Tools for Life in Idaho

Tamitha Tidwell, DO-IT staff

The beginning of March took DO-IT staff to Idaho Falls to participate in the fourth annual Tools for Life: Secondary Transition and Technology Fair. This conference provides students with disabilities a look at life after high school and educators the tools to help students succeed. At Tools for Life, students and teachers attend sessions together, which promotes joint learning opportunities from a variety of perspectives.

Attended by more than 450 students, parents, and school staff, the event was the largest to date. Forty conference sessions were offered, five of which were presented by me and my colleague Debra Zawada and included "Disability Mentoring Day," "Running Your Own IEP as a Student," "A Teacher's How-to on Empowering Students to Take the Lead in IEP Meetings," "Disability Disclosure," and "Work-Based Learning." We also hosted a booth where we provided information and collaboration opportunities for our colleagues.

Olympic gold medalist Rulon Gardner was the first Tools for Life keynote speaker. Rulon let students hold his gold medal, gave them a message of hope, and encouraged them to pursue their dreams. Rulon observed, "To bring students to a symposium and a function like this gives these kids the opportunity to say, 'I can accomplish my goals. I can be the best that I can, and I am going to get better every day.'"

When the second keynote speaker missed his plane, conference organizers did not let it derail their plans. LeDerick Horne joined the conference from thousands of miles away via video conference. To listen to Horne's spoken word poetry about his life as a person with a severe learning disability, visit Miss Idaho, Sadie Quigley, who is currently pursuing her degree in special education, also met with students.

Nora Jehn, training coordinator for the Idaho Assistive Technology Project, shared this insight: "For a lot of kids and their families, it feels like life after high school is like dropping off the edge. They don't know what's out there. We pool all of these resources together to let them know what great things are out there and the kinds of support they can expect in higher education [or] employment."

Eight AccessSTEM collaborators were in attendance. These educators and other professionals actively engage in the AccessSTEM project, which is funded by the National Science Foundation. AccessSTEM participant and occupational therapy student, Jessica Crohner, moderated the lunchtime panel. She also attended DO-IT's post-conference training on universal design at the Idaho Falls School District. Jessica, who knows that networking can be the key to success after graduation, met three local occupational therapists at the DO-IT event.

Four participants joined DO-IT's e-mentoring community after the mentor training session. These college students also volunteer as mentors for the Idaho School for the Deaf and Blind. This year, they coordinated an event called Students Accessing their Abilities at the College of Southern Idaho. This event focused on mentoring high school students to be successful in college. They distributed their mentoring how-to book at the event to inspire others to replicate their activities.

Some other exciting outcomes of DO-IT's participation in Tools for Life include two student attendees who are working with their teacher and using DO-IT resources to develop presentations to lead their IEP meetings. An Idaho Falls Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor also reported that she has added many of DO-IT's suggestions to her transition steps for high school students.

DO-IT's participation in Tools for Life was funded by the National Science Foundation as a part of the AccessSTEM project. Next year, the event will be held in Coeur D'Alene.