Background and Context

This section includes a brief history and overview of Adult Special Education in the post-secondary environment.

 

In British Columbia’s public post-secondary institutions, Adult Special Education (ASE) programs respond to the needs of a diverse group of learners. Individuals with disabilities, or with a combination of barriers to education, employment or independence … are eligible to enroll in these programs/courses in accordance with each institution’s guidelines. [1]

 

Access to post-secondary education opportunities for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities is relatively recent both in BC and elsewhere in the world. The roots of Adult Special Education in B.C. can be traced to the 1980’s when the disability rights agenda focused on community integration. Government worked closely with disability organizations during the deinstitutionalization movement and focused on community living with the development of group homes, sheltered workshops, and Special Education Programs. [2]

The UN International Year for Disabled Persons (IYDP), celebrated in 1981, represented a high mark in the pursuit of disability rights in Canada. The IYDP and the subsequent UN Decade of Disabled Persons (1983–92) fostered an unprecedented level of public and political interest in Canada regarding the rights and opportunities afforded to people with disabilities. This increased general awareness of disability issues fueled campaigns to include disability in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms .[3]

ASE programs gained a foothold in B.C. colleges in the early 80’s when the B.C. government issued a policy statement regarding the education of adults with disabilities and appointed an ASE Coordinator. ASE grants were made available to post-secondary institutions to provide services and resources for adults with disabilities. In 1983, a policy statement was issued which laid the foundation for system change. The Ministerial Policy Statement on the Provision of Adult Special Education in the Public Education System of British Columbia, called for increased emphasis on fair and equitable access to post-secondary programming for adults with disabilities. Specifically, the statement recognized “adult special education as an integral part of the total education enterprise.” [4] Consequently, Adult Special Education programs have been offered at some B.C. post-secondary institutions since the early 1980’s. The vast majority of original ASE programming was categorized as “career education,” [5] however, there were also some offerings of “academic upgrading” and “life skills” options.

The foundation for the emphasis on vocational programming may have resulted from a combination of influences from community, government, secondary and post-secondary sources. The prevalent viewpoint in secondary education at that time emphasized non-academic options for “special education” students. In fact, “For many years, the only mode of special education intervention for students, at grade 8 level and above, was the Occupational Program.” [6] Csapo states this emphasis “was established as a direct response to the Chant Report (The Report of the Royal Commission in Education: 1960)” which recommended the “establishment of a Junior Vocational course – a three-year terminal program for the slow stream of secondary pupils. [7] A 1983 Ministry of Education discussion paper entitled “Career Education for Mentally Handicapped Adults” included a model for “comprehensive career education” which provided “some indications of future directions in the education of mentally handicapped adults.” [8]

 

In 2015/16, post-secondary institutions reported delivering 687 full time equivalents (FTEs) in ASE.

The Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training uses student FTEs as its key measure of student enrolment activity at each public post- secondary institution. One FTE may represent one student with a full-time course load, or as many as five or six students carrying fewer courses. ASE students tend to be enrolled in full-time programs, thus the 687 FTEs represent a headcount of 903 individual students. (Province of British Columbia , 2016)

 

Adult Special Education, along with Adult Basic Education (ABE) and English as Second Language (ESL), is currently classified as “Adult Education” by the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training, and as a “developmental” offering by BC Council on Admissions and Transfer (BCCAT) in post-secondary education. According to the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training website, the aim of Adult Education offerings is to “explore options for mature students who want to graduate high school or take courses to meet post-secondary program requirements” (British Columbia, Government, n.d.). The Ministry website further states, “Adult Special Education (ASE) programs offered at B.C. public post-secondary institutions are available to students with permanent disabilities or a combination of learning difficulties that hinder scholastic success” (British Columbia Ministry of Advanced Education, n.d.). While there is no specific definition or criteria of “permanent disabilities” or “combination of learning difficulties” by the Ministry, a document created by Douglas College, and included in the BCCAT publication, Adult Special Education (ASE) Program-Specific Transfer Guide Project, provides an overview of the “categories of disability” typically represented in ASE classes. (See box below)

 

CATEGORIES OF DISABILITY[9][10]

Typically, students in ASE programs are seen to fall within one or more categories:

Documented Disabilities

Individuals have been assessed by a registered psychologist or school psychologist in cases of a developmental disability or learning disability, or have been formally diagnosed by a certified professional related to the area of the disability (e.g., medical doctor for medical/physical disabilities, audiologist for hearing impairments, psychiatrist for mental health disabilities) and have documentation of disability. With the exception of developmental disabilities and brain injuries prior to 18 years, documentation would typically be less than five years old.

