LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. It's pretty common these days for kids with intellectual disabilities like Downs Syndrome to go to their neighborhood schools with all the other kids. When these disabled students finish high school, they often want to go to college. In recent years, scores of community colleges and universities have opened special programs for students with intellectual disabilities. The trouble then, is that the colleges cannot always keep up with rising expectations. NPR's Joseph Shapiro explains.
JOSEPH SHAPIRO: Micah Fialka-Feldman was born with an intellectual disability. He's 24 now and takes classes at Oakland University, about 20 miles from where he lives with his parents in Huntington Woods, Michigan. In the morning, he takes the public bus near his home, then transfers to a second bus. The trip takes about two hours.
A few years ago, he helped his younger sister move into her dorm room when she went off to college. It made him think he was missing out on an important part of college life. But his school said, because he was in a special program and not a full-time student, he couldn't live on campus. So Micah sued. Early yesterday morning, his cell phone rang. It was his lawyer with the news. He won.
Mr. MICAH FIALKA-FELDMAN (Student, Oakland University): I'm happy and I'm proud.
SHAPIRO: A U.S. district court judge in Michigan ruled that Oakland University had discriminated against Fialka-Feldman. A spokesman for the university said officials there have not had time to evaluate the decision. The school can appeal.
The new school term begins on Tuesday. Micah takes regular classes and students act as tutors to help him follow along in class and keep up with his homework.
Mr. FIALKA-FELDMAN: I'm taking a class on public speaking and a class on persuasion.
Mr. FIALKA-FELDMAN: Yeah, and I think I persuaded to tell people that I am a student that knew that, throughout all this, I knew that I was going to win because I knew that I was right.
SHAPIRO: In the course of fighting this case, Micah got support from the university's student government. And the student body president was at his side at his court hearing early this month. But Micah's done a lot of the persuading himself. He's spoken twice to the school's board of trustees and he pressed his case in court.
Ms. JANICE FIALKA: Micah has really found his voice.
SHAPIRO: That's Micah's mother, Janice Fialka. She's a social worker. She remembers when Micah was two or three and still didn't speak.
Ms. FIALKA: I remember, vividly, asking the speech therapist, do you think that Micah will ever talk. And she hesitated. And that hesitation, which was probably only four seconds - felt like a lifetime. And basically she was saying we don't know. And now he's speaking in front of all kinds of people. So this is quite a journey of surprise and the importance of believing that every person has a gift and should be supported in their dreams.
SHAPIRO: A generation ago, parents couldn't dream for their kids with disabilities. Before the 1975 special education law, public schools weren't even required to teach them and about a million didn't get any education at all. Even today, lots of these kids aren't capable of going to college. And for many of them the future remains bleak.
But Paul Marchand, with the advocacy group, The Arc, says parents now have higher expectations.
Mr. PAUL MARCHAND (The Arc): Parents want the best for their kids. They want their kids to get a job. They want their kids to be as independent as possible. They want society to accept them. They want their kids to be as typical as all the other kids at their age, including going to a college.
SHAPIRO: Last year, Congress passed legislation that for the first time makes it possible for people with intellectual disabilities to get federal college loans, even if they're not in a full-time program.
Joseph Shapiro, NPR News.
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