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3rd FIG meeting (11/25/19)

At our 3rd FIG meeting of the Fall, six FIG participants attended, and in honor of November being National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), we focused on employment transitions for students with Intellectual Disability and other disabilities. Below is the Celebrate NDEAM website that Lisa shared with stories of successful employment transitions for people with a variety of disabilities, including Intellectual Disability: https://www.ndrn.org/resource/ndeam/?eType=EmailBlastContent&eId=42280600-5522-4708-8632-f7f1844c33ec

In terms of announcements, Sam shared with us the big news that he is moving to another AHRC position, and will no longer be working on KCC’s campus. He is also applying to a drama therapy program at NYU for next Fall, which sounds exciting! It is sad to see him go after just getting to know him, but we wish him well. We are not sure yet who will be taking over his position for Melissa Riggio on KCC’s campus. In other news, Stella and Nick will be attending a meeting with people from CUNY Central on December 9th about CUNY Unlimited and we look forward to their report-back with further information from that event.

We then discussed the film “Summer in the Forest” (trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLf1rx2RPrE) and decided to collectively buy it and watch it together as a group. We are interested in the alternative the film provides to institutionalization and other ableist ways of treating people with disabilities, as well as its inspiring example of how people taking action may be able to change how we conceive of disability on a large scale. This imagine the film will likely be useful to the Education Program in general, and can be loaned out to other faculty for viewing or use in their classes.

Finally, Nick shared with us an insightful presentation on his experiences working to help students with disabilities prepare for transition to employment. What Nick spoke about illustrated both the extreme challenges in finding employment (especially for students with visible disabilities, who face discrimination), as well as the hopeful glimmers we may be able to build on. Nick illustrated how just tackling the basics – preparing a resume, cover letter, and obtaining references – are often completely new experiences for these students, and ones which take them quite a while to learn. Templates are useful for resumes and especially the cover letter, which can appear very abstract to students. References can be difficult, as students have often fallen out of touch with former work mates, or have trouble getting back in touch with their previous jobs, if they have previous work experience.

Nick also shared that “Ken’s Crew” (started by the Langone family who have family members with disabilities) has been one of the most successful models that he has seen for transitions for students with Learning Disability, Autism Spectrum Disability, and mild Intellectual Disability. What makes it successful seem to include a large budget, direct connections with Home Depot, and previously Fairway and CVS, job coaching and transitional services, and an ability to “hold” a job for someone until a position opens. The process of applying and obtaining work also seems much faster and less burdened by paperwork and long strings of mass job visits and other meetings than his experience working through Access VR (formerly VESID).

Takeaways for faculty from his presentation were to always be prepared to serve as references for students with disabilities (which often does not involve a letter, but merely being willing to serve as a reference). Another recommendation was to avoid giving artificially inflated “pity grades,” as this sometimes needlessly prolongs the time that students spend taking classes, and may just be setting them up for academic failure at a later stage. Nick has found that many times an academic track may not be the right one for such students, and they could more quickly transition into the job market in a beneficial way. Above all, Nick and the rest of us hope that we will see a centralized and concerted effort on the part of CUNY Unlimited to make strong connections with employers who are willing to hire students with disabilities – or at least offer internships or part-time employment with possibility for later full-time hiring. It appears that thus far these direct industry connections are too often lacking in CUNY’s work to facilitate employment transitions. We know this is a challenging area for students with disabilities due to societal discrimination and business profit motives above human considerations, but we hope to learn more about the employment landscape and advocate for more job opportunities for students with disabilities.

We’ll be back for more in Spring, 2020!

2nd FIG meeting (10/28/19)

On 10/29/19, our FIG met for the second time. Sam shared that Melissa Riggio’s (MR’s) work continues to forge ahead, and he met with a variety of department chairs to share the new changes where MR students will become more integrated into CUNY classes, Blackboard, and so forth. The chairs seemed receptive he reported. Also, an email to faculty in the next few months is being crafted to announce their (optional) opportunity to have an MR student audit their class.

Stella provided a helpful update from Chris Rosa at CUNY Central on the rollout of CUNY Unlimited. Chris sent out an application to the US Education Department on behalf of CUNY Unlimited that includes the success of MR Students who are living in the dorms at College of Staten Island, which is a component the US Education Department was interested in, among others. They are also working on a different type of Title 9 training for CUNY Unlimited students (the current one is all online, and would be difficult to follow for them).

Chris also said that CUNY Unlimited students will pay tuition and student fees, making them full-fledged CUNY students who can join clubs and student government. This likely puts them on the “academic side” of the university rather than the “continuing education” side administratively, though this may end up being the decision of each individual campus (unclear who would make this decision, and with whose input). CUNY Unlimited students will continue to audit classes and will create portfolios in each class that will be graded by people in CUNY’s School of Professional Studies who have experience with work-related portfolios. CUNY Unlimited will start with the 5 campuses currently hosting Melissa Riggio programs (with 25 students admitted on each campus), and then other campuses will have the option to opt in.

We discussed Sue’s article, which we all found helpful for illustrating the energy, enthusiasm, and willingness to take risks that MR students bring to our classrooms. We agreed this is a good approach to getting other faculty on board and understanding how this can improve peer relationships and teach non-MR students quite a lot through these interactions. We appreciated the vivid classroom examples that Sue shared in her article.