Undiagnosed or Students Without Documentation of Disability

Students may have out of date documentation or may have had documentation which is no longer available. Students may clearly have a disability; however, they may not have been assessed, may be supported by other agencies, do not wish to apply for PWD (Persons with Disabilities) status and / or accept support from Community Living British Columbia (CLBC), or do not wish to be labeled. Many people with learning disabilities or mental illness fall into this category.  Individuals may be disabled according to the commonly accepted World Health Organization definition of disability; however, they may not meet the Province of British Columbia definition of disability which entitles them to receive PWD benefits. ESL students and aboriginal students with disabilities often fall into this group.

Barriers

Typically consist of two or more of the following: alcohol and drug illness; undiagnosed or undocumented mental illness; undiagnosed FASD; slow learner; at-risk; borderline intelligence (therefore does not qualify for CLBC support); poor academic skills; low self-esteem. A disproportionate number of aboriginal students may be found in this group. The vast majority of ASE students fall within the first two categories; however, there is considerable anecdotal and other evidence that the number of individuals who would be identified as having barriers vs.  documented disabilities is growing rapidly. Two examples of this are the doubling of the homeless population in Vancouver over the past three years and the growth in the numbers of individuals (K-12) displaying autistic tendencies and / or other mental health issues. On average, under 20% of the total enrollment in ASE programs would typically be identified as having barriers; however, the complexity of these individuals may be considerable. On the other hand, the outcomes leading to employment are strong. ASE programs appear to be providing an effective balance in addressing the needs of the full spectrum of the disabled and multi-barriered community.

“Developmental Disabilities” is an umbrella term that includes intellectual disability but also includes other disabilities that are apparent during childhood.

Developmental disabilities are severe chronic disabilities that can be cognitive or physical or both. The disabilities appear before the age of 22 and are likely to be lifelong. Some developmental disabilities are largely physical issues, such as cerebral palsy or epilepsy. Some individuals may have a condition that includes a physical and intellectual disability, for example Down syndrome or fetal alcohol syndrome.

Intellectual disability encompasses the “cognitive” part of this definition, that is, a disability that is broadly related to thought processes. Because intellectual and other developmental disabilities often co-occur, intellectual disability professionals often work with people who have both types of disabilities. [11]

 

In the Final Report of the Adult Special Education 2006 Cohort Study (the last one conducted in this format) a breakdown of students responding to the ASE Survey indicated that, at that time, 79% of students identified as having an intellectual or developmental disability, followed closely by students who identified as having a learning disability (p. 6). [12] At that time, the majority of programs had a “focus on developing vocational and employment skills, with an emphasis on employment preparation, job search and work experience” (Government of British Columbia). More recent data, from the Canada B.C. Labour Market Agreement for Persons with Disabilities 2016 Accountability Report, shows more diversity in the range of disabilities represented in ASE classes. (See box below)

 

ASE students are adults with cognitive, developmental and/or learning disabilities that hinder scholastic success and are barriers to employment and independence.

An earlier study of ASE students indicated that 46% have developmental disabilities; 25% identify mental health problems such as ADHD, anxiety attacks, Bipolar Disorder; 23% have speech or language difficulties; 21% have vision loss; 20% have a neurological disability such as a brain injury, Cerebral Palsy or Epilepsy; 15% have hearing loss.  Individual students may have one or more disabilities that create barriers to learning success. [13]

 

The following excerpt is taken from the Institute for Community Inclusion website and outlines definitions for three main categories of PSE programming.

There are three main types of PSE models: mixed or hybrid, substantially separate, and totally inclusive. Within each model, a wide range of supports and services is provided. Each model is described in the order of prevalence.

