addition to the one in Jacksonville, there are campuses in Boston and Northampton, Massachusetts; New York, New York; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Clarke has the ability to reach thousands more children and their families through programs like its Early Intervention Program and its Telepractice Virtual Intervention Services for Infants and Toddlers, or tVISIT. Through tVISIT, Clarke can serve families in distant locations through video conferencing.

Young girl reading a paper while teacher watchesJSF provided financial support for the tVISIT program. Over the past 10 years, the Foundation has provided grants for many other purposes as well, including residential scholarships, website upgrades and support of the Early Intervention Program.

I was excited to learn that in addition to the tVISIT program, another way in which Clarke reaches beyond its borders is by providing internships for student teachers who are interested in working with children who are deaf or hard of hearing. Some 60 education students from Florida colleges and universities complete their practicum requirements at Clarke Jacksonville each year, helping to fill a need for skilled teachers of the deaf.

Not surprisingly, the leadership at Clarke Jacksonville can attest to many success stories. Co-Director Alisa Demico has been at the site since it was founded two decades ago, and she remains in touch with many of the students who were in the very first preschool class. Today, most of those students either have graduated or are attending college, she said.

That is likely welcome news for many Clarke parents. For them, a bright future for their children is not just a holiday wish. At Clarke, it is becoming reality, each and every day.

Cracks in ‘Talent Pipeline’ Pose Risks for Employers, College Students With Disabilities

The following previously appeared in the Huffington Post and has been reprinted with permission.

National Organization on Disability logoAs the leader of a national organization focused on employment for people with disabilities, I routinely have the privilege of visiting places that are doing some remarkable work to advance the issue. My travels of late took me to two notable college campuses: Edinboro University, just outside of Erie, Pennsylvania, which has committed to excellence in accommodations for students with disabilities; and Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in upstate New York, which has dedicated itself to helping students with disabilities access jobs upon graduation, better ensuring their long-term economic security.

Frankly, America’s colleges and universities would do well to examine what RIT and other leaders in career services are doing right, because many, if not most, are getting it wrong. Nationally, students with disabilities take twice as long to secure a job after graduation. And of the 1.4 million college students with disabilities, about 60-percent of them can expect to not find a job when they graduate. Talk about a harsh dose of reality for young people who simply want to contribute.

Man working on a laptop with coffeeWhen I talk with employers, which is just about every day, they tell me their inability to hire new graduates with disabilities is not due to a lack of qualified candidates, but rather a lack of access. We at the National Organization on Disability decided to take a closer look at this issue recently, which resulted in a white paper titled Bridging the Employment Gap for Students with Disabilities.

Our research, along with guidance from partners such as Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities and the National Association of Colleges and Employers, resulted in a series of recommendations that colleges and universities can take right now. Chief among them, and it’s one that RIT is executing quite well, is better coordination and communication between each school’s career services and disability offices, which respectively have access to “disability-friendly” employers and job seekers with disabilities. It may seem simple, yet so few schools get this right. At RIT, students engaged in this new model of information sharing report excellent results, with all early participants obtaining employment.

MicroscopeA closer look at this issue reveals that, while as a nation, we have become increasingly proficient at creating employment opportunities for people with disabilities in entry-level positions, employers have yet to build a robust talent pipeline for professional positions. This is a particularly pressing problem for employers looking for candidates with STEM backgrounds. One would think our institutions of higher education would be the ideal place to fill up that pipeline.

However, most professional-level jobs require not only a college degree, but frequently up to five years of work experience. This is a Catch 22 for the majority of all college-educated jobseekers, not just jobseekers with disabilities. But what we’re learning is that these experience requirements may be overly restrictive and are inadvertently screening out graduates with disabilities that could perform well in professional jobs with the right training.

This was underscored in a new study from the Association of American Colleges and Universities, in which employers evaluated students in skill areas such as being innovative, solving complex problems and working with others. Employers did not rank college grads highly in those key categories. Yet, talk with a person who has navigated the streets in a wheelchair for ten years or dealt with the medical establishment on a daily basis, and you’ll find a job candidate who excels in all three areas. Employers should reexamine requirements that might be unnecessarily restrictive – particularly federal contractors who must now seek to satisfy new federal disability employment targets – and potentially gain new sources of inventive and resourceful talent.

