Nancy Bodie’s son, Nathan, has always loved learning and knew from the time he was young that he wanted to go to university. His family’s challenge was to find a way forward to support Nathan in reaching his educational goals. Thanks to their determination, and a ground breaking inclusion service that has helped make B.C. colleges and universities more accessible, Nathan was able to convocate this June. Nancy’s story offers other parents, some of whom may never have considered the possibility, helpful insights.
In 2009, Nancy and her husband, Dave, attended a disability resource fair in Victoria where STEPS Forward, a post-secondary inclusion service developed by families, was providing information. CLBC provides funding for STEPS to open up opportunities for young adults with developmental disabilities to receive post-secondary education and benefit from its learning and social experiences. Students attend classes, join social clubs and establish friendships that often extend beyond the university years. Currently, STEPS supports people on six campuses, with a plan to extend this service across the province over the next several years.
Nancy and Dave contacted STEPS inclusion facilitators at the University of Victoria (UVic) and Nathan was enrolled in his first year in 2012. His studies focused on political science and social justice.
“Once Nathan was able to enrol at UVic, and had access to the STEPS service, our family needed to consider many things when committing to supporting Nathan in his education,” says Nancy, who confirmed the role of families is critical to success. “This included his inclusion on campus, how many courses he was able to take a semester, how he was going to commute back and forth, his health needs, his job and how he would pay for courses and books. We also had to consider our own time commitment as we met regularly with STEPS for planning and debriefing.”
The STEPS inclusion facilitators helped Nathan and his family navigate registration including enrolment and tuition, and plan for a way to pay for his own courses and books. Nathan uses public transit on his own and has chosen his courses and a timetable to coincide with his work, which was not far from campus. As for his inclusion on campus, inclusion facilitators met regularly with Nathan and his professors to support him to engage with his course material and complete exams and assignments with modifications. The inclusion facilitators also supported Nathan to connect with extracurricular activities on campus, including a peer helper program focused on mental health, new student orientation days, participating in student elections, and joining the curling club and Toast Masters. A guiding principle of STEPS is that classroom learning is only one aspect of university life.
“Nathan worked on projects with students in his courses, he took exams, completed assigned papers, and his professors were engaged and supportive. Under Nathan’s direction, STEPS facilitated his inclusion in the classroom, in extracurricular activities and with studying strategies,” says Nancy. “He has gained so much confidence and skill, and he is now using what he has gained in public speaking and advocacy for the social justice causes he cares so much about.”
One challenge the family worked through was when Nathan reached the end of his studies. They found out that UVic had not yet found a way for students enrolled through the inclusive post-secondary partnership to be included in graduation ceremonies. STEPS and Nathan’s network, including family, friends, classmates and professors, brought the issue forward to the University’s convocation committee. STEPS presented a proposal to the Convocation Committee to have students recognized at convocation ceremonies and in April 2017, the university Senate approved the recommendation for students enrolled in inclusive post-secondary education to take part in the convocation ceremony. Nathan was part of the ceremony with his classmates in June 2017.
“It was very important for Nathan to share in the celebration of completion of studies and student life with his crediting peers that the convocation ceremony provided. Nathan was a student in all aspects of campus life and STEPS and his campus community were incredibly supportive. We were all looking forward to his big day,” says Nancy.
During the summers, STEPS also helped Nathan find paid employment related to the field he was studying. In Summer 2016, he worked with Pacifica Housing, a Victoria-based social housing group. Now that Nathan has completed his studies, he has a new job at the Ministry of Health where he is a clerk in the department that responds to individual requests for funding to assist with prescription drug costs not covered by BC Medical Service Plan.
What is STEPS Forward?
STEPS Forward is the BC Initiative for Inclusive Post-Secondary Education and the only service in B.C. that provides individual support for young adults with developmental disabilities who want to participate in the mainstream of academic and student life at post-secondary institutions. Students enrol at their institution in a partnership between STEPS Forward and the institution. Students typically take two courses a semester for four to five years and earn a certificate of completion at convocation alongside their peers. Application steps are found on the STEPS Forward website here; applicants can expect to be interviewed by a local STEPS facilitator about what they are hoping to engage with at university or college.
Questions to consider when applying for the STEPS service or considering post-secondary education
The STEPS Forward web site has information about the program as well as resources and articles to inform individuals and families who are thinking about post-secondary education – www.steps-forward.org
For Families and Advocates: Thoughts on Supporting Your Family Member to Access Post-Secondary Education – www.steps-forward.org/families-and-advocates.html