By Bridget Brown
I have never let the fact that I have Down Syndrome stop me from dreaming about what I want to do in my life.
I was the first person with a disability included in general education classes in my school district, and I have continued on my inclusion adventure throughout my life.
I am very excited because recently I started a new chapter in my life. I am a college student at the University of Illinois Chicago, UIC Co-Operative Experience Certificate program, also called the Co-Op program. This is a two-year inclusive program that has both an academic and a career focus. For me this is a dream come true!
You might be wondering what my college experience is like. I would like to share a little about my new college experience. Maybe some of you are self-advocates and thinking about college, or some of you might already be in college and would like to know more about my experience.
I have always wanted to go to college. Before I went to the UIC Co-Op program, I started out attending my local community college for a number of years. They have lots of exciting classes there, but I was hoping for something more inclusive. I also did an online summer college program during the pandemic at another community college. That was fun!
When I started with the UIC Co-Op program, my first class was called Radical Inclusion. This was a perfect class for me because I am an inclusion advocate, and it gave me information about the history of inclusion and disabilities. Now I know how to be a better advocate for people with disabilities. It was very interesting. During that time, I even made friends because I worked with a team of my peers who were also in the Co-Op program.
I also took a class called Career Building. This helped me prepare to get a paid internship and employment. I made a cover page and fixed up my resume. I learned interviewing skills and the difference between formal vs informal questions. I also learned how to get a paid internship.
Being part of this class, I learned the importance of being professional in my work relationships. I now have a paid internship at the nursing simulation lab in the nursing department at UIC.
I love my new internship at the nursing department working in the simulation lab. This is a lab where students learn how to work with patients by practicing on amazing mannequins. They also work with patients who are actors. I am one of the actors who plays the part of a patient with a disability so the students can learn about how to work with individuals with disabilities in a health care setting. It is very exciting and a new program for the nursing department. I love it! We are working as team that includes nurses, dentists and pharmacists.
This fall, I am studying Disability in American Film. I am learning how people with disabilities are portrayed in movies and how that describes their life to people in the world. The way movies portray people with disabilities can be positive or negative. It is important to hear the real voices of people with disabilities so they can share their own stories about their lives.
For me, college life is wonderful, but it is hard! I have to be very organized and speak up for myself. I have a letter of accommodations so I can get a lot of accommodations in my college classes. This is very helpful!! Being part of a college and being included in general education classes is fantastic. I love working with other students who are also in the program and some who are college students without disabilities. I want to get to know more students and professionals.
Life as a college student is different, but I am learning the ropes of being safe and using self-determination by speaking up for myself and for helping others. I also learned that classmates are very kind and respectful, and that I can trust them. I have an app on my phone that helps me get around this very big campus. I also need transportation because I don’t drive. I am glad I have some support people to help me.
As part of my program, I went to Washington, D.C. in June as a Think College Policy Advocate with my teacher Jordyn Jensen. I advocated for college opportunities for people with disabilities and more inclusive opportunities in education and employment for people with intellectual disability. We encouraged lawmakers to open their minds and break down barriers that prevent people with disabilities from going to college. College should be accessible to everyone with and without a disability.
I told them that:
- Everyone deserves the right to live in their home and in their community where they belong.
- Everyone deserves the right to learn in a FULLY inclusive environment.
- Everyone deserves the right to access higher education and be a lifelong learner.
- Everyone deserves the right to have a career, be employed, and be paid a competitive salary.
I hope that they listened and that they will open some more doors for disabled people.
I hope you enjoyed my thoughts about my college experience. If you are a self-advocate and thinking about college, I encourage you to check it out and see what is available in your area and throughout the country. There are lots of great programs! If you are in high school, I encourage you to think ahead and take classes that will help you be successful in college.
Remember to ALWAYS DWELL IN THE POSSIBILITIES!
Bridget Brown is a self-advocate who is a national public speaker and a champion for inclusion in school and in our communities.
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