Langevin Announces Grant for URI to Enhance Inclusion, Retention of Students with Disabilities

Sep 18, 2002
(Warwick, R.I.)–Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) today announced that the U.S. Department of Education has awarded a $265,890 grant to the University of Rhode Island (URI) to expand a state-wide program aimed at fostering a more inclusive environment for students with disabilities.

 Pamela Rohland, URI’s assistant director of student life, has led a three year effort to develop effective teaching strategies designed to enhance the inclusion and retention of students with disabilities at institutions of higher education.  Called “Changing the Culture,” the program has successfully trained a network of 103 disability resource mentors in Rhode Island who serve as resources to their colleagues, and developed a website, listserv, curriculum and resource manual for each mentor.

 “The real handicap is the negative stereotype that exists in our culture, not the situation that creates the disability,” Rohland said.  “We know at URI that students with disabilities do as well or better than the general student body, but we need to get that information to the faculty and administrators.  By providing them with this information we hope to disintegrate some of the negative stereotypes.”

 “These federal funds will enable the University of Rhode Island to expand horizons for a greatly underserved group of people,” said Congressman Langevin.  “The unemployment rate for people with disabilities hovers at a staggering 70%, and homeownership in the single digits- this has to change.  Thanks to URI, this great untapped American resource will have better access to educational opportunities and a better chance to be productive members of our workforce and make a difference in their communities.” 

With the new grant, the project will be upgraded to become an interactive resource for colleges and universities around the country.  The curriculum will be refined and further tested, the network of mentors will be expanded beyond Rhode Island, and the program materials will be produced on CD-ROM for distribution to other institutions.

 According to Rohland, the guiding principle of the program is that disability is an example of cultural diversity.  Because of negative stereotypes, students with disabilities are often discouraged from participating fully in higher education and experience lowered expectations, inaccessible environments, and limiting course policies.  “Changing the Culture” is designed to create systemic change in institutions of higher education to combat these threats to the intellectual, academic and personal achievement of students with disabilities.
 Mentors have been trained at URI, CCRI, Rhode Island College, Brown University, Johnson and Wales University, Salve Regina University and New England Tech.  Training teams have also been established at RIC and CCRI to further expand the program at those institutions.