New “Inclusive Postsecondary Opportunities” website, FERPA handout for parents

Good news! There are now over 260 programs on college campuses across the country offering students with intellectual disabilities an opportunity to earn a certificate by taking college classes, engaging in career development and independent living activities and participating in the social life of the campus.

Learn why inclusive postsecondary education is important (and possible!) for students with intellectual disabilities, how to find the right program, how to prepare, and how to stay involved and supportive throughout their journey on PACER’s new Inclusive Postsecondary Opportunities for Students with Intellectual Disabilities webpage. Pacer shared this information via their Inspiring Possibilities e-newsletter, which includes updates from Pacer’s National Parent Center on Transition and Employment. Click here to view the newsletter online.

In addition, Think College! has also created a helpful handout for parents advocating on behalf of their adult children in IPSE programs. As traditional four-year universities, community colleges, and trade and technical schools enroll more youth with disabilities, they are also hearing from more parents who expect to provide additional guidance and support to their youth during this transition. Parents accustomed to the Individualized Education Program (IEP) and transition team are often surprised to find there are no such supports at the college or university level. In fact, postsecondary institutions sometimes discourage parent involvement and do not make it a common practice to communicate with families. Parents may be told that the postsecondary institution cannot communicate education or health information to families due to the Federal Education Right to Privacy Act (FERPA). Learn more in the handout Communicating with Your Student’s College Under FERPA and hear a parent perspective in the previously recorded webinar You Don’t Say! Parent Involvement Expectations, Communication and FERPA Requirements in Postsecondary Education Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities.

February meeting of the Tennessee Inclusive Higher Education Alliance

The Tennessee Inclusive Higher Education Alliance (TN IHE Alliance) met in February to share program updates, to learn about postsecondary education-related research projects, and to hear more about upcoming advocacy opportunities.

The meeting began with welcome and introductions and then launched into a presentation of a Capstone Research Project led by two Lipscomb University doctoral candidates, Drs. Daniel Claytor and Adrienne Cook. They presented research titled “Inclusive Postsecondary Education Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities: A Study of Parental Perceptions,” created with responses of expectation surveys sent to parents of students enrolled in  inclusive postsecondary education (IPSE) programs.

Next, Belmont University Occupational Therapy students discussed their involvement with Lipscomb IDEAL students to encourage healthy living through regular activity, fitness knowledge, and accountability. One of the OT students discussed the creation of a “Fitness UNO” game and  plans to raise funds for activity trackers for each of the students. Next, =IDEAL gave updates to its program, particularly focusing on the addition of off-campus rental housing for third-year students.

Next Steps at Vanderbilt discussed creating and distributing a qualitative study to former Vanderbilt Ambassadores (traditional Vanderbilt University students and peers to Next Steps students) and another to graduate student faculty at Vanderbilt. Union University’s EDGE Program outlined research being conducted of supports that Union faculty members found beneficial when offering audited courses to EDGE students.

Following the program updates, IHE Alliance chair Tammy Day discussed professional development opportunities for local education agencies, including a Capacity Building event with Metro Nashville Public Schools and others; an expansion of programs across the State, that will make professional development more accessible across Tennessee; an inclusive higher education awareness event over the summer for in-service learning; and further steps to continue efforts. Day mentioned that East Tennessee State University would be piloting their own IPSE program beginning in Fall 2019.

Attendees then discussed opportunities for increasing IPSE programs at Tennessee community colleges. Details were shared on the upcoming TN AHEAD Conference taking place Mar. 18-20 at the Holiday Inn Nashville-Vanderbilt  (2613 West End Ave., Nashville). Attendees were then reminded of SEPSEA 2019 dates on May 16 and 17 at the College of Charleston in Charleston, SC, before adjourning.

The next IHE Alliance meeting will take place on Friday, June 14, from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. at the University of Memphis.

January 2019 Update from Next Steps at Vanderbilt

By Caitlin Bernstein

My name is Caitlin Bernstein and I am an alum of the Next Steps at Vanderbilt program. I am currently working at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center as a research analyst and also at the Next Steps offices.

Some of the tasks that I do at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center are making copies, assisting with big events like trainings and conferences, and putting data in Excel spreadsheets.

Some of the tasks that I do at the Next Steps offices are helping with the Next Steps open houses, helping with the Next Steps newsletter, assisting with special events like speaking on panels and making copies.

This year Next Steps has 29 students, and as we expand to a 4-year program, we have our first year of third year juniors! This spring the students are in 41 different Vanderbilt University classes. Most of the juniors have paid internships that are off-campus, while the freshman and sophomores are mostly on-campus and un-paid. Some of the internships are Tennessee Disability Pathfinder, the Rand Post Office, Vanderbilt Recycling, the Vanderbilt Department of Human Services, Commons Munchie Mart and so many more.

Ruby’s Rainbow 2019 Scholarship Application Now Open!

Ruby’s Rainbow has opened its application for 2019 Scholarships!

This scholarship is for individuals with Down syndrome who are 18 years of age or older, and who have a desire and intent to enroll or continue enrollment in a class or program that will enhance their life through employment, independent living or life skills, or interests in any other areas.

For more information, visit Ruby’s Rainbow scholarship application page.

November meeting of the Tennessee Inclusive Higher Education Alliance

The Tennessee Inclusive Higher Education Alliance (TN IHE Alliance) met in November to share program updates, to learn about postsecondary education-related research projects, and to hear more about upcoming advocacy opportunities.

Students enrolled the five inclusive higher education programs in Tennessee are well into the semester and are busy in integrated classes and internships. In Memphis, students in the TigerLIFE program are in internships with the recreational center, Holiday Inn, and the library. Externships include Marshall’s, Ronald McDonald House, and the Memphis Botanical Garden.

