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Micro-documentary series shines spotlight on disability in higher ed

Micro-Documentary Series Shines Spotlight on Disability in Higher Ed
Short films aim to promote positive imaging of people with disabilities

Born in India and raised in an orphanage there for half a decade before moving to the U.S., 30-year-old Cori Piels has always believed that she can accomplish anything that she sets out to do. That persistence and determination has manifested for her over the years on the ice as a figure skater, in the classroom as a college student, and in her job today at Rochester AmeriCorps.

A new micro-documentary series, called “The Opportunity Project,” created by the Center for Disability and Education (formerly the Institute for Innovative Transition) at the University of Rochester and funded by the B. Thomas Golisano Foundation, shares Piels’ story of success and growth, along with short video stories of other young adults with intellectual disabilities who have benefited from a meaningful college experience.

With the dream of attending college, Piels took part in the local Transition and Postsecondary Program for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (TPSID) initiative. TPSID, part of a nationwide effort funded by the U.S. Department of Education, makes it possible for students with intellectual disabilities to attend and succeed in college today. In 2014, Piels graduated with her higher education certificate at Monroe Community College (MCC). She currently works as an inclusive specialist at Rochester AmeriCorps and continues to participate in the Special Olympics. View Piels’ story.

“The Opportunity Project” film series features short films, around 7 to 8 minutes long, each centering around one young person with an intellectual or developmental disability building a positive, self-determined, and satisfying adult life. In its mission to increase positive images of people with disabilities in the media, the Center for Disability and Education, through these video stories, aims to promote a sense of possibility, open doors, and precedent about these individuals as they transition into adulthood. The content of the films was shaped and led by people with disabilities, as well as others whom they selected to help tell their stories.

“Disability is often seen as a barrier in our society,” says Martha Mock, director of the Center for Disability and Education and associate professor at the Warner School of Education. “Through real-life stories, like Cori’s and others, we hope to change the way people think and talk about disability. These short films help illustrate how inclusion in postsecondary education fosters growth and opportunity among young adults as they work to reach their potential and live the life they want and deserve.”

Robert Lonie, like Piels, never let anything get in his way. The second in the ongoing film series centers around the life of Lonie, who was the first student to live on campus as part of the D.R.I.V.E. (Diversity, Responsibility, Inclusion, Vision, and Experiential Learning) Program at Keuka College. His time as a college student was an experience that changed the lives of many, including his own. In addition to recruiting college students to become peer mentors for the D.R.I.V.E. Program, he worked with Keuka staff to create the second video, which chronicles his life as a college student with an intellectual disability.

Lonie, who always valued learning and being a part of the college community, graduated with his higher education certificate in 2013 and continues to work as a staff member at Keuka College. He is also actively involved in speaking about his college journey to state and national audiences. View Lonie’s story.

In addition to the technical assistance and leadership provided by the Center for Disability and Education, several partnering colleges, schools, and agencies provide coordination and resources to help make it possible for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities to attend and succeed in college. These partners include: Arc of Yates, CP Rochester, Keuka College, Lifetime Assistance, Inc., Monroe 1 BOCES, Monroe 2-Orleans BOCES, Monroe Community College, NYS Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, Penn Yan Central School District, Roberts Wesleyan College, Rochester Center for Community Leadership, Rochester City School District, and the University of Rochester.

Learn more about the Golisano Foundation. For more information about college options for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, contact the Center for Disability and Education.