At the age of 13 Jacqueline Dorantes was hit by a car resulting in her total loss of vision. After completing rehab for her newly acquired disability she was transferred to a school that offered more services for people who are blind. “I went to a new school and was put into 8th grade. At that point I was just learning braille, orientation of mobility, receiving speech therapy and getting accustomed to the new school. It was a really long adjustment period and it was isolating in a way.”
Jacqueline Dorantes with her guide dog Archie
Later, Jacqueline recalls what it was like planning for life after high school. “Applying to college by myself, as well as being the first person in my family to go to college was scary and intimidating,” she says. “I knew what my needs and accommodations were, but I still had to learn how to advocate for myself, especially in college working with professors who weren’t very sensitive or competent in that area.” Jacqueline did find success, after graduating college she went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Social Work.
Jacqueline knows first-hand what it’s like to be a student with a disability, and now as a Beatrice C. Mayer READY (Realizing Education and Advancement for Disabled Youth) Program Coordinator at Access Living Jacqueline is helping others navigate these challenges. Jacqueline is one of many employees with disabilities at Access Living who bring their unique personal experiences and understanding to the services they provide to others with disabilities. Having a personal understanding of the barriers faced by our consumers gives us a keen understanding of how to help them succeed.
The READY Program is part of Access Living’s Youth Institute which strengthens and expands our current youth programming to include mentoring, self-empowerment, education policy, and transition services. These services are vital because they come at a crucial point on the path towards living independently for these young people with disabilities.
Students with disabilities often face multiple social and physical barriers that prevent them from accessing opportunities on a level playing field with their non-disabled peers. From kindergarten through 12th grade, Individualized Education Programs (IEP) serve as a tool that help students with disabilities navigate and address those barriers. Yet, IEPs don’t extend beyond high school. In terms of postsecondary education, compared to their non-disabled peers, fewer high school students with disabilities enroll in college and fewer of them complete college once they start.
The READY Program uses a person-centered model to help address barriers beyond high school, equipping young people with the tools and resources that will provide a foundation for success in college and in the pursuit of employment. Participants on the college path of the READY Program receive one-on-one guidance that supports them through the application process and identifies accessibility needs and accommodation resources. The one-on-one guidance also helps identify financial aid, grant, and scholarship opportunities.
For the employment path of the READY Program, program specialists and classroom instruction provide the guidance and resources necessary to secure employment and to be successful on the job. In addition, Access Living connects participants with existing Chicago-area programs that offer job training skills, and Access Living provides training on access and accommodations in the job market.
Your donation today will help Access Living’s READY Program continue its important work of preparing students with disabilities for college and employment. We can’t carry on our important work without you. Any amount you can give makes a difference. New and increased gifts will be matched thanks to a generous gift from an anonymous donor! Thank you so much for everything you do to empower individuals with disabilities.
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Thank you so much for everything you do to empower individuals with disabilities.