West Chester University Promotes Economic Opportunities for Students with Autism
WEST CHESTER – State Senator Carolyn Comitta and state Rep. Christina Sappey today joined Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry (L&I) Secretary Jennifer Berrier and Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) Acting Secretary Meg Snead at West Chester University to reinforce the Wolf Administration’s commitment to promoting competitive integrated employment for individuals with disabilities and to highlight a program that assists students with autism with the transition from high school to college and, ultimately, the workforce.
“Our communities, workplaces and universities are all enriched by the contributions of individuals with disabilities. Barriers to competitive integrated employment hurt everyone,” Berrier said. “Programs like D-CAP at West Chester – which break down these barriers – serve the individual needs of students with autism, but we are all beneficiaries of this commitment to inclusion.”
West Chester’s Dub-C Autism Program (D-CAP) is one of several throughout the commonwealth supported by the Wolf Administration’s 2017 initiative to offer financial and administrative support to students with autism in their pursuit of higher education and competitive employment. The initiative is supported by L&I’s Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR).
Through this program, OVR supports D-CAP students by helping them identify a career track and prepare for competitive, integrated employment. OVR also provides financial assistance of up to $2,500 per student per semester to those who attend D-CAP, depending on the level of support needed. OVR is currently providing financial support to 52 students in the program.
DHS’s Office of Developmental Programs (ODP) provides services and supports to Pennsylvanians with Autism Spectrum Disorder and their families and caregivers. This includes services that support integrated and meaningful employment for adults with autism.
“DHS is committed to making a future that includes individuals with autism as fully integrated members of our communities, and we are thankful that West Chester University is a partner in this effort,” said Acting Secretary Snead. “Schools, universities, and workplaces that welcome the talents of all people, including people with autism, are a critical part of our efforts to build an inclusive community and strong economy. I encourage other universities and workplaces to look to West Chester as a model of opportunity and support for Pennsylvanians with autism.”
On Tuesday, representatives from the two departments joined Comitta and Sappey at the D-CAP Center to see the program in action, meet with students and learn about how the D-CAP program has made West Chester University a more accepting and inclusive campus.
“The Dub-C Autism program is a leading example of autism acceptance in action. While early childhood education and intervention remain important for young people with autism, higher education and career-oriented programs like this fill a vital need in supporting and empowering all students to succeed in our communities and workplaces,” said Sen. Comitta. “Students and individuals with autism offer diverse and unique talents, perspectives, and contributions. Thank you to all those who continue to prioritize autism inclusion and acceptance at schools, universities, organizations, and businesses across the Commonwealth.”
“It was wonderful to join Sen. Comitta, Secretary Snead, Secretary Berrier and students from the Dub-C Autism program today,” said Rep. Sappey. “We’ve learned so much about autism over the last 20 years so, it’s truly heartening to see inclusion in practice here. Neuro-diverse individuals want to be productive members of the community just like all of us, and this supportive programming keeps young people moving forward in their education and on the path to independent living. I am extremely proud of West Chester University for their leadership in this area.”
The D-CAP program has expanded to include multiple overnight, on-campus College Autism Readiness Retreat (CARR) summer programs for students with autism. West Chester’s HYPE program — High School Youth Preparation for Higher Education — also prepares students by helping them to obtain experience in a field of interest, exposing them to a college-living environment and improving their community integration skills. The program includes after-school classes with hands-on learning experiences during the school year at Southeastern Pennsylvania Autism Resource Center (SPARC), peer mentoring, parent education and support program, and a summer program that includes instruction and campus experiences at West Chester University.
“West Chester University is deeply grateful to Governor Wolf and his administration, particularly L&I’s Office of Vocational Rehabilitation and DHS’ Office of Developmental Programs, for supporting initiatives that are making a difference in the quality of life of students who have autism,” said West Chester University President Chris Fiorentino. “We strongly believe that if a student is accepted to West Chester University, it is our responsibility to do whatever we can to help that student achieve success and cross the finish line. Our Dub-C Autism Program (D-CAP) is an important example of how the University’s access mission is being implemented in intentional ways every day inside and outside the classroom. I could not be more proud of our D-CAP students and those D-CAP leaders who are working diligently to ensure that the program and its expanded initiatives are transformative for all involved. Inclusion is an uncompromising priority for West Chester University and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”
More information on DHS’ resources for people with autism can be found here or at www.everydaylives.org. For more information, you can visit www.dli.pa.gov, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
For additional information on the Administration’s Employment First work to support competitive, integrated employment, visit the Employment First Website which includes annual reports, a link to the new Employment First data dashboard, and resources for individuals, employers, and providers.