Senate Bill Helps Special Education Students Attend Colleges

Andover Sen. Barbara L’Italien originally proposed the bill.

The Massachusetts Senate last week passed legislation to allow students with intellectual and developmental disabilities to attend college with their same-aged peers.

The bill, originally sponsored by Andover Sen. Barbara L’Italien opens state colleges and universities to students who have been historically denied access to higher education, and held back to complete additional years of high school, because their disability prevented them from obtaining a high school diploma.

“Massachusetts has always been a leader in creating opportunities for individuals with disabilities and this bill represents another step forward to enrich the lives of  not only students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, but also entire college communities where students benefit from working with students different from them” said L’Italien, who has been working on this initiative for nearly 10 years as a state representative, former chairman of the Statewide Autism Commission and now as a state senator. “Post-secondary education is essential for success in today’s world, and by including individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities on our college campuses we can ensure that all motivated students can come together to collaborate with each other and learn the skills necessary for work and life,” she added.

“Like all Massachusetts students, students with disabilities deserve access to the academic, social and workforce training benefits of higher education. This bill reinforces the legislature’s commitment to inclusion and opportunity for people of all ages and abilities, helping students develop skills, live independently and transition to adulthood,” said Senate Committee on Ways and Means Chair Senator Karen E. Spilka.

The bill also allows high school students, ages 18 to21, with intellectual and developmental disabilities to participate in an inclusive college course and the college student life of as part of their high school special education. Thirteen colleges and universities already partner with nearly 70 school districts statewide to offer the program, and now it will be available statewide for the rest of the residents of the Commonwealth.

“Higher education provides important social and educational opportunities for our young people and this bill will provide individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities the same opportunities as their peers,” said Senate President Stan Rosenberg.

The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.