Building on the spirit of Sue’s article, Nick shared “Summer in the Forest” a fantastic film about a commune for people with ID in France started in the 60s as an alternative to asylums that still exists today and stands as a hopeful, humane example of people with disabilities living a good life. We should all see this! Film description and website below:


Like countless others Philippe, Michel, Andre and Patrick were labeled ‘idiots’, locked away and forgotten in violent asylums, until the 1960s, when the young philosopher Jean Vanier took a stand and secured their release – the first time in history that anyone had beaten the system. Together they created L’Arche, a commune at the edge of a beautiful forest near Paris. A quiet revolution was born. Now in his 80s, still at L’Arche and revered by some as a living saint, Jean has discovered something that most of us have forgotten – what it is to be human, to be foolish, and to be happy. SUMMER IN THE FOREST invite us to abandon the rat race and forge new friendships.

Finally, we began talking about the difficulty of finding employment for people with ID, which is alluded to both in Sue’s article and Chapter 5 of our FIG’s book. We had a lot to say about this, and many questions, and from what we can tell the success stories are on a very case-by-case basis. Most internships through MR do not turn into jobs, and we wondered whether the employers hosting the interns could be challenged in some way on this. In the CUNY Unlimited rollout, we are hoping for a centralized push to make contact with employers that can not only provide internships, but who also can provide jobs. We were somewhat unclear on the tax breaks and federal incentives and how they apply to employers – they are there, but the details are hazy.

This would be a great topic to go deeper on in a future FIG, especially building on Nick’s expertise and experience preparing students for work. Until next time….

1st FIG meeting (10/7/19)

Our CUNY Unlimited FIG’s meeting of Fall 2019 took place on October 7th, and brought out eight people for a lively discussion and chance to meet other interested in enhancing inclusive education for students with intellectual and other disabilities. Our substantial experience and expertise in this work was evident among those who attended! I came away feeling that together we have quite a bit of experience with this work and excellent ideas for pushing it further.

Sam Patrick, the new Community Support Supervisor for the Melissa Riggio Program at KCC introduced himself and distributed Faculty Handbooks for the Melissa Riggio program that provide a nice overview of the program. Carol and Lisa shared a little bit about their experiences including students from Melissa Riggio in the past. As faculty, we will continue to share with our colleagues the positive benefits that come to our classes by including students with intellectual disabilities, not to mention to the students who are included.

Sam also shared an updated Melissa Riggio Video with Presidents of both the College of Staten Island and Hostos Community College talking about their experiences with the program, the first link below. Another inspiring Melissa Riggio video that students seem to enjoy is linked below. It is great because we see the mentors and students with Intellectual Disability interacting, which shows the power of the “social model” of disability under which we are working. Feel free to share this with students to let them know the opportunities KCC is helping to create with Melissa Riggio.



Lisa shared about a digital webinar she took over the summer through CATS (housed at Queensboro CC) about creating accessible syllabi, and it was mentioned that Peter Santiago and Tsubasa Berg can provide faculty with helpful advice in creating accessible course materials through Blackboard and other methods. Cecelia highlighted for us the importance of thinking about transitions from high school to higher education and careers for students with disabilities, which really helped to frame the importance of the work we are doing. Don shared many excellent ideas he has for connecting his department’s work and jobs like recreation therapy, culinary arts, and more with CUNY Unlimited internships and certificates as the program rolls out.

Some questions came up about the latest information on the CUNY Unlimited roll out. A lot still seems unknown, and we will reach out to appropriate CUNY people (e.g., Barbara Bookman or Carrie Shockley) to find out more. Some specific questions were: can Melissa Riggio students get any kinds of credits if they transfer over to CUNY Unlimited based on their experience there? Also, what will the certificate (or certificates) look like, and how will they connect to potential jobs for those students? Specifically for Education Program students, we pointed out that without a GED or HS diploma they currently could not work as teachers’ aides or in other DOE jobs – thus, what jobs might be available for these students? And finally, will CUNY Unlimited will be on the Academic side of the University or the Continuing Education side?

Finally, we affirmed that we want to work together to convince more colleagues of the positive benefits of inclusion. To help us with this, we will read Sue Carpenter’s forthcoming article, which was handed out at the meeting. Our next FIG meeting will be on Monday, 10/28 in the Education Program conference room (V-117) at 3pm. We also discussed reading the chapter on “Intellectual Disability” in our FIG’s book “College for Students with Disabilities: We Do Belong.” It is full of stories, case studies, and the current outlook for students with various disabilities (including intellectual disability, autism, cerebral palsy, learning disability, and ADHD) in higher education.

Finally, Stella mentioned the Call for Proposals for the excellent CUNY Neurodiversity Conference. They are looking for presenters like us who have experience and insight working with students with Intellectual Disability, and thinking about how to best include them at KCC. We also mentioned possibly planning to attend together as a FIG. They have one day on autism spectrum and one day on intellectual disability, and the conference will take place this March 12th and 13th, 2020. It is an excellent place to network with others CUNY-wide who have similar interests in inclusion, CUNY Unlimited, and who are working on similar things.

Here is a link to the conference:


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