College program helps students with disabilities
August 12, 2012
McALLEN, Texas (AP) — When Gabriel Rios begins classes at South Texas
College this month, he’ll deal with worries beyond those that confront
most incoming college freshmen.
Rios, an 18-year-old student who is deaf, is nervous about the
college-level curriculum and advanced reading and writing levels he’ll
need when he pursues a certificate in auto mechanics. But Rios knows
older friends who are deaf have struggled adjusting to college, a
challenge that puts college graduation rates for deaf individuals far
below the national average.
But Rios is among a dozen students with disabilities who will receive
the support services they need at STC through a five-year program
designed to help them graduate and later secure employment. Rios’
mother, Anabel, said the program will put him on a level playing field
with the college’s other students.
“The deaf community is not really that known so you’re very much on
your own” on college campuses, Anabel Rios said the program will help.
“He’s a little bit nervous because it’s going to be a challenge, but I
told him that’s why you’ll have the support through Project HIRE.”
Project HIRE — or Helping Individuals Reach Employment — will provide
50 area high school students with educational and career coaches who
will monitor their progression through college and eventually help them
land jobs. Funded by a $1.25 million grant from the Texas Council for
Developmental Disabilities, the new program will provide those students
with “wrap-around services” such as on-campus counselors who help with
college success; intensive summer training programs focused on
independent living and life skills; and job placement services through
the University of Texas-Pan American’s placement office.
But Project HIRE also provides South Texas College a way to evaluate
and improve upon its current services for students with disabilities,
said Paul Hernandez, the college’s dean of student support services.
STC currently has about 300 students who have self-identified through
the Americans with Disabilities Act to qualify for some of the
college’s support services, including lecture notes, sign language
interpretation and extended time for tests.
Hernandez said Project HIRE’s awareness component could encourage other
students with disabilities — who have not self-identified — to seek out
the available assistance that can improve their college success.
“It’s really to get these students where other students are at by
providing reasonable accommodations,” he said. “We want them to
participate just like any other student in the classroom.”
Project HIRE’s first group of students — which includes those with
vision and hearing impairments, learning disabilities, cerebral palsy
and other disabilities — graduated last week from a summer college
readiness program. Maria Morin, a University of Texas-Pan American
program coordinator who taught the eight-week program, said educational
coaches will remain available to help them as they transition to
The educational coaches can also help them obtain available
accommodations, including class materials in larger print or Braille
for students with visual impairments or software programs for students
with severe cognitive disabilities.
Project HIRE’s workforce readiness program also connected to mentors at
local businesses where the students spent time during the summer to get
experience in their chosen career fields, said Katherine Filut, the
disability program navigator for Workforce Solutions, the county’s
workforce development board. The employers — including municipalities,
a doctor’s office and lumberyard, among others — will help Project
HIRE’s students get real world experience before graduation.
“The stereotype is those with disabilities can’t do the job,” she said.
“With a little bit of assistive technology, an individual with a
disability can do the job just as well as anybody else.”
But for the students, Project HIRE’s biggest asset might be a chance to
meet other students confronting similar concerns as they enter college.
Through Project HIRE’s summer program, Gabriel Rios developed a quick
friendship with Yliana Castillo, a Nikki Rowe senior who will receive a
certificate as an office specialist before pursuing a career in law
Rios said through sign language that Project HIRE will make college
feel less overwhelming. Castillo said the students would have access to
help if they need it.
“College is not the same as high school,” she said. “I’m way anxious
but can’t wait to get started.”
Information from: The Monitor