Inclusion drives innovation posterThis summer, our nation will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the ADA. We have taken tremendous strides forward in improving access to employment for people with disabilities. But if we cannot solve the issue of how to connect talented young people with disabilities to meaningful employment, we will have not only wasted an historic opportunity to close this seemingly intractable employment gap, but we will yet again be wasting the talents of people who have much to contribute and deserve the opportunity to participate in the American Dream.

 

Taking the Long View

Eight years ago a young man named Miguel was in his last year of Philadelphia’s Northeast High School when his teacher referred him to the Marriott Foundation’s Bridges from School to Work (Bridges) program. Like thousands of public school seniors across the country receiving special education services, Miguel’s postsecondary options seemed both daunting and uncertain. He needed the targeted interventions that a program like Bridges has mastered over nearly three decades of serving more than 22,000 youth. He needed an adult mentor who would steer him through the complex process of school-to-work transition. He needed help bridging the gap between high school and the world of work.

Bridges logoAs with all Bridges participants, Miguel availed himself of job readiness and employability skills instruction aimed at preparing him for what to expect in the competitive workforce, a milieu that sometimes tolerates fewer mistakes and grants fewer second chances. But Miguel was committed and earnest in his pursuit of employment, so with the assistance and encouragement from Bridges, he was successful in landing his first job with a Walgreens as a customer service associate. Miguel’s punctuality and dependability at Walgreens demonstrated his potential for the demands of fast-paced production environment with Philadelphia’s Union Packaging, a company that manufactures containers for fast food and casual dining restaurants.

At Union Packaging Miguel proved himself able in keeping pace with complex machinery as it churned out food containers to be packaged and shipped to restaurants across the country. He received both pay increases and increases in responsibility. But Miguel’s story doesn’t end there. Not only did he keep in touch with Bridges over the years by sharing his job and career updates he continued to press ahead with efforts to grow and better himself. Miguel recently completed training qualifying him to join Philadelphia’s SEPTA’s Police Department. Now 26, he’s pictured here…..

Miguel Cuevas Police Academy graduationA story like Miguel’s is timely. October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) when programs like Bridges shine a light on the great work of many in business, philanthropy, and government alike in efforts to break down barriers for persons with disabilities to achieve their employment and career aspirations.

It’s the stories of young men and women like Miguel that help the Marriott Foundation’s Bridges program earn a reputation for practicing evidence-based strategies that lead to jobs that build self-esteem, maturity, and independence. Stories like Miguel’s — and there are thousands of them — demonstrate to stakeholders and funders the value of our work. Stories like these attest to the return on investment for grantors who want to see quantifiable and tangible results.

Inclusion drives innovation poster

Taking the long view, showing commitment and building trust — these are key characteristics essential for young workers to learn in the world of competitive work. They are equally essential to building successful partnerships with program supporters in the competitive world of grant-making and grant-seeking.  Similar to our work with youth, the funding and support partnerships begin with assessment and the readiness of parties to enter into a partnership. And these stage-setting steps cannot be shortchanged. Openness on timing, deepening knowledge through site visits, collaboratively scoping plans, to the benefit of all, are essential to the long-term success of the partnership. And taking the employment analogy one step further, the genuine commitment to long-term partnership allows both grantee and the funder to look at the partnership as an investment with an expected return.

In real terms, the long-term matching grant from Johnson Scholarship Foundation to Marriott Foundation Bridges allows the organization to position our school-to-work services as social impact seeking added capital to grow, expand and deliver a return for investors and clients alike. This approach is leading to the expansion of Bridges services in Ft. Worth, Boston, and New York City in addition to the nine other cities already serves.

NDEAM celebrates ability and value people with disabilities bring to the workforce, and let us further acknowledge that the lessons learned from successful employment experiences parallel the relationships and partnership we build together.

A Recipe for Success, Part 2

In honor of National Disabilities Employment Awareness Month, we bring you the second in a two-part series on the Johnson Scholarship Program. Now in its 26th year, the program provides scholarships for students with disabilities and a network of support services to enhance student success.