  1. Mixed/hybrid model: Students participate in social activities and/or academic classes with students without disabilities (for audit or credit) and also participate in classes with other students with disabilities (sometimes referred to as “life skills” or “transition” classes). This model typically provides students with employment experience on- or off-campus.
  2. Substantially separate model: Students participate only in classes with other students with disabilities (sometimes referred to as a “life skills” or “transition” program). Students may have the opportunity to participate in generic social activities on campus and may be offered employment experience, often through a rotation of pre-established employment slots on- or off-campus.
  3. Inclusive individual support model: Students receive individualized services (e.g., educational coach, tutor, technology, natural supports) in college courses, certificate programs, and/or degree programs, for audit or credit. The individual student’s vision and career goals drive services. There is no program base on campus. The focus is on establishing a student-identified career goal that directs the course of study and employment experiences (e.g., internships, apprenticeships, work-based learning). Built on a collaborative approach via an interagency team (adult service agencies, generic community services, and the college’s disability support office), agencies identify a flexible range of services and share costs. [14]

 

While much has changed since the inception of ASE programs in B.C. in the early 1980’s, the scope of post-secondary options accessible to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in B.C. is still very limited. The majority of current Adult Special Education programming offerings are employment-related, falling either under the category of “Employment Readiness” or “Sector Specific Skills Training” and would be categorized as either “mixed/hybrid” or “substantially separate” models, based on the definitions presented above. There are a limited number of other academic options, such as upgrading and technology courses, as well as very limited access to fully inclusive post-secondary education (IPSE) opportunities following the “inclusive support model” and supported through BCIPSE (the British Columbia Initiative for Inclusive Post Secondary Education – see Appendix). The BC IPSE website states that IPSE students access and engage in the same courses and opportunities to study, work, and play as any other student enrolled at college or university.” [15] Additionally, Kwantlen Polytechnic University currently has an innovative fully inclusive, for credit, pilot project (Including All Citizens Project).

 

Program Objectives

ASE programs support individuals with disabilities that create barriers to education, employment and independence. The programs provide classroom- based instruction and training opportunities to help adults acquire the literacy, life and employment skills necessary for further education, employment and ultimately independence. (Government of British Columbia, 2016)


Under the terms of the Canada-British Columbia Labour Market Agreement for ASE programs also respond to industry and community needs, and relate directly to local labour market trends. [16]Persons with Disabilities (LMAPD), performance of ASE programs is monitored annually for “Client Outcomes and Impact Indicators” related to “enhanced employability” or “employment”.  For that reason, there is an incentive for the emphasis of most ASE programs, to remain heavily focused on employability skills and employment, or enhanced employability as these are the main impacts measured in the LMAPD agreement.  As per the agreement, “British Columbia will report annually to citizens on programs and services funded under this framework to demonstrate the activities undertaken to improve the employment situation of persons with disabilities” (Government of Canada). (See box below)

 

Client outcomes and impact indicators:

Enhanced employability

  • Proportion who indicate they are prepared for new or better employment as a result of intervention, by intervention type;
  • Proportion who earn credentials/certification as a result of intervention, by intervention type; and,
  • Proportion who indicate career advancement (e.g., promotion, increased responsibilities) as a result of intervention, by intervention type.

Employment

  • For those unemployed pre-intervention, proportion of clients by employment status at 3 and 12 months post-intervention (employed/unemployed, hours worked, hourly earnings), by intervention;
  • For those employed pre-intervention, proportion of clients by employment status at 3 and 12 months post-intervention (employed/unemployed, hours worked, hourly earnings), by intervention type;
  • Proportion of clients indicating employment is closely related to educational background / work undertaken during intervention; and,
  • Proportion of clients satisfied with intervention, by intervention type.

 

A similar vocational focus exists in post-secondary education (PSE) programming in the United States.

