Sally Sexton.

More than a decade after the Higher Education Opportunity Act began creating opportunities for students with intellectual disability (ID) to attend college, just three programs qualifying for federal student aid exist in Minnesota.

Sally Sexton (pictured; MNLEND, 2020–21) is working with Seunghee Lee and a team of other advocates from the Institute on Community Integration and beyond to make students, families, and communities more aware of post-secondary education options for students with ID through a website they are developing for launch in 2022. The Minnesota Inclusive Education Consortium (MIHEC) is a parent-led, collaborative group including higher education institutions, local education agencies, state agencies, advocates, families, legislators, and nonprofit organizations interested in expanding opportunities for youth with ID from all ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. ICI’s Jerry Smith and Kristin Dean are advising on the project.

“Our hope for this website is to further the MIHEC vision to build, enhance, and sustain initiatives that deliver inclusive higher education for students with intellectual disability across Minnesota, including attending college classes, gaining work experience, earning meaningful credentials and becoming a genuine member of the campus community,” said Sexton. “Building awareness of disability as a social identity vital to the diversity of a campus is one step that can be taken to break down barriers to access. Many adults with ID want the same opportunity to pursue a postsecondary education in Minnesota as their peers.”

Sexton, who previously earned a master’s degree in education at the University of Minnesota, has more than 20 years of teaching experience and is a parent of a transition-aged youth with an intellectual disability. In addition to her continuing work with ICI, she’s contributing to the Transitioning Together curriculum workgroup at the Autism and Neurodevelopment Clinic at the University of Minnesota.

“My LEND experience is integrated into everything I am doing right now,” Sexton said. “The relationships that were made have developed into a professional network creating opportunities for collaboration and support. I gained so much from the interdisciplinary approach of teaching, learning, and most importantly, bringing multiple perspectives to the table. Truly listening to and centering diverse voices that are the most affected by outcomes of disability policy and practice is the surest way to make lasting improvements in education and the service system.”