3 students in college class

Inclusive Post-Secondary Education: Family Stories, Continued

Companion post to “Let’s Celebrate: Inclusive Post-Secondary Education.”

Disability access in higher education has improved considerably since today’s grandparents were in college. Accommodations and stigma are still issues, however—particularly for students with intellectual or developmental disability (IDD), since college admissions traditionally focused on high grades and high achievers.

Fortunately, more and more colleges are recognizing the benefits of helping everyone develop their full potential. Higher-ed programs designed for students with IDD are now found across the U.S., and more are being added every year.

One college offering such programs is the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Today, we share comments from Zakee, who is preparing to start at the University this fall, and from his mother, Jan.

college students sitting around table with laptops and notebooks


My parents and brother encouraged me to go to college and to keep trying. I hope to gain knowledge to be independent so I can live on my own. I like the St. Thomas campus. I think their program is good and I will learn independence skills.

I also want to:

  • Do photography.
  • Play soccer. 
  • Be with the regular people on campus too, not only with other people with disabilities.
  • Learn to dance and play music instruments like the piano and drums. 

After college, I would like to teach children music. And I want to volunteer and help people at other organizations, especially where kids are sick.


We didn’t want to be a roadblock or limiting factor to what Zakee could achieve: we always felt it was our responsibility to expose him to all the experiences and opportunities we could. We want him to have all the options and advantages he can, including the opportunity to experience college life like his brother, family, and friends. 

Unfortunately, the public schools did nothing to encourage higher education for Zakee. In fact, for years we went into special-education review meetings, started by stating that we intended to prepare Zakee to attend college—and were met with rolled eyes. Thankfully, we also had family, friends, and others who encouraged us and Zakee. And we had The Rise School, and so many people we’ve met over the years in the Down Syndrome and disability communities. 

Another mom, whose daughter also had a disability, recommended that we look into the University of St. Thomas’s program. We all liked the opportunities and supports the university had available. We also love that Zakee will stay close to home while also getting practice in independent living.

Zakee loves to work with younger kids. He is amazing with them, and he has a lot of patience! Music is a new interest. It will be interesting to see where it takes him.

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