PSE programs were designed to enable greater career development opportunities for youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities, with the ultimate goal of competitive employment. [17] Estimates of the extent to which PSE programs are employment focused range from 45% to 100%. [18] Regardless of type, most programs contain vocational training in the form of academic coursework, which usually includes a carer exploration component.   Coursework is designed to not only offer training in terms of job skills, but also vocationally related social skills. Additionally, students are typically required to participate in either a paid or unpaid vocational internship to gain valuable work experience. [19] [20]

As there is such a strong focus on work in B.C.’s ASE ER programs, experiential learning and work experience are naturally an integral component. Each of the 15 institutions offering ASE programming offers some form of “Employment Readiness” program. The goal of these “Employment Readiness” programs is to “provide post-secondary opportunities for adult learners with a disability/barrier to learn workplace skills, demonstrate employment readiness skills, and to explore opportunities for future learning and employment in a changing and diverse society.”[21] While all of the employment readiness programs offer some form of work experience, practices vary, sometimes greatly, between programs and institutions. For example, some programs offer short-term work experiences concurrent with their class schedule, while others offer up to full-time hours for blocks of several weeks at a time. Other differences include variations in methods and tools used to select appropriate work placements, the type and amount of on-site support provided, the assessment of student performance, approaches to reflection and debriefing exercises, to name a few. This variation in ASE programming allows institutions to cater to unique individual and community needs. However, shared research and a more formalized dialogue within the field would help to enhance standards and improve implementation of evidence-based practices.

An examination of listings of “Adult Special Education” type programs in other parts of Canada also indicates a wide variation in the factors noted above. There are other regional differences in Canada and the number and type of programs ranges widely across the country. In Alberta, for example, there is a heavy emphasis on Inclusive Post-Secondary Education options, in fact, Alberta is considered a world leader in this area (according to Inclusion Alberta, “Alberta has more Inclusive Post-Secondary Education Initiatives and more experience with Inclusive Post-Secondary Education than any jurisdiction in the world.” [22]

Not surprisingly, Ontario appears to have the largest number of “ASE” type offerings, including a coordinated network of “Community Integration through Co-Operative Education” (CICE) programs. The CICE programs provide “individuals with developmental disabilities and other significant learning challenges the opportunity to experience college life, pursue a post-secondary education and develop skills which will help prepare them for employment.” [23] It appears that almost all of these programs also include some type of work experience component.

In B.C., as specified in the BCCAT ASE transfer guide, there are two levels of Employment Readiness programs and the vast majority are designated “level 2” (See table below). The transfer guide stipulates that “Work Training/Experience” is considered a mandatory skill component of such programs and must include a minimum of 70% of the following outcomes (a link for the full Transfer Guide Project included in the Appendix):

 

The learner will:

1.      Identify and demonstrate safe work practices as per WorkSafeBC guidelines

2.      Participate in work site training orientation

3.      Identity and evaluate safe and unsafe work sites

4.      Complete a minimum of one work experience in an identified job, based on interests, skills and abilities when applicable

5.      Plan transportation to participate in an interview and work placement, as required

6.      Set goals and participate in evaluations

7.      Demonstrate good workplace habits and positive attitudes

8.      Plan and complete tasks as per instruction [24]

 

The transfer guide does not contain specific stipulations or recommendations in regard to how much time should be spent on work training/experience, but indicates that “a minimum of one” [25] should be included in programming.  A table from the Transfer Guide listing BC’s Employment Readiness Programs is included:

 
Institution Name Level 1 Level 2
Camosun College Certificate in Employment Training Level 1 Certification in Employment Training Level 2
Capilano University Discover Employability
Education and Employment Access
College of New Caledonia Job Education and Training (JET)
Techniques for Access, Reaching Goals, and Employment Training (TARGET)
College of the Rockies Education and Skills for Employment Program
Douglas College Transitions Career and Employment Preparation Program
Kwantlen Polytechnic University Work Exploration Program
Job Preparation Program
North Island College Practical Academics for the Workplace
Workplace Professionalism
Employment Transitions Program
Northwest Community College Workplace Skills Training (WST Program)
Retail Service Plus Program (RSPP)
Okanagan College Independent Living Skills Program (Basic Academic Skills Certificates Level A & B, & Advanced Skills Certificate
Inclusive Post-Secondary Education
Preparing for Access to Careers and Education Program (PACE)
Supported Access to Modified Education Program (SAME)
Selkirk College Foundations: Skills for Adult Living Discovery: Skills for Employment
Thompson Rivers University Work skills Training Program (WST)
Education and Skills Training Career Exploration (ESTR)
University of the Fraser Valley Workplace TASK (Training in Attitudes, Skills and Knowledge)
Vancouver Community College Computer Applications
Managing your Money
Reading & Writing Level 3Reading & Writing Level 4
Career Awareness
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Job Readiness Program
Vancouver Island University Workplace Essential Skills and Training Program (WEST )

