Like many people, when Daniel Castellanos graduated J.P. McCaskey High School in 2013, he wanted to go to college.
But as a student with an intellectual disability, that was a longshot.
Options presented to him included a state-run post-secondary school for people with disabilities.
But Castellanos said he didn’t want to go there because he didn’t feel he’d be improving himself, he said.
He wanted to go to Millersville University.
This semester, he became the first student to enroll at Millersville in a pilot program for students with intellectual disability.
“The reason why I wanted to go to this college is to show people that people with disabilities can go to this college,” Castellanos said Friday.
Castellanos didn’t want to say exactly what his intellectual disability is.
“It’s Daniel’s experience that if he and others focus on what he can do, rather than what he can’t do, things just turn out better,” said Thomas Neuville, educational foundations professor at Millersville and head of the program.
Castellanos also will be taking part this week in an event at Millersville celebrating next year’s 25th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
He’ll be delivering a monologue about mistreatment of people with disabilities.
“He’s going to try to undo bias,” Neuville said.
On Wednesday and Thursday, the university is hosting the ADA Legacy Project, a nonprofit that’s conducting yearlong traveling exhibit to celebrate achievements and educate people about the ADA and disability rights.
“The short of it is, Daniel wouldn’t be at Millersville University without the ADA,” Neuville said.
The ADA “opened the door for people to come to the community,” Neuville said, likening the fight for disabilities rights to earlier battles for civil rights and voting rights for women.
Castellanos said he’s been enjoying college life. He commutes, but will live on campus next year.
“I want to show everyone that students with disabilities can be fun to hang around and everything will be fine,” he said. “… I’ve been making lots of friends and a lot of them have been coming up to me and seeing me as a fun kind of person.”
The Millersville program is funded through a grant from the Dreams Realized through Educational Aspiration Model Partnership, a Central Pennsylvania nonprofit.
Sherri Landis, executive director of the DREAM Partnership, said similar programs have been in place at other colleges and the demand is growing.
“There has not been a program that’s started and is now nonexistent for lack of students coming,” she said.
The grant funds the development of a two-year “Career and Life Studies Certificate” program. Castellanos is taking classes in wellness, theater and education.
Possible careers are in the theater and hospitality management fields.
Castellanos has participated in the M-Uth Theater program, which is directed by Barry Kornhauser, director of outreach programs at Millersville, and gives at-risk, handicapped and disadvantaged Lancaster youth the opportunity to stage a production.
The goal of the program Neuville is heading is to give students the skills to get better paying jobs than they might otherwise be limited to.
Neuville said the plan is to expand the program to six students next fall.
“The more diverse you have your community, the more your community learns,” he said.
He’s been working on developing the program for some time, but wanted to make sure it was done right.
“We were not willing over the past several years to put together a program that was anything but inclusive,” he said.
According to Neuville, including students with intellectual disabilities as typical college students benefits faculty, staff and students.
“We are interested in these students being full participants in all aspects of university life, rather than being a part of a ‘special’ or separate program,” he said.
So that means Castellanos and future students in the program will go to football games, parties and classes, live in dorms and have the opportunity to make mistakes and grow and learn — “just exactly what every other student is doing,” Neuville said.Read Original Article