A release from the City Colleges of Chicago:
In The Politics of Autism, I write:
When disabled people reach their 22d birthday, they no longer qualify for services under IDEA. ... People in the disability community refer to this point in life as “the cliff.” Once autistic people go over the cliff, they have a hard time getting services such as job placement, vocational training, and assistive technology. IDEA entitles students to transition planning services during high school, but afterwards, they have to apply as adults and establish eligibility for state and federal help. One study found that 39 percent of young autistic adults received no service at all, and most of the rest got severely limited services.
Recently, Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot, 19th Ward Alderman Matt O’Shea, City Colleges of Chicago, the Lester and Rosalie Anixter Center, and Special Olympics Chicago/Special Children’s Charities are joining forces to ensure young people with different developmental abilities can continue to pursue education, employment and enrichment after they have maxed out their eligibility for special education transition services at the age of 22.
The After 22 Project will be recognized as a Comprehensive Transition Program (CTP) that will help transition participants into meaningful postsecondary activities by providing flexible learning opportunities, leadership, and job skills training. In addition, students will be able to access and participate in special recreation opportunities, and internship and job placement opportunities. The Occupational, Life and Academic Skills (OLAS) Program at Daley College will provide a support system to students, in addition to access to the educational experiences they need to continue their life-long learning journey.
The OLAS program is an innovative inclusive pathway to engage students who otherwise will have to wait an average of seven years to access funding for these services after they reach age 22, leaving a gap in their progress to meaningful engagement, employment and further education. The project will flexibly and deliberately map out a plan for participants based on interest and skill level.
“Far too often, people with disabilities fall through the cracks in our system and are left without access to opportunities to achieve upward mobility,” said Mayor Lightfoot. “With the After 22 Project, we will be able to create the social safety net they deserve, as well as move Chicago one step closer to becoming the most accessible city in the country. I commend Alderman O’Shea, City Colleges of Chicago and the rest of our community partners for launching this new continuum of support for our residents with disabilities to ensure they are able to thrive both before and well after they turn 22.”
“The idea of the After 22 program was presented to me when I was president of the Board of Directors of Special Olympics Chicago/Special Children’s Charities, and we immediately embraced the idea of providing for our athletes in a meaningful way that includes continuing education and job training skills,” said Matt O’Shea, past president of SOC/SCC. “Through the support of our Board of Directors, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the Anixter Center, Chancellor Salgado, and President Janosky, our athletes now have the unprecedented opportunity to continue to advance their skills and education after the age of 22. Our athletes are passionate, hard-working and fully embrace any opportunity they are given. This program is a win-win for everyone involved.”
“After 22 is the missing piece that equalizes the pathway for young adults with developmental disabilities to access college and thrive,” said Rebecca Clark, President and CEO at Anixter Center. “This historic step bridges the gap, creating opportunities for students to secure meaningful work, and positively engage in, and contribute to their communities. I believe After 22 will change the lives of the people we serve and our Chicago neighbors for years to come.”
“As Chicago’s community college system, City Colleges is responsive to the needs of our community,” said City Colleges of Chicago Chancellor Juan Salgado. “After 22 is a unique opportunity that will allow us to prepare developmentally disabled Chicagoans to contribute their abundant talents to our neighborhoods and economy.”
Chancellor Salgado added that Daley College President Janine Janosky will lead the After 22 program at City Colleges of Chicago. “One of the greatest strengths of Daley College is our students’ diversity,” said President Janosky. “We welcome all students and look forward to the vibrancy these new students will bring to our campus life.”
The first year of the program will serve up to 20 students through non-credit job skill development courses at Daley College. Daley College and Anixter Center team members will collaborate to implement customized educational plans to include competency-based, student-centered curricula to introduce and reinforce workplace soft skills, such as communication strategies, self-advocacy skills, professionalism, and navigating institutions. Additionally, students will practice occupational skills through an internship on campus, such as at the Daley food pantry and professional clothing closet, and other service areas, and will offer them the chance to participate in campus activities. Daley College and the Anixter Center will assemble an advisory council composed of business leaders, students, parents, faculty, and special education experts and advocates to provide guidance and advice on program development, additional partnership connections, and possible funding sources.
The Anixter Center will match 10 participants to jobs or internships at a community employer partner, ensuring students have integrated, competitive job opportunities. In conjunction, employers will get the support they need to ensure success and retention for these employees.
Longer-term, Daley College will develop a certificate program for students with disabilities as part of a larger City Colleges goal of creating greater access to education for community members. The Anixter Center will work with broad-scale commitment from Chicago businesses to hire and retain this untapped talent pool.
The program aims to build an integrated system of opportunities, weaving together public and private partners to support adults with disabilities as they get access to meaningful opportunities throughout Chicago.
“The After 22 program opens new doors of opportunity for our athletes by empowering them with continuing education, important life and job skills, and a readiness for the future,” said Carolyn Daley, president of the Board of Directors of Special Olympics Chicago/Special Children’s Charities. “Our organization has a mission of inclusiveness for all, and the After 22 program provides just that. We look forward to continuing our partnership with Anixter and City Colleges of Chicago on this amazing program. It is my hope that the After 22 program is an incredible success, and continues to grow through the years to come.”