How important is it for people with learning disabilities to be part of an inclusive alumni network in order to effectively transition into the future?
Apr 28 2022
As special educators, we likely spend a lot of energy seeking the best inclusive practices within the school setting, but what happens after our students transition to other educational or work settings? Young people face significant barriers when attempting to transition from school due to low expectations, employer discrimination, and a lack of opportunities and support to develop key skills. In order to address this issue, the development of an inclusive alumni network could enhance social inclusion of people with learning disabilities and guide current students with disabilities the right path to their future. —Michael Ho
Blake, Hanson, and Clark (2021) examined the effectiveness of including young people with learning disabilities as alumni, with reference to Law’s (1981) community interaction theory,1 and considered how educational settings could create alumni networks that are socially inclusive of people with learning disabilities.
Blake et al. (2021) quotes Martin et al. (2011),2 “Young people with learning disabilities face complex barriers when attempting to transition from school which include low expectations, a lack of opportunities and support to develop key skills, and employer discrimination.” Currently, there is a lack of evidence showing alumni networks include young people with learning disabilities.
The Potential Solution
Blake et al. (2021) refer to Simplican et al. (2015)3 that social inclusion consists of two domains—interpersonal relationships and community participation. It is hypothesized that having an inclusive alumni network will boost both interpersonal relationships and community participation.
The rationale for the awareness of an inclusive alumni network is based on the community interaction theory, which states that “communities do not just mediate or moderate structural influences on individuals, they also directly influence them through five different modes: expectations, feedback, support, modeling, and information.”1 Engaging alumni with current students with disabilities will enhance each mode.
Focus Group Study
Six focus groups were used to generate discussion between participants around the topic of alumni networks. Staff from a mixture of mainstream and Special Educational Needs and Disabilities secondary schools and colleges that were members of the Leeds City Region SEND Careers Hub participated in the focus groups. Each focus group lasted for approximately 30 to 45 minutes.
The following research questions were addressed:
- What would be the value and nature of an alumni network for young people with learning disabilities?
- How viable is such a network; what might the enablers and barriers be?
- How might alumni networks be established and made purposeful?
What would be the value and nature of such a network?
In response to the first research question, the value and nature of an alumni network for young people with learning disabilities are as follows:
- The focus groups identified increased confidence in young people with disabilities, as well as for them to recognise their own abilities.
- A value could be to explain to both students with learning disabilities and their parents who gives them support should they need it and where it can be accessed.
- “The young people with learning disabilities were also aware of how they could be helped by alumni visiting their setting.”
- Participants understood how an alumni network could improve self-confidence by giving them the courage to acknowledge they can explore employment, training, or further education.
Is this viable?
In response to the second research question, the enablers and barriers of setting up an alumni network of young people with disabilities are as follows:
- The two main enablers include the enthusiasm and engagement from the staff participants and the availability of the resources to develop an alumni network.
- The main barriers include the alumni’s relationship with family members; sensitivity issues around singling out alumni with learning disabilities; and the lack of knowledge, time, and organizational culture among support staff.
How might this be established?
In response to the third research question, alumni networks can be established and made purposeful by the following:
- Engagement with businesses should focus on “realizing the worth in the young people.”
- Educators should not be the only ones making the push for inclusive alumni networks, but so should the wider community, including businesses, workplaces, and colleges.
- “The most important thing that needs to take place is raising expectations of the young people with learning disabilities by their community, including their parents, peers, teachers and businesses.”
The sample in this study was limited to the research for Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership. Additionally, a sample of only six educational institutions was due to the restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic and to the feasibility of schools/colleges accessing the relevant technology in order to take part in the research.
Blake, H., Hanson, J., & Clark, L. (2021). The importance of an inclusive alumni network for ensuring effective transitions into employment and future destinations for people with learning disabilities. British Journal of Learning Disabilities, 49, 445–455. https://doi.org/10.1111/bld.12429
Summary by: Michael Ho—Michael supports the MARIO Framework because it empowers learners to take full control of their personalized learning journey, ensuring an impactful and meaningful experience.
- Law, B. (1981). Community interaction: A ‘mid-range’ focus for theories of career development in young adults. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 9(2), 142–158.
- Martin, K., Hart, R., White, R., & Sharp, C. (2011). Young people with special educational needs/learning difficulties and disabilities: Research into planning for adult life and services. (LG Group Research Report). NFER.
- Simplican, S. C., Leader, G., Kosciulek, J., & Leahy, M. (2015). Defining social inclusion of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities: An ecological model of social networks and community participation. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 38, 18–29. https:// doi.org/10.1016/j.ridd.2014.10.008