BOSTON - The Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress held its fifth annual advocacy day with a focus on access to higher education.
“Just like their typical peers, without disabilities, when they finish high school they want to go on to college and participate in extracurricular activities,” said Maureen Gallagher, executive director of Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress.
Gallagher said for many students with developmental disabilities, education grinds to halt after high school.
“Many people with down syndrome don’t take the MCAS. So, when they finish high school, they get a certificate of completion, not a diploma. That precludes them from attending one of the public colleges or universities,” said Gallagher.
New legislation creating higher education opportunities would close take away those barriers.
Great meeting Matthew at #MDSCAdvocacyDay2018— Kerry Kavanaugh (@KerryKavanaugh) May 31, 2018
He’s a student @SalemState. Tonight @boston25 at 4&6 we’ll explain how he @TheMDSC is advocating for access to higher ed for all students with intellectual disabilities. A new law to break down barriers. pic.twitter.com/KFukoWlqkY
“I just want to be like everyone else,” said Matthew Cullen.
Cullen is an Ipswich native and now attends Salem State University. He has down syndrome; he said that when he walks across campus and attends class, “It feels amazing.”
Cullen is at Salem State through a grant program that started 10 years ago, but the program is limited.
The legislation would open the program up to all 29 public universities and colleges in the Commonwealth and would triple the number of eligible students from currently less than 200 to more than 500.
Cullen has been thriving on campus, enrolling in public speaking, nursing, health and even rock climbing classes. He hopes more kids can follow in his footsteps.
“Just go for it. Reach for it. Believe. You got this, and I got this,” said Cullen.
Right now, the legislation is in the House and Senate Ways and Means Committees, the furthest it's ever gotten. So hope this is the year MDSC hopes it can get it across the finish line.
Advocates say this access have real-life benefits, citing a study from UMass Boston which determined people with intellectual disabilities that participate in college are three times more likely to get paid employment.
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