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Students with Intellectual Disabilities Get a “Step-Up” at AUB
3/28/2017
Jennifer Muller  |  Office of Communications  |  media@aub.edu.lb  | 

​Step-Up Program students at the AUB cafeteria​

On any given day at AUB’s cafeteria in Ada Dodge Hall, you may see a small group of students who have overcome a lot of obstacles to make it to AUB. These are students who have intellectual disabilities. They are grabbing a bite to eat between classes like any other AUB student.

 
The students are part of the Step-Up Program, a certificate program being offered at the Continuing Education Center (CEC) of AUB’s Regional External Programs (REP) which aims to offer life skills and career education to young people with intellectual disabilities. The goal is to help prepare these young adults to lead independent and fulfilling lives, fully integrated within the community and with productive employment.

 
After two and half years of preparation, and a pilot study, this innovative program was launched at a special event in February, and instruction began in March. The program is a collaboration between the CEC and the Lebanese Down Syndrome Association (LDSA). For the past 20 years, LDSA has been raising awareness around Down syndrome and advocating for inclusive educational opportunities. With the collaboration of organizations such as Heritage College, OpenMinds, and the Diet Center, LDSA has made great strides for people with intellectual disabilities in Lebanon. 

 
“The idea for this program came from one of the parents whose daughter was born with Down syndrome. After completing 12 years at an inclusive school with a modified special program, this young adult could not find any further prospects for continued education and employment,” explained Program Coordinator Maha Marji. 

 
Nine students gather daily from 9am to 4pm. During the foundation year, a team of instructors offers basic literacy and numeracy courses as well as workshops in drama, arts, and computer. For the second and third years, students follow a “Life Centered (and career guidance) Education” curriculum published by the Council for Exceptional Children in the US.

 
“The Step-Up Program focuses on abilities and what students can do, rather than what they cannot do,” said Marji. “We all have the right to be independent.”

 
One of the prime movers in getting the program off the ground is Hana Abu Khadra Salem, one of the co-founders of LDSA. She said that they are hoping to make connections with other departments at AUB, such as Education and Psychology, for a mutually enriching partnership.

 
“We would also like to get involved with other departments such as Public Health, Nutrition, Agriculture, and Nursing as possible venues for the students to choose as their career,” said Salem. “Students will be learning through apprenticeships to learn onsite, not theoretically. In this way, we will be exposing the students to different possible career paths.” 

 
Director of the CEC, Ziad Shaaban, said that this is one of several programs at CEC that they consider the corporate social responsibility arm of REP.  Another is a recently launched pilot program for the teaching of sign language. CEC also just finished a three-year “train-the-trainers” program for NGOs on teaching leadership and emotional intelligence skills.

 
“This is in line with the University’s objective of community service and community impact,” explained Shaaban. “The purpose of these programs is not to generate money, like we do with other programs; rather, the focus is on impact.”

 
Individuals with intellectual disabilities experience variable degrees of delays in cognitive development that are sometimes accompanied by physical development delays. Misconceptions about people with intellectual disabilities such as Down syndrome are widespread, not only in Lebanon but around the world. Yet there is hope that these young people will be entering a society that respects differences and accepts diversity.

 
“My daughter has Down syndrome and she is now 26 years old,” said Hana Salem. “From the day she was born until today, things have changed a lot.  At least people are talking about disability, it’s not a taboo anymore. Now we talk to big establishments like banks and tell them about the project and they are saying, ‘Let’s see what we can do.’  Before that, they said, ‘No, these kids can’t do anything.’” 

 
There is a strong need for such a program in Lebanon, with its potential to make a big difference in many people’s lives.  “This program will have a strong rippling effect, I believe,” said Marji.
Story Highlights
  • On any given day at AUB’s cafeteria in Ada Dodge Hall, you may see a small group of students who have overcome a lot of obstacles to make it to AUB. These are students who have intellectual disabilities. They are grabbing a bite to eat between classes like any other AUB student.

 
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Tel: 961-1-350000 Ext. 2670
Email: media@aub.edu.lb
 
 
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