Related post-secondary education options in United States evolved in a different fashion, but also include a focus on work experience, or internships as they are commonly called there. It is important to note that one of the main differences between the US and Canada is that the majority of expansion initiatives in post-secondary are specifically for students with intellectual disabilities. While it is mandated in the U.S. that transition planning take place for all students eligible for “special education” services, the post-secondary programs referred to here, are intended for students with intellectual disabilities (see eligibility requirement below).

 

Student with an intellectual disability means a student –

(1) With mental retardation or a cognitive impairment characterized by significant limitations in –

(i) Intellectual and cognitive functioning; and

(ii) Adaptive behavior as expressed in conceptual, social, and practical adaptive skills; and

(2) Who is currently, or was formerly, eligible for special education and related services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ( 20 U.S.C. 1401), including a student who was determined eligible for special education or related services under the IDEA but was home-schooled or attended private school. [26](Authority:  20 U.S.C.  10911140)

 

The expansion of post-secondary programming in the United States for students with intellectual disabilities has been relatively recent and rapid.  In the U.S., the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) of 2008, changed federal funding restrictions related to eligibility for financial aid. Since that time, there has been an enormous increase in the number of post-secondary options available specifically to students with intellectual disabilities. Previous to this, it was stipulated that students must have a high school diploma and be matriculating towards a degree in order to access any financial aid, thereby limiting eligibility for students with an intellectual disability (ID). These post-secondary programs must be approved “Comprehensive Transition Programs” (CTP) for federal financial aid eligibility.  CTP’s must meet a list of conditions defined by the HEOA of 2008 (see box below).

 

In order to be approved as a CTP, a program must meet the following requirements, as outlined in the HEOA:

  • Be delivered to students physically attending the institute of higher education.
  • Be offered by an institute of higher education that is participating in Title IV Federal Student Aid.
  • Be designed to support students with intellectual disability in preparation for employment.
  • Include an advising and curriculum structure.
  • Provide at least 50% of the program time in academics (college courses for credit or for audit, or internships) with other students without intellectual disabilities.[27]

 

Additionally, the Department of Education provided funding for model post-secondary Transition Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (TPSID grants). One of the four designated focus areas for TPSID programs is “integrated work experiences and career skills that lead to gainful employment.” [28] There are also numerous other post-secondary programs that are neither TPSID nor CTP offerings which are affiliated with a certified college or university and which serve students with ID. There are now 269 post-secondary programs listed on the Think College database, 48 of which receive TPSID funds, and all of which include some form of “employability” component. These programs operate in the full range from “fully inclusive” to “substantially separate”.

 

Think College is a national organization dedicated to developing, expanding, and improving inclusive higher education options for people with intellectual disability. With a commitment to equity and excellence, Think College supports evidence-based and student-centered research and practice by generating and sharing knowledge, guiding institutional change, informing public policy, and engaging with students, professionals and families. This work is conducted through several federal grant projects…”[29]

 

The Think College National Coordinating Centre “provides support, coordination, training and evaluation services…”[30]  for TPSID programs. Additionally, Think College houses a wealth of information related to inclusive post-secondary education and is a valuable source of research material. Link to further information about Think College and ThinkWork (a resource for programs specifically related to employment) are included in the Appendix.“ThinkWork is the hub for an array of programs related to employment for people with IDD at the Institute for Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts Boston.” [31] (ThinkWork, n.d.)

Within BC, there has clearly been both an expansion in programming and a growing body of research related to post-secondary education, employment and transitions for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. There has not, however, been a corresponding amount of research and articulation specifically related to work experience practices as an experiential component of ASE ER programming.


