UNLV’s Project F.O.C.U.S. Program for Students With Disabilities

Students who normally would not be able to attend college in Nevada can now take advantage of postsecondary college class options at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). Thanks in large part to UNLV assistant professor Josh Baker, who started the initiative and raised funds to create the new University program, students with autism and intellectual disabilities can now attend college. The program is Project F.O.C.U.S. (Forming Occupational and Community Understanding for Success), and it aims to empower the disabled community.

What Is Project F.O.C.U.S.?

In the past, the intellectually disabled community in Las Vegas had no access to an inclusive college experience. They had to settle for listening to the experiences of their friends and families who could pursue higher education and for hoping to secure sub-minimum wage jobs that other people chose for them. Josh Baker started the F.O.C.U.S. program to provide the disabled community in Nevada and beyond with freedom of choice and limitless opportunity at UNLV.

Project F.O.C.U.S. provides assistance for autistic and intellectually disabled students who want to attend college in a two- to four-year academic program. The program includes inclusive coursework in several college classes, competitive integrated employment opportunities and career internships, and inclusive social experiences such as UNLV drama club, PEP band, and game nights. The program began in 2013, but only recently hit its stride, thanks to efforts by Rebel Raiser crowdfunding and community support.

As part of the F.O.C.U.S. program, young adults with disabilities work in a variety of career internships, such as the UNLV preschool, women’s volleyball team, and men’s football team. The program encourages students to pursue careers that they will enjoy, outside the limits previously placed on people with intellectual disabilities. The program is proud to offer numerous inclusive opportunities for students to interact and bond with same-age peers in a variety of fun and enriching activities.

What F.O.C.U.S. Brings to Students With Disabilities

The potential the F.O.C.U.S. program has to change the lives of students with disabilities is immense. Not only can these students now enjoy the same coursework and career opportunities as non-disabled students, but they also have a sense of belonging that was unavailable before. Parents with intellectually disabled and autistic children praise the F.O.C.U.S. program for enabling students to experience independence, freedom of choice, and the same education and extracurricular activities as their peers.

In the program, students can take classes they enjoy, such as art, music, and drama. They also have access to the core classes, taught by experienced professionals. Students in the F.O.C.U.S. program can individualize the college experience, meeting personal needs through specific activities and coursework. These students can also engage in supervised work-studies and job track experience to look toward future careers.

When students complete the UNLV F.O.C.U.S. program, they receive the Occupational and Career Life Studies Certificate (OCLSC), which helps the student pursue gainful, independent employment. The person-centered planning technique used by the program ensures each student has the best personal experience possible at UNLV without being pigeonholed as a student with limited opportunities.

Thanks to Project F.O.C.U.S, Nevada’s disabled community now has an outlet for pursuing postsecondary education and seeking preferred employment. The project prepares students for the future by giving them the knowledge and tools needed to discover personal strengths and discuss their needs for support in the environments they choose to navigate as adults. The program has grown considerably in the last three years, with students on the wait list for acceptance. As the program receives more funding, it can expand and welcome more hopeful learners.