There’s something to be said for independence: the way it makes us feel, the way it challenges us, the power it gives us. But independence isn’t always easy to find.
Meet Ashley High. She lives her life without limits. Ashley is described as determined, confident, and strong. But her life has not been easy. Before finding DePaul, Ashley had been on a waiting list for much-needed waiver services since she was 5 years old. After spending a lot of her life waiting, she was finally granted a waiver in 2011. That led Ashley and her parents, Mike and Cathy, to DePaul’s office in Amelia for sponsored residential services. At DePaul, the family was given support and guidance. They were also given a gateway to more independence for Ashley.
DePaul staff encouraged the High family to apply for the ACE-IT in College program at Virginia Commonwealth University, an inclusive college experience for students with intellectual disabilities. The two-year program provides young people with intellectual disabilities an opportunity to attend college classes at VCU and gain real-world work experience.
Like many times in her life, Ashley saw a challenge and jumped at the chance to conquer it. After enrolling in the program, Ashley excelled.
“My vocabulary has grown so much. I made friends. I learned how to be independent,” says Ashley.
Historically, the majority of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have been either unemployed or underemployed despite their ability, desire, and willingness to work in the community, according to the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. Many people with disabilities aren’t given a chance to grow or prosper. Their life consists of barriers and limits; they hear more about the things they can’t do than the things they can.
Ashley’s parents hope her story serves as inspiration and an example of how people with disabilities should be treated.
“It’s important for us to realize that people with disabilities can do quite a bit,” said Cathy.
The ACE-IT program gave Ashley a chance to not only experience college, but also intern and learn workplace skills. Now, Ashley works in the Human Resources department at the Federal Reserve Bank in Richmond. She says her coworkers treat her like anyone else. They say hi, ask her about her day, and include her. And that means a lot.
“I love my job because I like being part of the team,” said Ashley.
Mike and Cathy are thankful for the support system that has surrounded Ashley her whole life. Thankful for the friends and family that she needed, for the university and Federal Reserve staff that believed in her, for DePaul that played an important role in Ashley’s growth. They say without that support, Ashley would not be where she is today. Support led Ashley to the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. Support led her to speaking engagements and trips to Starbucks on her own. Support changed her life. And it could change the lives of so many others like Ashley.