High school graduates with intellectual and developmental disabilities will soon be joining West Virginia University’s campus through a new program developed to prepare them for independence that will provide improved academic, social engagement and real-world work experiences.

Students ages 18-23 who are enrolled in the program — tentatively named The Country Roads Program—will live in a shared residential housing arrangement, participate in social activities across campus and receive career education and training. The program will include a two-year core track focused on independent-living skills and workforce preparedness, plus the option of an advanced track for an additional two years. During the advanced track, students will apply their new skills in workplace settings and can enroll in select WVU certificate programs.

“With one in five West Virginians having a disability, it is important to offer opportunities for students with disabilities to get the training needed to join the workforce and be engaged community members,” said Lesley Cottrell, director of the WVU Center for Excellence in Disabilities. “Programs like Country Roads and the Project SEARCH internship program through WVU Medicine are just two examples of how the Center is helping to create opportunities for teens with disabilities.”

The Center for Excellence in Disabilities has partnered with the WVU Office of Accessibility Services, the National Down Syndrome Society and members of the business sector to develop the curriculum. The program is expected to launch in fall of 2020, pending Board of Governors approval, and will enroll four to eight students in its first cohort.