Creating Our Own Lives

College Students with Intellectual Disability

by Michael GillBeth Myers

How do students with intellectual disability experience higher education? Creating Our Own Lives addresses this question through the eyes of participants themselves. In relating their experiences and aspirations, these student perspectives mount a powerful challenge to assumptions that intellectual disability is best met with protection or segregation.

Taken together, the essays expose and contradict the inherently ableist claim that individuals with intellectual disability cannot be reliable storytellers. Instead, their deeply informative stories serve as a corrective narrative. The first of the four sections, “Laying the Foundation: Why Everyone Belongs in College,” focuses on belonging and inclusion; the second, “Opening Up Possibilities: Overcoming Doubt and Uncertainty,” conveys the optimism of this generation of advocates through stories of personal hardship, hopeful perseverance, and triumph over adversity; the third, “Inclusion as Action: Diversifying Student Experiences,” supports the understanding of diverse student experiences in inclusive higher education; and the fourth, “Supporting Growth: Peer Mentoring and Advice,” offers guidance to those reimagining and creating educational spaces.

Students with disabilities belong in higher education. Not only does this book serve as an important record of students enrolled in inclusive higher education programs, it is also an unprecedented resource, packed with information and inspiration both for parents seeking opportunities for their children and for individuals with intellectual disability who aspire to attend college.

Background photo by Peter Gibbons on Unsplash

Chapter Drafts

In this volume, the authors are sharing their experiences and perspectives on higher education. Some of the pieces are written in conversation with friends, or peers. Others are written by individuals. The authors have used Google Docs, voice recognition, word processing software, speech-to-text apps, Zoom, FaceTime, and many other technologies to capture their experiences and expertise. One constant refrain through the multi-year process of putting together this book was “anything goes.” Embedded in this collection is a flexibility grounded in a belief that everyone has a story to tell and share. Labels of intellectual disability do not make these stories irrelevant or inconclusive. Sometimes the mode of telling shifts or requires a different set of tools, but a key guiding principle remains: disabled students belong in higher education. This book serves as an archive of the first generation of students enrolled in inclusive higher education programs.

  • Teaching, Assisting, Reflecting: Our Experience Working Together

    by Phillandra Smith, Meghan Brozaitis

    In this piece, Meghan Brozaitis and Phillandra Smith, both of Syracuse University, discuss their experiences co-teaching. Meghan was the intern and Phillandra was the instructor of record. They both discuss what worked and what was less successful in their experience working together.

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  • Goal(s) in Common

    by Hannah Lenae Humes

    In this poem, Hannah Humes writes about the importance of setting goals.

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  • Adventures in Post-Secondary Education

    by Stirling Peebles

    In this piece, Stirling Peebles discusses her experiences of inclusive higher education at the University of Vermont. Peebles powerfully argues that individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities should be given opportunities to attend inclusive higher education programs.

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  • True Rafferty Interviewed by Nathan Heald

    by True Rafferty, Nathan Heald

    In this podcast, Nathan Heald interviews True Rafferty about his college experience at Georgia Tech. In the interview, Rafferty discusses how college helped him gain confidence and develop plans for the future.

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  • Qua’s GT Excel Life

    by Qua Barnes

    In this piece, Qua Barnes from Georgia Tech discusses the importance of never giving up. Also included is his original rap, “Never Give Up.”

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  • “Inclusive College for All” and “How My Perception of My History Prof Changed”

    by Keiron Dyck

    In these pieces, Keiron Dyck from Appalachian State University discusses the importance of advocating for making accommodations in order to succeed in college.

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  • My story about Aggies Elevated at Utah State University

    by Brenna Mantz

    Here Brenna Mantz from Utah State University discusses how her college experience prepared her for her career in higher education.

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  • I Want to Go to College!

    by Antonio E. Contreras

    In this piece, Antonio E. Contreras, from Georgia Tech University discusses his path to college. He had to switch programs to find a better fit, in doing so moved across the country from his family and community. He had to find friends and support in Georgia and use technology to connect with his family and friends back home. He writes about his dreams for the future and why he loves being in an inclusive higher education program.

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  • “BGWYN (Black Girl What's Your Name?)” and “Confidence with Curves”

    by Taylor Cathey

    In this piece, Taylor Cathey, from Roberts Wesleyan College shares a poem, “Black Girl What’s Your Name” and a short story about trying out for a fashion show on campus. Although the fashion show was canceled, Cathey writes of the importance of taking advantage of opportunities on campus, and challenging negative self-images and assessments.

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  • I Got In

    by Taylor Ruppe

    In this piece, Taylor Ruppe, from Appalachian State University writes about her adjustment to campus. She talks about various strategies to feel comfortable in a new setting including taking pictures of locations and planning routes ahead of time.

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  • Being Independent Has Risks: How to Recover When Something Terrible Happens

    by Kailin Kelderman, Eilish Kelderman, Mary Bryant

    In this chapter, Kailin Kelderman discusses her experience of sexual assault. Her mother, Mary Bryant and sister, Eilish Kelderman also offer their reflections. Collectively, the three share meanings of resilience, healing, and the importance of support.

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  • isbn
  • publisher
    University of Minnesota Press
  • publisher place
    Minneapolis, MN
  • restrictions
    All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
  • rights
    This work was supported by the Lawrence B. Taishoff Center for Inclusive Higher Education and the Center on Disability and Inclusion at Syracuse University.

    Copyright 2023 by the Regents of the University of Minnesota
  • rights holder
    Regents of the University of Minnesota
  • doi