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Disability measures aim to expand access to higher education, reduce poverty

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Eric Galatas

(Colorado News Connection) Two bills making their way through the Colorado General Assembly would make it easier for people with disabilities to access college and other public institutions of higher learning. 

House Bill 1107 would fund proven strategies for making college more universally accessible. Christiano Sosa, executive director of Arc of Colorado, said people with intellectual and developmental disabilities should be able to have the same experiences in college as everyone else.

"Participate in the rights of passage that many folks are afforded through the college experience," said Sosa, "living in the dorms, living on campus - and having the supports needed to do that effectively."

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HB 1255 would create an advisory committee to outline ways to improve outcomes for students with disabilities attending state institutions. The measure cleared both chambers and awaits a signature by Gov. Jared Polis.  

HB 1107 is still under consideration by the Appropriations Committee.

Sosa said the two measures combined would give Coloradans with disabilities real opportunities to escape poverty. It's estimated that 85% of individuals with intellectual disabilities are not working, or are under-employed, despite their willingness and ability to contribute to the workforce.

"And higher-ed historically has been that stepping stone to get the good jobs, so that folks do not need to live in poverty," said Sosa. "And that's why we're excited about this bill."

Sosa said when students with disabilities can access college, they go on to earn degrees and certificates in health care, advocacy, brewing studies and more. 

Sosa said creating a more inclusive campus experience can also help more people reconsider the contributions the disability community is capable of making.

"And the more people we have in institutions of higher education," said Sosa, "I think we begin to break down some of these stigmas, and some of these stereotypes."