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IMPACT

Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology: Seattle's DO-IT Program

By Weol Soon Kim-Rupnow and Sheryl Burgstahler

Since the inception of the Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology (DO-IT) Scholars program in 1992, more than 200 students with a variety of disabilities have successfully transitioned from secondary schools to postsecondary education and employment settings. DO-IT Scholars are high school students who want to pursue postsecondary studies and careers but face significant challenges due to their disabilities. While participating in the program they develop self-determination skills, along with social, academic, and career skills that are necessary preparation for postsecondary studies and careers. The program has three key components: a) a two-week residential Summer Study, b) year-round computer and Internet activities, and c) career preparation. A key strategy employed in all of these components is significant use of technology designed primarily to support students with disabilities.

Residential Summer Study

DO-IT Scholars are accepted into the program when they are sophomores in high school, and attend the first Summer Study session for two weeks while residing in a dormitory at the University of Washington in Seattle. They meet other participating young people with disabilities and adult mentors while becoming involved in a wide variety of activities to prepare for college, careers, and other aspects of adult life. Activities include participation in academic lectures, group discussions, science labs, resumé writing, mock interviews with professors and employers, academic and career exploration on the Internet, electronic communication with mentors, and disability services presentations. In much of the Summer Study, Scholars are trained in Internet and computer use in a computer lab equipped with adaptive technology identical to the systems DO-IT provides for their homes. Ongoing technology support allows DO-IT Scholars to communicate online with each other and their adult mentors year-round after their first Summer Study.

Scholars return for a second Summer Study session the following year and then have the option of returning for a third-year Summer Study internship.

Computer and Internet Activities

DO-IT Scholars have opportunities to develop computer and Internet skills and build and sustain peer and mentor support relationships over many years through both face-to-face and online interaction. DO-IT Scholars' ability to access information and human resources on the Internet with a home computer and adaptive technology is assessed upon initial acceptance into the program. If necessary, DO-IT loans the participant the appropriate technology at no cost. Adaptive technology used by Scholars includes speech output systems for those who are blind or have disabilities that affect their reading ability, and speech input and alternative keyboards for those who do not have full use of their hands. Scholars practice self-advocacy and technical skills as they work with a DO-IT technology specialist to configure the systems they think will work best for them.

Ongoing online support includes e-mail messages that provide academic, career, and technical information, and lively discussions between peers and mentors about issues that impact college and career success. Mentoring in DO-IT is primarily done in an online group context rather than one-to-one. Scholars send questions to be answered by mentors and others through the DO-IT chatroom, where everyone benefits from reading the questions and answers. In addition, there are online special-topic mentoring groups. For example, one such group includes all mentors and scholars who have visual impairments or expertise in that disability area. Mentors are drawn from the ranks of DO-IT Scholars who have graduated from high school and successfully entered post-secondary campus life. Although proximity is important to developing peer and mentor networks in most settings, such as in Summer Study activities, online communication has proven to be invaluable in building and sustaining relationships for many years over great distances (Burgstahler & Cronheim, 2001).

Career Preparation

The career preparation component of the DO-IT Scholars program helps students with disabilities prepare for careers in competitive fields. Summer and year-round activities provide Scholars with opportunities to explore their own interests and to develop and apply academic, vocational, and computer skills to work situations. Some choose to return for a third summer as interns to learn about program operations and how to work effectively with supervisors and co-workers. Scholars also practice disclosing their disabilities as well as negotiating and testing the effectiveness of adaptive computer technology and specific accommodations in job settings. Opportunities to participate in work-based learning experiences are critical to the career success of people with disabilities, while the lack of such experiences has been found to be a barrier to employment for people with disabilities (Benz, Yovanoff, & Doren, 1997; Phelps & Hanley-Maxwell, 1997; Unger, Wehman, Yasuda, Campbell, & Green, 2001). In a follow-up study, DO-IT Scholars reported that their work-based learning experiences through the program proved valuable in preparing them for careers, especially in the areas of clarifying career goals, developing accommodation strategies, gaining work skills, and learning to work as part of a team (Burgstahler, 2001).

Program Success

In a study undertaken to assess former Scholars' reflections on the value of DO-IT participation (Kim-Rupnow & Burgstahler, in press), computer and Internet support were perceived as the most valuable activities, benefiting them through improving academic, social, and career skills. Former Scholars reported growth in the following specific areas as a result of their participation in DO-IT, listed here in descending order:

The DO-IT Scholars program has won several prestigious awards, including the President's Award of Excellence for Mentoring in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics; an outstanding program award from the Association of Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD); and the National Information Infrastructure Award for exemplary use of the Internet to further education. It has sustained operations for more than a decade. It was initially funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) as an experimental program to increase participation by students with disabilities in higher education programs and careers in science, engineering, mathematics, and technology. After the initial six years the State of Washington continued to fund ongoing efforts with Washington residents and increased the scope of the program to include other challenging academic and career fields, such as business. With subsequent increased funding from government, corporations, and private sources, it has continued its proven exemplary practices and added features to the program.

Conclusion

Similar programs throughout the country can benefit from DO-IT's success by employing practices that provide access to technology for young people with disabilities to support the development of their academic and career skills, peer and mentor interaction, and smooth transitions between academic and employment levels of involvement. Support strategies employed by the DO-IT Scholars program have the potential to improve postsecondary academic and career outcomes for all students with disabilities.

 

References

Benz, R.B., Yavanoff, P., & Doren, B. (1997). School-to-work components that predict post-school success for students with and without disabilities. Exceptional Children, 63, 151-165.

Burgstahler, S. (2001). A collaborative model promotes career success for students with disabilities: How DO-IT does it. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 16 (129), 1-7.

Burgstahler, S., & Cronheim, D. (2001). Supporting peer-peer and mentor-protégé relationships on the Internet. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 34(1), 59-74.

Kim-Rupnow, W.S., & Burgstahler, S. (In press). Perceptions of students with disabilities regarding the value of technology-based support activities on postsecondary education and employment. Journal of Special Education Technology, 19.

Phelps, L.A., & Hanley-Maxwell, C. (1997). School-to-work transitions for youth with disabilities: A review of outcomes and practices. Review of Educational Research, 67, 197-226.

Unger, D., Wehman, P., Yasuda, S., Campbell, L., & Green, H. (2001, March). Human resource professionals and the employment of persons with disabilities: A business perspective. Paper presented at Capacity Building Institute, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii.

Weol Soon Kim-Rupnow is Assistant Professor with the Center on Disability Studies, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu. She may be reached at 808/956-5712 or kimrupno@hawaii.edu. Sheryl Burgstahler is Director of DO-IT, University of Washington, Seattle. She may be reached at 206/543-0622 or sherylb@u.washington.edu. For more information about DO-IT, consult www.washington.edu/doit/ and select "DO-IT programs."

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Citation: Gaylord, V., Johnson, D.R., Lehr, C.A., Bremer, C.D. & Hasazi, S. (Eds.). (2004). Impact: Feature Issue on Achieving Secondary Education and Transition Results for Students with Disabilities, 16(3). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration. Available from http://ici.umn.edu/products/impact/163.

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