We all benefit by making Oklahoma a place where everyone can thrive

Senator Julia Kirt is Co-Chair of the Developmental Disabilities Waiting List Caucus and Mental Health Legislative Caucus.

Jennifer Jones

Jennifer Jones

As spring approaches, many high school students are finalizing their next steps, applying to schools, analyzing career options, and planning to achieve long-awaited independence. Graduation brings big changes for any student, but is especially difficult for students who have intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The transition is a practical and emotional maze for families wondering: will my child be able to work? Will my child be accepted and included in their community? How will we take care of our loved one without the support of school every day?

Recently, we hosted an interim study at the Oklahoma Senate that explored how our education and rehabilitation services are already helping students make these transitions and what stronger services might look like.

We have found that educators are on the front lines of connecting students and families to the services they need. Ideally, students begin planning for transition to school at age 14, following an Individual Education Plan (IEP) written by educators and parents. The IEP supports academic progress, as well as preparation for competitive community employment suited to the student’s potential, personal goals, and career vision. The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides funding for this academic and vocational support through age 21.

But the ideal is not always the reality.

The current system relies heavily on individual educators connecting points of opportunity between multiple state agencies, including the state Department of Education, Department of Rehabilitation Services, and Department of Human Services. disabilities in the development of services. And special educators are in trouble. They continue to see larger class sizes and a shortage of qualified teacher candidates.

To achieve best practice in supporting students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, we need to invest in more staff and information infrastructure so that all families and educators have a direct line to the information they need. need and that service agencies have the resources to support the great potential of each student.

We now have decades of research that empirically proves what many of us have always known to be true: everyone benefits when people with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities can live, work, learn and play with each other. . We have made great strides in making our communities more physically accessible, but much more needs to be done to move beyond physical access to true inclusion and belonging where people with intellectual and developmental disabilities receive the support that they need to thrive in school and beyond.

The challenge ahead is to make our current human service systems more usable for the people in those systems, including family members and the individuals themselves. How can our public systems and services show that we respect those served and value them as unique members and contributors to our communities?

We know we can build a more inclusive state where all Oklahomans can thrive, belong, and make meaningful contributions to our communities. By ensuring our state supports strong post-high school transitions for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, we all benefit.

Jennifer Jones is an Associate Professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences at Oklahoma State University and Director of the Institute for Developmental Disabilities. Julia Kirt, a Democrat, represents District 30, including OKC, Bethany, Warr Acres and The Village. She is co-chair of the Developmental Disabilities Waiting Caucus and the Legislative Mental Health Caucus.

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: POV: Let’s make Oklahoma a more inclusive state where all can thrive

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