Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Advocates for Disabled Urge College Funding; Legislators Asked to Help Bring Kennesaw State's Model Program to 4 Other Schools

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Advocates for Disabled Urge College Funding; Legislators Asked to Help Bring Kennesaw State's Model Program to 4 Other Schools

Article excerpt

Byline: Walter C. Jones

ATLANTA | Like many parents, Mitzi Proffitt wants her 17-year-old son Josh to get a college degree, a good job and earn a solid living. It's his goal, too.

"That's all he wants," she said.

She's convinced he can make the grades. It's the other aspects of college that worry her.

"That's not always as simple for someone who has cerebral palsy," said the Statesboro mother.

Living not far away in Guyton, Jan Corbett has the same dream for her son Jeff who has Asperger's, a form of autism. He's 24 and already attending Savannah Technical College but frequently stymied by his frustration.

"I wish there was more support that would help me with my education, but there's not," he said.

"Students like Jeff need a lot of one-on-one support," Jan Corbett said.

Both families are advocates for a program that offers a doorway to the college experience, and they're hoping the General Assembly will include $350,000 when it passes next year's budget for the seed money. Thursday, about 2,000 people from across Georgia rallied outside the Capitol on Disability Day, and the college funding was high on their wish list.

Another key item was to lighten the burden of proof for murder defendants claiming mental retardation to avoid the death penalty. The rally, planned months in advance, happened to fall on the morning after an appeals court stopped the execution of Warren Hill, a man with a 70 IQ who's been convicted of two separate killings.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rich Golick announced that day that he would seek a special committee to study the burden of proof.

Word of Golick's announcement brought cheers from the crowd at the rally, and so did comments from Gov. Nathan Deal about the college program.

"I recently announced that one of our goals is to ensure every child has access to post-secondary education options that lead to meaningful employment," Deal said.

"Therefore, we should look at innovative programs, like the one at Kennesaw State University where 16 students with disabilities participated in the same activities as students without disabilities, and then see what we can do to replicate them. By doing so, we will help these young people have access to better employment opportunities following their college experience."

The KSU Academy of Inclusive Learning is exactly the model advocates hope to replicate at four more schools, according to Rita Young, director of All About Developmental Disabilities. Of the 100 or so colleges in Georgia, KSU is the only one with a program geared for students with intellectual disabilities, or mental retardation, even though 1,400 students leave high school every year with a special-education certificate. North Carolina has eight colleges and Florida nine that offer programs for students with similar handicaps. …

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