Enabling College Inclusion in a Special Education STEM Program for Students with Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities

A challenge for the country is that colleges are not contributing enough graduates in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – the STEM fields (Kuenzi, 2008). In particular, business firms demand graduates knowledgeable in STEM for increasing innovations. To address this demand, the authors argue for broadening the student demographics of STEM to include higher-functioning (i.e. less-impaired) individuals with disabilities, as recommended in the literature (Ladner & Israel, 2016). Colleges have historically not included individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities at mid-spectrum as matriculating students, as the individuals frequently have inappropriate individual education plans (IEPs) instead of diplomas from high schools.

However, an increasing number of these students have been finishing if not graduating from high schools (Diament, 2016). Aided by the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE), the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA), and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in the Office of Postsecondary Education (Plotner, & Marshall, 2014), these students (free from disruptive disorders) have been insisting on inclusion in college as a natural next step (Canright, 2014). As digitally literate millennial students, they may desire an authentic college experience (Perry, 2014) as STEM students. College may help them to be future scientists at entrepreneurial and established organizations increasingly receptive to students with disabilities having STEM skills.

This paper presents a STEM initiative piloting for those with developmental and intellectual disabilities at mid-spectrum at a major metropolitan university.