Research shows that there is a great gap between educational expectations and reality for students with disabilities.

A 2006 National Longitudinal Transition Study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs and Institute of Education Sciences showed that 85 percent of youth with disabilities plan to complete some form of post-secondary education (26 percent expected to complete a post-secondary vocational, technical or trade school; 34 percent expected to graduate from a two-year college; 25 percent expected to graduate from a four-year college). However, the same study also indicates that only one in 10 of these students actually complete any sort of post-secondary education (5 percent graduated from a post-secondary vocational, technical or trade school; 4 percent graduated from a two-year college; 1 percent graduated from a four-year college).

Group of students pointing towards Disability Resource CenterThe Johnson Scholarship Program helps to narrow the gap between expectation and attainment. Data kept by Florida Atlantic University finds that 66.1 percent of the students receiving at least one scholarship disbursement have graduated and another 20 percent are still enrolled in post-secondary education. The role of the Disability Support Services (DSS) office in helping students through this process cannot be overstated.

The good work of the DSS in delivering the scholarship program to students is enabled by its partnership with the Johnson Scholarship Foundation and the Florida Board of Governors’ office. The scholarship program depends upon a unique collaboration among the philanthropic, higher education and legislative sectors.

State university system of florida board of governors logoThe Board of Governors Office performs essential leadership functions. It serves as a liaison between the Foundation and the universities, disseminates information on best practices, and helps to standardize processes. It manages and distributes the scholarship money to the various SUSF schools and it also provides expertise on legislative and policy changes that might affect students with disabilities.

The Board of Governors scales the support of students with disabilities to a state level, providing a greater platform for advocacy and building allies across sector lines in Florida. Such allies are invaluable as students with disabilities graduate from college and pursue employment.

At the heart of the partnership among JSF, the Board of Governor’s Office and the campus DSS is a one-day annual meeting, convened by JSF. The purpose of this meeting is to review the performance of the scholarship program, discuss developments affecting students with disabilities and best practices and opportunities for learning and collaboration. Professionals from outside the SUSF are sometimes invited to attend the annual meeting and speak on issues relevant to students with disabilities and their educators.

Group photo of peopleThe underlying reason for JSF’s mission in education is to facilitate meaningful employment. Unfortunately, there is huge underemployment of people with disabilities, even those with university degrees. According to the Current Population Survey (CPS) data released in June 2017, the unemployment rates for people with disabilities is more than double the rate for people without disabilities. The under employment of students with disabilities has been a recurring topic of discussion at JSF Scholarship annual meetings.

The Johnson Scholarship Program for students with disabilities is based upon a unique working relationship among JSF, the State of Florida, the SUSF and the university campuses, particularly the DSS at each campus. It is this partnership that has made the scholarship program successful. We have repeatedly noted that the real value of the program is in the work of the people involved (rather than the money).

Graphic saying "we're all able to do anything!"The program builds on infrastructure, expertise and resources that are already in place in the state of Florida.  The Board of Governors is the governing body for its 12 state universities and DSS are well established at each campus. The delivery of the Scholarship Program causes additional work for these partners but the incremental cost is small compared to the benefits.

The JSF SUSF Scholarship Program is a proven winner that is easily replicable in other states. The administrative machinery, DSS and a philanthropic sector are already in place. All that is required is an individual or group of individuals to champion the program.

For more information about Johnson Scholarship Foundation, visit www.jsf.bz.

A Recipe for Success

In honor of National Disabilities Employment Awareness Month, we bring you the first in a two-part series on the Johnson Scholarship Program. Now in its 26th year, the program provides scholarships for students with disabilities and a network of support services to enhance student success.

What if scholarships weren’t really about the money?

As a private philanthropic foundation, the Johnson Scholarship Foundation invests to obtain the highest possible rate of return. The return on its scholarship grants is defined by the rate of successful matriculation and completion of post-secondary education.

JSF has learned that scholarships that include wraparound support are more likely to help a student to succeed. Money provides the financial stability and opportunity for post-secondary education, but it is not what gets a student through. Non-monetary supports attached to a scholarship contribute more to post-secondary success than money. This is especially true for students with disabilities.

state university system of florida board of governors logoJSF’s scholarship for people with disabilities attending a school within the State University System of Florida (SUSF) delivers both scholarship and non-monetary support by way of a collaboration of JSF, the SUSF and the Florida Legislature. Scholarships are awarded to students with disabilities who enroll at any one of the 12 SUSF campuses.

