New program to provide college experience for mentally disabled

Beginning this fall, Geneseo will host a four-year transition program for students with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Titled the L.I.V.E.S. program, it will give them the opportunity to "Learn Independence, Vocational, and Education Skills" in the college setting.

Elizabeth Hall of the School of Education and Tabitha Buggie-Hunt, assistant dean for disability services, first tried to organize a transition program at Geneseo several years ago. When the Finger Lakes Developmental Disabilities Service Office moved into Doty Hall, DDSO Director Jim Whitehead asked if Geneseo would be interested in creating such a program, and Hall and Buggie-Hunt expanded on the work they had done years prior to develop what is now L.I.V.E.S.

Many students with intellectual disabilities are required by New York State law to remain in high school until age 21. Buggie-Hunt said that the L.I.V.E.S. program will give these students a chance to have a college experience like their peers, albeit one that accommodates their needs. She said the transition out of high school can be "so difficult for all students. For students with intellectual disabilities, it can be even tougher."

Hall said that the program is about "honoring and acknowledging and recognizing their disabilities."

The program is designed to admit between eight and 12 students each year, and while these students will not be matriculated at Geneseo, they will have the opportunity to remain in the program for four years to earn a certificate of completion. Students will have a standard Monday through Friday schedule where they will take concentrated classes in math, writing, spelling, oral communication and liberal arts.

Students must have a third- or fourth-grade reading level to enroll in the program, as they will be using modified textbooks that provide high school and college-level content at an appropriate reading level. After their first semester, Hall said that they will be assessed on "how well they can make the adjustment" to an actual college class and some students will be able to audit actual classes at the college.

Although L.I.V.E.S. students will not be living at the college, they will be employed at on-campus jobs that match their skills, and will use the library and dining halls just like other students.

"Our goal is to have them included with everybody," said Hall.

Geneseo students majoring in education, business, psychology, sociology and other fields will have the opportunity to earn academic credit for working with the students through an individualized study program. Hall is also looking for student volunteers to serve one-semester commitments, and anyone interested can contact her at halle@geneseo.edu.

In