Spain’s best-kept secret good practice in including students with intellectual disabilities

The Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM) was the first Spanish university that implemented a special support programme for students with intellectual disabilities (ID) already ten years ago. After the graduation of the first four cohorts, the initiative was evaluated and the results of the study (by Dolores Gasset) was first published in 2012, in Spanish only. As the results are internationally relevant, indicating high levels of employability of the graduates, they have recently been made accessible also in English.

In most countries, it is difficult for young people with intellectual disabilities (ID) to enter and successfully complete higher education programmes. Fortunately, universities make efforts to meet their educational ambitions and actively foster the inclusion of students with disabilities. The Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM) serves as a pioneer in that field, already since 2005. The first four cohorts of the UAM-Prodis Patronage Chair programme included a total of 60 participants all of whom completed the program by 2010. Their data were then used to evaluate the initiative.

The UAM-Prodis Patronage Chair programme aims to qualify students with ID to promote their inclusion in the workforce through a two-year training. In addition to a humanistic aspect with foci on social and interpersonal skills, internships form a crucial part of the programme. In addition, specific support such as adaptation of spaces, working times and job assignments is arranged individually based on an initial review with the academic director. A further component of the programme is the personal support and mentoring by an UAM undergraduate student majoring in education. A continuing education program is available post the program, including individual monitoring, training in socio-occupational competencies and leisure management skills.

Evaluation results indicate that the UAM-Prodis Patronage Chair programme succeeded in reaching inclusion of young people with ID in the workforce as it achieves high level of employability among graduates. In 2012, a stunning 92% of the first four cohorts were employed. Often, the internships served as springboards for employment with the respective employer. The number of employees with permanent contracts equalled the rate in the workforce at large (74% and 75% respectively) and the salaries of workers with ID were also quite similar to the salaries of workers without a disability. However, the vast majority of employees with ID worked part-time (94%).

Other remarkable findings of the evaluation study include:

-       Graduates of UAM-Prodis Patronage Chair programme work in varying business sectors

-       The mostly generic programme provided the young students with ID with skills and competences that enabled them to learn specific job skills after graduation

-       Employers rate the graduates of the program highest in the fields of responsibility and enthusiasm

-       Structured interviews with members of the UAM campus indicate a high acceptance and support of the programme

-       An inclusion initiative such as the UAM-Prodis Patronage Chair programme not only supports students with ID but also promotes inclusion values among university members.

From the very beginning, however, resources were limited and each year students with ID remained on a waiting list. Also in the current year, only 15 participants will have the opportunity to benefit from the programme, which includes a price tag of 3,600 EUR (for the 2 year duration in total). The dissemination of the program seems to progress at a low pace: In 2012, the Saint Anthony Catholic University in Murcia, Spain, adopted the concept. Other implementation are not known so far. One reason might be the delayed publication of the evaluation results in an international journal, although they were first published in Spain back in 2012. Some questions that remain open in the current publication include whether the level of employability of the first cohorts of graduates remained stable and whether results could be reproduced in the following years. Regardless of such details, the programme serves as an excellent example for an outstandingly successful practice that needs to be spread further.

Further information about the inclusion program at UAM can be found at the UAM website (Spanish).