by Gabriela McCall Delgado, We Connect Now Director
After watching a recent Glee episode, “Movin’ Out”, in which Becky visits a college, and reading reactions to that episode, I decided I wanted to share my views on it. The episode is based on a Think College Program at the University of Cincinnati called the Transition and Access Program (“TAP”). http://cincinnati.com/blogs/tv/2013/11/20/glee-character-wants-to-attend-uc/
In the episode, Becky Jackson visits a TAP class. In that class students with intellectual disabilities who are participating in this program are shown doing different activities but are separated from students without intellectual disabilities. The episode does not show any activity on the college campus in which prospective students with intellectual disabilities are integrated with the rest of the prospective freshmen class. The college tour and orientation presented by the episode was one specifically tailored for prospective students with intellectual disabilities and does not appear to be the general tour and orientation provided to other prospective freshmen. According to information found on the Internet about the TAP program which was used as a model program in the Glee episode, TAP’s students do not live in dorms provided for the regular freshman class but they live in a separate house. The Glee classroom scene was probably a good depiction of the program classroom offering since the TAP program separates its participants from receiving instruction with the rest of the college population 75 percent of the time. http://www.thinkcollege.net/component/programsdatabase/program/467
If parents of students with intellectual disabilities and their children are seeking inclusion through this program, inclusion becomes a real issue to consider. As depicted in the episode, Becky seemed in high school to have more interaction with other people without disabilities, while Becky’s classroom experience at the college seemed limited to a universe of people with Down Syndrome and her inclusion within the general college student population is not shown in the episode. Separating participants from the very beginning of their experience on campus, be it through special courses, or special orientations is certainly a major drawback of the way the programs seem to be structured. Participation in these programs may not necessarily lead to improving socialization skills of their participants.
According to the Glee episode, one positive aspect of joining a program like TAP is that it may help the participant (Becky) to get a job. I looked at some information and statistics available on the Internet and the effectiveness of programs similar to TAP in getting program participants a job is questionable. For example, in a press release put out by the Massachusetts Task Force On College Inclusion For Students with Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities, it is claimed that “[i]n just two years, 792 students enrolled in 42 participating colleges. Of those enrolled, 236 held jobs, …” http://susansenator.com/blog/2013/11/new-massachusetts-task-force-disabilities-in-higher-ed/ This means that around 29.7% held jobs. But according to the data contained in the Task Force press release, “Prior to the TPSID program, 45 percent of those students had never held a paying job.” Id. This means that students apparently had a higher employment participation rate (55%) before they entered the program than after they entered the program-when 236 out of 792 held jobs. A major weakness that TAP has in helping participants to get a job is that TAP does not lead participants to acquire a college degree. http://cech.uc.edu/education/tap.html If Becky joins TAP she will not get a degree as the program is structured presently. Moreover, it is not clear whether she will even receive a certificate if she joins the TAP program. http://www.thinkcollege.net/component/programsdatabase/program/467.
Finally, I found that the episode was mostly a superficial way of endorsing the program through Becky’s fellow high school student Artie Abrams. This was what in fact piqued my curiosity and I ended up researching the program on which the episode was based. Lessons learned from my research is that it is important that objective information is made available through people like transition counselors, teachers, school district officials, etc. As with most important issues in society, it is important that there are voices in favor and against a particular point of view, and not only one voice repeating the institutional point of view out loud. Becky needed more than just a few brochures from Artie to make an informed decision.