Personal Story

Feature Issue on Inclusive Higher Education for People with Intellectual, Developmental, and Other Disabilities

What College Did for Me

A young man wearing a navy blue graduation cap and gown smiles at the camera.

The author at graduation from Kennesaw State’s inclusive higher education program.

When I was in high school, I just knew college wasn’t for me. That is, until I had my last IEP meeting. We talked about my plans for after high school. I was thinking of doing a trade, starting my own business, or working at UPS, like my dad. Then they told me about inclusive postsecondary education programs (IPSE) and the summer intensive at Kennesaw State University. Summer intensive is a program where students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) can go for a day to get a sneak peek and see if that’s the program or college they see themselves going to. What helped me decide to attend Kennesaw State University’s Academy for Inclusive Learning and Social Growth were the accommodations that they were giving to students to help them have the college experience. And, I just saw myself going there, having the college experience, making friends, and making connections. I always wanted to have that experience like my brother had, but in the back of my head, I knew I had a disability and would need a bit more one-on-one time to break down the information. I knew I would need help in the curriculum, figuring out the homework, and what the professor would be looking for on assignments.

I enjoyed my time at Kennesaw State because I was learning different skills that I could use in the real world after college, like how to network, how to look at your resume, how to budget and save money, and do things like grocery shop. I had the opportunity to do different internships that helped me figure out the job I wanted to do. One of my internships was working at the costume shop and I really enjoyed that because I wanted to work in fashion. I would do edits to the costumes, so that they would fit the performers. Even though I really enjoyed the internship, I ended up changing my major from fashion to public speaking. I changed to public speaking because I enjoyed participating in the Academy’s open houses. I enjoyed giving tours to potential students, who were thinking about coming to the program, and I also enjoyed sharing my story and helping people decide if IPSE was for them.

One of my favorite experiences when I was in college was traveling to Dubai. We went to a college and met with a dean and talked about the Academy offers to its students and what our days looked like. On that trip, we also had dinner with one of Dubai’s princesses. That trip helped spark my interest in advocacy, because alongside advocating for our program, we attended sports facilities where students were doing activities and I thought it would be really cool if there was a program for students with IDD. That trip helped me know that not everyone has the same educational opportunities and that opened my eyes to know that not everyone has the same accommodations. Things don’t always look the same.

As I was about to graduate, I wanted a job in advocacy, advocating for IPSE programs and sharing my story so that students with IDD know that they have the opportunity to go to college. My job didn’t happen overnight. I didn’t have my dream job right after college. Before graduation, I started talking to my academic advisor and job coach about how I wanted to do something in advocacy, and they started helping me. After graduation, I spent my time trying to find a job and, luckily, had a friend who was doing the same job that I wanted to do, but on a legislative level. I kept in contact with him and he helped me find opportunities to talk about IPSE and my experience going through my program. After getting my foot in the advocacy world, I did advocacy days at the capitol as a team lead. I applied for and participated in the My Voice. My Participation. My Board. Program at Georgia State University. This was a three-week advocacy program about what it’s like being on a board of directors or advisory council. e also talked about resumes and job readiness. Toward the end of the program, I networked with staff at Georgia State’s Center for Leadership in Disability, Molly Tucker, and Susanna Miller-Raines, to see if there were any opportunities to advocate for IPSE programs. A few months later, I became an intern working with Georgia Inclusive Postsecondary Education Consortium and the My Voice program, talking about IPSE, sharing my story and doing other projects. After a year, I was offered a permanent position as the community advocate specialist. My role is to advocate within the community for inclusive higher education, share my story along the way, and do advocacy trainings and projects within the community.

My goal for the future is to see people with IDD get hired for jobs because they know that they can do the job, and not because someone sees them as a token. Also, I want to see people continue to use their voice and know that speaking up for something is not a problem and not a way of complaining, but a way of making a change. My personal goal is that when I retire, I will know that I am leaving IPSE and people with IDD in a place where they know they can get a job without being a token and that I helped students know that IPSE programs are available. I want to leave my mark and be someone that contributes to helping people with IDD live their best lives with supports, or on their own. ν

Darien Todd is a community advocate specialist at the Center for Leadership in Disability in the School of Public Health at Georgia State University. He completed Kennesaw State University’s inclusive postsecondary education program in 2019.