OSU Navigation Bar

Nisonger Center expands employment programs for students with intellectual disabilities

Editor’s Note: A version of this story by Drs. Bill Bauer and Margo Vreeburg Izzo appears as “Employment Programs Prepare College Students” in the Fall 2011 issue of DD Quarterly, page 5. The DD Quarterly newsletter is a collaboration among the Ohio Developmental Disabilities Council, Ohio Legal Rights Service, the Nisonger Center and the University of Cincinnati, University Center of Excellence in Developmental Disabilities.

Colin Schaffer taking notes in class with a “SMART PEN.” This device allows students to write and provides visual and auditory feedback.

Colin goes to work at The Ohio State University’s Prior Health Sciences Library five days a week. He retrieves medical journals and books to the stacks, and sorts and delivers the mail. One night a week he attends a class at Ohio State. What does Colin like best? Getting paid, of course!

Kyle works at the Ohio State University Medical Center’s Ross Heart Hospital Information Desk. Chris works as a cashier at the Medical Center’s Seasons’ Café. Lena works as a dental assistant aide at Ohio State’s Nisonger Center Dental Clinic. These young adults are participating in one of two new employment programs coordinated by the Nisonger Center: Transition Options in Postsecondary Settings for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (TOPS) and Vocational Rehabilitation Private Public Partnership (VRP3). These programs provide an age-appropriate setting for students to gain the skills they need to work in competitive employment.

TOPS Program

The goal of TOPS is to develop and refine a statewide model that delivers inclusive postsecondary options. This includes participation in college classes; internships; housing; and social experiences that result in improved academic, employment and adult living outcomes. Through this five-year, federally funded project (2010-15), approximately 100 students with intellectual disabilities between ages 18 and 29 will receive services at college campus sites. Ohio State, University of Toledo and Xavier University are currently participating.

Students in the TOPS program have access to a variety of supportive services such as academic coaching, job coaching and recreation/daily living skill coaching. Volunteers, mentors and graduate students are trained as coaches. Students also participate in Ohio State’s First Year Orientation weekly topical sessions. These sessions include a campus tour and learning about good study habits, financial independence, safe sex, substance abuse, independent living, healthy eating habits, diversity, family relationships and social appropriateness. TOPS students are expected to attend the sessions with an academic coach and to participate and reflect on each session. When students complete the program, they have an electronic portfolio that demonstrates skills and competencies obtained through video and digital mediums.


Colin scanning journals at Prior Health Sciences Library.

Creating and testing these services and activities within age-appropriate postsecondary settings through the TOPS program offers alternatives to sheltered workshops, currently the primary option available in some communities for persons with intellectual disabilities. In addition, college students majoring in disability-related disciplines gain authentic experiences that will enhance their professional growth.

VRP3 Program

The VRP3 program expands employment opportunities using the Project SEARCH model. Funds from the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission allow the Nisonger Center to provide job development and coaching services through internships for clerical, medical information management, environmental services, dietary and library aide jobs on Ohio State’s campus. A job coach supports each student until he or she can perform the job tasks at a competitive rate.

Current VRP3 program placements are at the Prior Health Sciences Library, Season’s Café (University Hospital cafeteria), Nisonger Center Dental Clinic, Medical Center customer service and a cashier at the Ohio State University Medical Center. Assistive technology (AT) assessments and support are also available for these students, including computers, assistive scribing devices and video prompting.

The Nisonger Center plans to serve eight young adults in the VRP3 program during 2011-12 and will begin accepting applications for the 2012-13 academic year in January 2012. To be considered for this program, applicants must be eligible for services from the Rehabilitation Services Commission and have their own transportation to the Ohio State campus.

Click here for more information about both programs.

Related links:
Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities
Ohio Rehabilitation Services Comission
DD Quarterly Fall 2011 Issue

Date Posted: 
Thursday, November 3, 2011
Share this page