Post-secondary program promotes independence and inclusion for developmentally disabled

TOPS_ImageRTFHaving access to post-secondary education programs is as important to high school graduates with developmental disabilities as it is for mainstream students, perhaps even more so.

The inclusion of adults with developmental disabilities in mainstream society benefits both students and the community. Unemployment for people with developmental disabilities generally hovers around 10 percent. Managers don't often see the value of hiring adults with developmental disabilities, but, depending on the individual's condition, there are many benefits, such as a strong work ethic or a heightened commitment to details.

The Nisonger Center's post-secondary education program, Transition Options in Postsecondary Settings — known as TOPS — offers two- and four-year certificate training programs designed to prepare students with developmental disabilities for the workplace. Students receive internship and college-level learning experiences that lead to full-time work opportunities and improved overall well-being. They receive career counseling and job-development support, and they emerge from the program equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to pursue independent living.

Without programs like TOPS, many adults with developmental disabilities face lifelong employment issues. While the average national employment rate is 69 percent, approximately 20 percent of adults with intellectual disabilities are employed nationwide. But for graduates of the TOPS program, 83 percent emerge with regular employment within the first year of graduating from TOPS.

The program requires up to 15 hours of coursework each semester and at least one internship. Students are guided by career and life skills coaches who support the students during and after they graduate from TOPS to ensure their success in the workplace and beyond.