For most people with intellectual disabilities, the completion of Year 12 means the end of an education “career” – and a barrier to further opportunities to develop socially, academically and personally.
Prompted by the research of a Disability Studies Honours student, Flinders introduced a program in 1999 that recognised and aimed to expand the competencies learned at school.
“We called it the Up The Hill project, to demonstrate that the Flinders campus was a realistic education destination,” disability studies course coordinator John Grantley said.
“It is the only program of its kind among Australian universities in which participants sit alongside other students in regular lectures and tutorials,” he said.
“They are given student ID cards, an email address and access to Flinders Learning Online. They write and submit assignments, get feedback from lecturers, take part in student group activities and work with students on group assignments.”
Almost any topic – from history to drama to visual design – is available to participants, subject to negotiation with the lecturer responsible.
A student in the Flinders Disability and Community Rehabilitation degree program mentors each participant.
“Mentoring is formally part of the student’s practicum but it is also designed to expand the participant’s social network and to provide valuable support,” Mr Grantley said.
“We meet with the mentors every week to discuss the issues that arise from including people with disabilities in the University.
“And we work closely with the participant’s carers to ensure they are comfortable with the level of safety and support.”
Mr Grantley attributed much of the success of the Up The Hill project to the goodwill of the academic and administrative staff involved.
“The project demonstrates that by recognising their competencies, it is possible to provide people with intellectual disabilities positive expectations of what they can achieve and a chance to experience life more fully.”
I climbed the hill
During my three years in the Up The Hill project, I took many courses, including English, Creative Writing, Poetry, Screen Studies, Cinema and Fantasy, Film Appreciation and Drama.
I learned how to understand poets like Sappho and Emily Bronte and the difference between prose and rhyme. As an assignment I wrote some poetry and the lecturer gave me positive feedback which made me feel elated.
In drama, I learned a lot about the theatre and different writers and actors.
Film Appreciation and Screen Studies included many of the skills and knowledge required to understand and make films. The most memorable part was making the film, Hugh. I was included in the film-making group discussions and helped with the lighting. I also played the voice-over, which represented the thoughts in Hugh’s head.
I have since written and directed a film, Brown the Dirt. We are now sending it to festivals all over the world.
My mentor was very important to me. She introduced me to her friends and other students and they included me in many social activities, such as sharing a meal together at the University cafe, going to the Weimar Room Night Club and going shopping.
A memorable event was the Karaoke Night at the University Tavern where I performed a song in front of a student audience. By the end of the first year I felt safe because I was with people I knew and trusted.
The Up the Hill project has allowed me to explore the fields I wanted to and become the person I am. I think I have grown a stronger and more confident person because of that. The contacts and friendships of so many people, who have inspired me, will be something I will hold forever.
This is an edited extract of a paper Rachel High [pictured] presented to the 10th World Down Syndrome Congress, August 2009, Dublin, Ireland.