For over a decade, a program at Ohio State has supported students with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the search for academic success and job opportunities after college.
Transition Options in Postsecondary Settings , or TOPS, is a two- or four-year program that provides tools for academics, career development, independent living and self-determination for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The program aims to help students succeed in these areas during college and find employment after graduation, Jessie Green, the program’s manager, said.
“Students earn a certificate by auditing coursework, participating in career activities, jobs, internships and the like,” Green said. “They engage on campus as other students would. And then when they graduate from TOPS, we help them to establish themselves to get employment in the community.”
TOPS started in 2010 and now has six full-time staff that support students and the program on a regular basis. Green said the program has between 50-65 coaches that teach disability studies courses to 28 students who are currently enrolled.
Ashlee Leslie, a disability career specialist, said TOPS coaches help find each student’s strengths and connect them to careers to which they are best suited.
“It just helps us to get to know them in a different way to really be able to advocate for them and understand their skills and strengths and support needs,” Leslie said. “This then leads to better employment outcomes in the end and better retention of jobs.”
Green said students can get one-on-one support by pairing them with coaches. She said TOPS also has a tutoring center where students can get help anytime.
Green said the TOPS program is breaking down barriers between students and the community. She said the community can learn from the fact that there is a diverse population of students who can join the community with professional support.
“When we look at students with intellectual disabilities, they’ve been cut out of many opportunities across the community, work environments and school environments,” Green said. “So this is an opportunity for students to be alongside their peers, in an inclusive environment, learning and growing just like any other student.”