Post-Secondary Academy for Developmentally Disabled Students

The Academy for Community Inclusion is the first-of-its-kind in Florida and will be located on FAU’s Jupiter campus. The program is made possible by a generous multi-year commitment from The Taft Foundation.

Angelica Downey(pictured left) andGwendolyn Carey, training and curriculum specialists at FAU's Academy for Community Inclusion.

By lisa metcalf | 8/20/2015

Florida Atlantic University’s Department of Exceptional Student Education within the College of Education will launch the FAU Academy for Community Inclusion, a new higher education program for students with developmental disabilities, beginning in the spring 2016 semester. The Academy, led by Michael P. Brady, Ph.D., professor and chair of FAU’s Department of Exceptional Student Education, is the first-of-its-kind in Florida and will begin operation on FAU’s John D. MacArthur Campus in Jupiter. The program is made possible by a generous multi-year commitment from The Taft Foundation designated to provide funding for the program’s development, recruitment and personnel.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2014, only 17.1 percent of persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the nation are employed. Of this population, nearly 500,000 live in Florida, of which only 4 percent are employed. According to data from the Florida Department of Education, only 42 percent of the 2014 graduating students with disabilities from Palm Beach County indicated they would seek employment post school.

 “The FAU Academy for Community Inclusion is such a welcome and natural addition to FAU, where we celebrate diversity and are dedicated to delivering the best in higher education,” said FAU President John Kelly. “A world of opportunity awaits all FAU students, whatever their abilities or interests might be. We are thrilled to be the only university in Florida to open this door for so many with sorely limited options to excel after high school graduation.”

The Academy is designed to provide students with intellectual and developmental disabilities who have completed high school with opportunities to earn certificates in “Supported Employment Skills,” “Supported Community Access” and “Supported Living Skills.” The curriculum will be under development for the first two years of the program and will include courses that focus on practical skills such as employability, study techniques, time management, soft skills for the workplace, personal finance, and internet safety. All FAU students will be eligible to register for these courses, which will be added to the University’s course catalog, encouraging community inclusion. There are similar programs in Florida, but none that are hosted entirely by a state university.

“A program like this has been needed in Florida for a long time – one that will tap the potential of those with developmental disabilities and prepare them for a future filled with purpose and the possibility for employment,” said Mary Lou Duffy, Ph.D., professor of exceptional student education and program coordinator. “The Academy will serve a population that is in great need for enrichment and educational opportunities after their high school graduation, and will offer programs suited to their needs in an inclusive higher education environment.”

FAU students and local employers who are open to hiring persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities will be an integral part of the program.

“We will be seeking graduate and undergraduate students enrolled at FAU to fill peer mentor and volunteer student positions, which are perfect opportunities for them to contribute to and learn from the Academy,” said Duffy. “Another big part of the process is securing employers in the immediate area who will work with us to develop appropriate jobs for this special population.”

Corporations such as PNC, Publix Supermarkets, and Courtyard by Marriott – who have locations in neighboring Abacoa – already have made commitments to expanding opportunities for this population and will be invited to join the Academy as partners.  Employment experiences are a part of the certificate requirements, which will be supported by two full-time job coaches and an instructor.

Once the curriculum is fully formalized over the first two years, many Academy students will become eligible for federal financial aid. A second site for the Academy targeted for FAU’s Boca Raton campus will be launched when the program has been formalized at the Jupiter campus.

Applications for the spring 2016 semester are available online. For more information, visit the Florida Atlantic University Academy for Community Inclusion website