Student With Developmental Disability Takes The Lead

August 1, 2012



Larissa Unyk, a fourth-year Bachelor of Arts student, is doing something many people with developmental

disabilities rarely get the opportunity to do: she is taking the lead in her education and university experience.


“I wanted to learn,” she says. “I wanted to be able to take classes and do things others thought

to be impossible, like getting involved in school activities.”


Thanks to the efforts of Campus Connections, Larissa and eight other students take classes,

join clubs, participate in student government, find jobs and?most importantly?make friends

with their MacEwan University classmates.


Support and advocacy

Campus Connections supports students with developmental disabilities, their classmates and

instructors to ensure a high-quality, inclusive education for all students.


The program is an initiative of the Alberta Association for Community Living (AACL),

which has been supporting and advocating for individuals with developmental disabilities

and their families for more than 50 years.


MacEwan University is one of the first post-secondary institutions in Alberta to offer inclusive

learning: Campus Connections has been on campus since 1995.


“University is a coming-of-age milestone for many people, including adults with developmental disabilities,” says Nathan Ip, Campus Connections coordinator. ?Our initiative helps these

students to follow the typical pathway of their non-disabled peers.?


In addition to becoming a university student, she reached a number of personal milestones:

running for secretary of the anthropology club, finding paid summer work with MacEwan

Residence (she’s pictured at left, bottom right, with some of her Residence colleagues), and

an award nomination as part of the Students’ Association Banner Night.


Inclusive education

Campus Connections staff work hard to ensure the students’ experiences differ as little as possible

from those of their peers. The students attend classes as audit students and participate to the maximum extent possible ? with the support of their classmates. This includes everything from completing modified assignments to group presentations with their non-disabled peers.


If a potential student meets the eligibility requirements of the Alberta government’s Persons with Developmental Disabilities program, Campus Connections will guide them through the university application process.


Once the student is permitted to audit their chosen program, he or she (and their faculty members

and classmates) are supported by an educational assistant who may work with faculty to adapt coursework to

suit the students’ learning styles and capacities.



One of the largest initiatives in Alberta

Campus Connections can support nine students at a time, which may not sound like a lot.

But MacEwan University actually has one of the largest initiatives in Alberta ? and there are plans

to increase the number of students this fall.


Earlier this year, the university received the AACL’s Community Inclusion Award in recognition

of its long-standing commitment to inclusion and its outstanding efforts in ensuring that people

with developmental disabilities are fully included in community life.


Nathan sees broader implications for the program: “AACL sees access to post-secondary education

 as a social justice issue. A majority of people with developmental disabilities will face poverty,

and will be unemployed or underemployed. But, the vast majority of students with developmental disabilities who are included in post-secondary education go on to be employed.”


At the end of their studies, students cross the Convocation stage alongside their peers and receive a certificate declaring that they have completed their courses.


“Being a student is wonderful,” says Larissa. “Not everyone can go to university. I just want to live life, learn more and find a career ? like all my classmates and friends.”