The program was founded in 1991. It began with an agreement between JSF’s founder, Theodore Johnson, and the State of Florida, which was expressed by an Act of the Legislature entitled “…The Johnson Scholarship Program.”  This Act provides for a scholarship program for students with disabilities to be funded by JSF. It also provides for a 50 percent state match for JSF grants and charges the Department of Education to administer the program.

Over the past 26 years JSF has made grants exceeding $9 million, which have all gone to student scholarships, together with the state match. However, the State’s commitment to administer the scholarship program has proven even more valuable than its matching funding.

Johnson Scholarship Foundation logoThe Florida Board of Governor’s office and each campus of the State University System form the backbone of a comprehensive student support system, which accompanies the scholarship. This is the secret sauce that makes the scholarship work. The award of the scholarship may capture a student’s attention, but the real magic of the scholarship lies in the mentoring and assistance that goes with it.

This is not to downplay the importance of money. Without it, JSF has no mission and there are no scholarships. Money is assuredly the main course. But it is the secret sauce that enables students to sit down and stay for dinner. And it is the secret sauce that students remember long afterward. Scholarships plus Supports equals Achievement ($ + S = A).

Secret sauce can be defined as the personal, non-monetary support, wrapped around the scholarship. The Disability Support Services (DSS) at each campus plays a critical role. It advertises the scholarship, receives the applications, leads the selection process, makes the award and provides ongoing support to scholarship recipients. JSF believes that the DSS’ ownership and control of this scholarship process and the support that they provide to each student throughout their college careers is central to the increased persistence and graduation rates of students with disabilities on each campus.

inclusion drives innovation posterThe scholarship program provides reciprocal benefits to the DSS offices, one of which is enhanced awareness of disability issues in other areas of the university. Ten of the 12 DSSs surveyed indicated that they use a selection committee to determine scholarship recipients. The selection committees are comprised of faculty and professionals drawn from various university departments. This increases knowledge of the special aspects and requirements of students with disabilities, thus producing allies for these students across campus. Another enhancement of the DSS profile within the university stems from a supplementary matching grant for scholarships that JSF offers to each SUSF campus. The local DSS office typically takes a leadership role in negotiating the grant and advocating for the matching funds within the university and the development office.

The most important reciprocal benefit that the scholarship provides is the enhanced opportunities for students to connect with the DSS staff and services. Eight out of 12 DSS offices report an increase in the use of services because the scholarship has heightened awareness of the office and the services it has to offer.

The enhanced relationship between the DSS and scholarship recipient gives the DSS access to the recipient’s academic progress. Some schools take advantage of this to determine when they need to offer appropriate guidance, support or to consider or reconsider accommodations. Even the act of applying for the scholarship can help students form social and support networks.

Ability Not Disability Graphic

The benefits of mentoring and support for post-secondary students, particularly those at risk, seem self-evident. Anecdotal evidence abounds. However, there is not much reported research. In Mentoring Individuals with Disabilities in Postsecondary Education: A Review of the Literature, Brown, Takahashi, and Roberts find distinct themes in the research that was available:

Within these 10 articles, however, several themes did emerge, including: a) the positive role of technology; b) the desire to use current mentees to become future mentors; c) a focus on specific disability groups, such as learning disabilities, psychiatric disabilities, and disabilities perceived as mild; d) the usefulness of mentoring for academic, career, and social skills; and e) the value of establishing long-term mentoring relationships.

The DSS at each SUSF campus responds to most of the themes identified by the authors. These offices typically provide adaptive technology, expertise and focus on specific disability groups, academic and social mentoring and long-term relationships. The JSF Scholarship Program also strengthens long-term relationships between the DSS and scholarship recipients. In addition to the annual application and award process, local DSS offices organize recognition events attended by students, parents and faculty. Many times, JSF representatives are in attendance as well.

Next week: Bridging the gap between educational expectations and reality for students with  disabilities.