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  3. The Canadian Encyclopedia. (April 23, 2015). Historica Canada. Retrieved March 1, 2018, from The disability rights movement in Canada: http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/disability-rights-movement/
  4. Lindsay, J. (1982, March). ED253663.pdf. Retrieved February 4, 2018, from files.eric.gov: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED253663.pdf
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  11. American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 2018 https://www.aaidd.org/intellectual-disability/definition/faqs-on-intellectual-disability (retrieved in 2018)
  12. Ministry of Advanced Education. (2006).  Final Report of the Adult Special Education 2006 Cohort Study. http://www.llbc.leg.bc.ca/public/PubDocs/bcdocs/430571/ASE_Omnibus_Report.pdf 
  13. British Columbia Ministry of Advanced Education and Labour Market Development. (n.d.). Ten-year employment outlook for British Columbia. Retrieved from Government of Canada: http://www.aved.gov.bc.c Canada B.C. Labour Market Agreement for Persons with Disabilitiesa/labourmarketinfo/reports/COPS_BC_Unique_Scenario_2007-2017%20.pdf
  14. Hart, D. G. (2006, August). Postsecondary education options for students with intellectual disabilities: Research to practice 45. Retrieved from Institute for Community Inclusion: https://www.communityinclusion.org/article.php?article_id=178
  15. BC IPSE. (2018, June 12). British Columbia initiative for inclusive post-secondary education. Retrieved from British Columbia initiative for inclusive post-secondary education: https://www.bc-ipse.org
  16. Lowndes, D. (2018, May). Adult Special Education (ASE) Program-Specific Transfer Guide. Retrieved from British Columbia Council on Admissions and Transfer: http://www.bccat.ca/pubs/aseguide2018
  17. Grigal, M., Hart, D., Smith, F. A., Domin, D., Sulewski, J., & Weir, C. (2015). Think College National Coordinating Center: Annual report on the transition and postsecondary programs for students with intellectual disabilities (2013–2014). Boston, MA: University of Massachusetts
  18. Mary A. McEathron, Trisha Beuhring, Amelia Maynard, Ann Mavis, 2013. Understanding the Diversity: A Taxonomy for Postsecondary Education Programs and Services for Students with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability Volume 26(4), Winter 2013.
  19. Mary A. McEathron, Trisha Beuhring, Amelia Maynard, Ann Mavis, 2013. Understanding the Diversity: A Taxonomy for Postsecondary Education Programs and Services for Students with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability Volume 26(4), Winter 2013.
  20. Wehman, P., Avelline, L., Brooke, V., Hinterlong, P., Inge, K., Lau, S., & McDonough, J. R. (2017). Transition to Employment. In M. Wehmeyer, & K. Shogren (Eds.), Handbook of research-based practices for educating students with intellectual disability (pp. 450-470). New York, New York, United States of America: Routledge.
  21. Lowndes, D. (2018, May). Adult Special Education (ASE) Program-Specific Transfer Guide, p.7. Retrieved from British Columbia Council on Admissions and Transfer: http://www.bccat.ca/pubs/aseguide2018
  22. Inclusion Alberta. (2018, March 19). Post-secondary overview. Retrieved from Inclusion Alberta: http://inclusionalberta.org/inclusive-education/post-secondary-education-overview
  23. Lambton Kent Teen Transition Committee. (n.d.). Lambton Kent teen transition committee. Retrieved February 1, 2017, from CICE College Programs: http://www.teentransition-lk.org/Education/87
  24. Lowndes, D. (2018, May). Adult Special Education (ASE) Program-Specific Transfer Guide. Retrieved from British Columbia Council on Admissions and Transfer: http://www.bccat.ca/pubs/aseguide2018
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  26. Cornell Law School. (n.d.). 34 CFR 668.231 -Definitions. Retrieved February 9, 2018, from Legal Information Institute: https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/34/668.231
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  28. United States Department of Education. (n.d.). Laws & guidance/higher education transition and postsecondary programs for students with intellectual disabilities. Retrieved November 7, 2017, from U.S. Department of Education: https://www2.ed.gov/programs/tpsid/index.html
  29. ThinkCollege. (2017). ThinkCollege.net. Retrieved October 27, 2017, from Think college national coordinating center: https://thinkcollege.net/about/what-is-think-college/think-college-national-coordinating-center
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