Civil liberties and Human Rights are no longer abstract subjects for a partnership of students from Wagner College and Lifestyles for the Disabled. One can read about the issues that developmentally disabled adults cope with on a daily basis in a book or online, yet there is a limit to what you can learn about a person by reading. Now these abstract issues have a human face for college students. In the partnership, neuro-typical students and adults with intellectual disabilities are studying together and developing joint multi-media projects that explore what for many are the real world issues.
“Our participants at Lifestyles have a wide range of interests and abilities. For some, a college environment stimulates their curiosity and builds their confidence in themselves and sharpens their social skills,” according to Scott Salinardi, Director of Programs for Lifestyles. “Lifelong learning enriches our lives, no matter what our educational level. When our students partner with students at Wagner, it creates a higher-level of interaction and enlightenment for all of the students in the Wagner-Lifestyles Partnership.”
Kenny Tobin is a Special Olympian who can bench press 245 lbs. and swim competitively and he has the medals to prove it. But Ralph Greene doesn’t see a Special Olympian, he simply sees Kenny as an athlete. While Ralph is glad that Kenny has a place to compete, he wonders “if an athlete is competing at a higher level, why shouldn’t he compete among his peers.” Although people with disabilities on rare occasions have made it into the Olympics, many more are held back by a lack of support. Ralph and Kenny’s PowerPoint project will explore the unique challenges that special athletes face competing in conventional sports.
“When David Gordon and I conceived of the course [this Intermediate Learning Community], we had in mind a class that combines theory with practice,” said Prof. Cyril Ghosh. “On the one hand, we wanted to teach our students some material broadly related to human rights and civil liberties, and, on the other hand, we also wanted them to understand the scholarship on disability rights and how it relates to the broader conception of rights. To this end, we combined a class on civil liberties and human rights with a class on disability rights.”
Daniel Lane and Janet Capano have been boyfriend and girlfriend for four years. The most important
issue in their lives is the right to marry. Janet says “I’d love to get married,” but they face many obstacles, including the “Marriage Penalty” – their social security benefits will be reduced if they wed. Wagner students Chris Antonacci and Kelly Glenn are working with Daniel and Janet on a video about the issue.
But more than that, they are touched by Daniel and Janet’s story. Kelly notes that “their relationship is really special.”
For Professor David Gordon, that’s the point of this course. “How often do you see people with developmental disabilities having intellectual discussions with people outside their families.” He notes that it’s not unusual for us to see people with disabilities out together at the mall in a group, where they are “just those people.” But when you make a personal connection, it’s hard to just see them as “just those people” again.
The Lifestyles students have the opportunity to take part in an accredited college class, participating in the same lessons and working collaboratively on the same projects in a college setting. They enjoy an opportunity to interact with their peers. Back at the Lifestyles Education Center in Concord, participants reinforce their learning with a lesson that covers the required material and extended activities that explore topics of interest to the Lifestyles learners, such as Lyndon Baines Johnson, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
The Wagner students earn college credits and learn about human rights issues directly from people who are most affected. More over, many students have formed bonds that reach beyond the college setting.
“Wagner Lifestyles Partnership Program builds a sense of belonging to their learning community,” according to Lifestyles educator Louise Vallario, “and at times, helps to form friendships, which extend beyond the college semester. “
Elisa Lopez and Dominick Lettieri are preparing a PowerPoint presentation about family and marriage. “Family is important,” according to Elisa. But she says “I don’t want kids. They’re too much work. But family is important.” Dominick has learned a lot about the needs and wants of the disabled and their views on family, “It doesn’t matter who you are,” he concludes, “you should still be able to have a family.”