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s FUTURE Program currently has 16 full-time and 2 part-time students. Eight new students have lead a movement on inclusion on campus outside of the classroom. Lipscomb University’s IDEAL Program reported six new internship sites including the Nashville Soccer Club, ABLE, and the TN Council on Developmental Disabilities.

Next Steps at Vanderbilt, which recently expanded to four years, has 8 students in the midst of the inaugural junior year. A focus on student driven activities including paid internships on and off campus and independent studies have been a program priority. Union EDGE shared student employment stories from Campus dining, the Union basketball team, and the safety and security department.

Research on parent perspectives, motivations of peer mentors, faculty attitudes, and family quality of life were discussed.
Reports from faculty also highlighted Masters theses being written on topics such as friendships and experiences of belonging of current students and alumni, examination of freshman orientation, and self-management strategies.

In terms of policy education and advocacy, program staff were encouraged to engage their students at TN Disability Day on the Hill (March 2019) and during the 2019 April 8-10 Federal Disability Policy Seminar in Washington.

The next TN IHE Alliance meeting will take place at Lipscomb University on February 1, 2019.

Call for Proposals Opens for SEPSEA 2019

CALL FOR PROPOSALS IS OPEN for the Southeast Postsecondary Education Alliance Conference

Submission deadline is January 15, 2019.

Help shape the SEPSEA 2019 program! SEPSEA and the REACH Program are looking for presenters who can explore innovative topics, highlight the latest trends, and discuss best practices in inclusive postsecondary education for students with intellectual and/or development disabilities (IDD).

Proposals must be submitted online at the submission link below.  Only proposals submitted using this form will be considered.

Submission link:

For more information on SEPSEA 2019, May 16 & 17, 2019, in Charleston, SC visit

Think College 2018-19 Webinar Series Announced

There’s a brand new Think College Webinar Series, for the 2018-19 academic year. The first webinar, Universal Design for Learning Technology to Support Diverse Learners, debuts October 3, 2018.

Additional webinars announced will include a look into how the November elections will impact people with disabilities, answering FAQs about Vocational Rehabilitation, and developing partnerships for campus housing. More will be announced!


Registration for all of the webinars is FREE, and includes live participation as well as a link to the recorded webinar and transcript for use after the event.

To learn more about the series and to register for the webinars, visit the Think College event page.

August TN IHE Alliance Meeting: It’s like you were there!

Members of the Tennessee Inclusive Higher Education Alliance (TN IHE Alliance) came together in August, both in-person at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center and from afar via an online meeting platform (btw, all photos in this post are screenshots. What?).

Alliance members and guests shared highlights from Tennessee’s inclusive college programs, updates on related-research projects, and announcements about new financial aid opportunities for students. A few highlights from the meeting are included below.

Program Updates

University of Tennessee FUTURE students recently took part in Sport and Inclusion Week on the UT Knoxville campus. Joining the students were 17 international disability sport leaders. Paralympic executives, social entrepreneurs, and advocates. Participants were tasked with developing an action plan that explains the life challenges faced by people with disabilities in their countries and how sport can be used to address these challenges to ensure greater inclusion and accessibility. You can read more about the event HERE.


The communications internship of a Lipscomb University IDEAL student led to paid employment at the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD). Brad Bramlett compiles the Department’s electronic newsletter, composes internal communications for DIDD employees, and assists in some of the Department’s video projects. To watch a short video from DIDD on Brad’s employment journey, CLICK HERE.



Next Steps at Vanderbilt student Darko Osman organized an educational dinner event through the Vanderbilt Wond’ry called Dinner in the Dark. Vanderbilt students, faculty, and staff gathered for the unique dinner experience designed to challenge participants’ perceptions, build empathy, and break down social barriers. To read a news item on Dinner in the Dark, CLICK HERE.



Research Updates

Dr. Erik Carter (Next Steps at Vanderbilt) led updates on collaborative research activities among TN IHE Alliance members. Carter and his colleagues recently published research that looked at the motivations and expectations of 250 peer mentors attending five diverse universities that have inclusive higher education programs for students with intellectual disability. Additionally, an upcoming  Union University project aims to learn more about the  experiences of faculty members who are including students in their programs and classrooms. An upcoming TigerLIFE  project will study family quality of life.



Financial Assistance for Students Updates

Representatives from the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation provided information on how inclusive higher education students can access Tennessee PROMISE and Reconnect dollars. Currently students in three programs (Next Steps at Vanderbilt, UT FUTURE and Union EDGE) are eligible. Additional programs are currently applying for eligibility.

An announcement from the TN Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Services program was met with enthusiasm as members learned this year’s stipend for students eligible for VR support will increase!

Effective fall semester 2018 VR has increased funding for the Transitional Learning Services (TLS) programs at many colleges, not to exceed $3,000 per semester, not to exceed two (2) years or four (4) semesters.

For VR, TLS are considered vocational adjustment training services which include activities that:

  • Assist an individual to acquire personal and work habits, skills and techniques that will enable functioning in a formal training or employment setting;
  • Develop or increase work tolerance; or
  • Orient an individual to the world of work.

Currently, the following universities in Tennessee offer TLS:


Next meetings:

  • November 2, 2018 – Union University, 1 p.m.
  • February 2019 – Lipscomb University, time TBD
  • May 2019 – University of Memphis, 9 a.m.

Union EDGE welcomes new assistant director

In July, the Union EDGE Program welcomed its newest team member assistant director Andrew Blackard. Andrew graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education with a Health Endorsement from Union in December of 2015. He will live on campus to serve Union EDGE students in the evening and weekend time periods. Welcome, Andrew!