Another resource to help central Albertans with developmental disabilities to connect with the community has been lost.
A one-year Transitional Vocational Program at Red Deer College that helped developmentally disabled students prepare for employment and living independently will no longer be offered starting this fall.
In October 2020, the province shut down the cultural centre The Hub on Ross and eliminated funding to Camp L.G. Barnes on Gull Lake that also catered to those with disabilities.
RDC said the Transitional Vocational Program has been eliminated, but students can explore similar programs at Olds College, Norquest College and Mount Royal University.
Maureen Miller, whose 19-year-old daughter applied for the vocational program this fall, said the family doesn’t know what to do now.
Her daughter was recently interviewed three times as part of the application process, and they just found out on Monday that the program had been cut.
Miller said her daughter was planning to live on campus, and including these students at Red Deer College benefits the college, the local community and the students.
“This program allows them a chance, and a really good chance, at finding employment, becoming a contributing member of society, paying their taxes. And the implications long term for mental health are huge, not just for the child, but for the family,” Miller said.
“If they don’t reach that point of independence, self-confidence and life skills, then it falls back on the family to provide that ongoing support into their adult life.”
She said the RDC program is designed specifically for these students, has a maximum enrolment of 20 students, and had a team to guide and transition students into adulthood in a way that families cannot, through classes and work experience.
“With the Transitional Vocational Program, we have identified a need to enhance existing curriculum to better serve learners and address the program’s viability,” said RDC president Peter Nunoda in a statement.
“These program updates ensure RDC continues to offer a program mix that supports student and industry needs, while ensuring our organization remains sustainable as we transition to become a polytechnic institution.”
Jason Steele, staff member at the former The Hub, said he knew of several people who gained confidence through the RDC program.
“This gave students who normally wouldn’t be able to access college education the opportunity to go to college, to have that college experience, to be able to gain new skills and insights that go beyond high school. It’s a big hit to lose that program,” Steele said.
He said local students may not be ready for the pressure of living in another community, and taking classes at the same time.
“When we’re taking about people with disabilities, there’s challenges in moving. Having family support is often needed,” Steele said.
Serena King, executive director at Cosmos Group of Companies, said clients enrolled in the RDC program in previous years had nothing but good things to say about it.
“Anytime we lose a program in our community it’s always a loss. But hopefully the community will be able to regroup and look at potentially new opportunities to create new resources,” King said.
Cosmos does have a new six-week pilot employment program in partnership with the province that teaches life and employment skills, safety ticket training and work experience, so there are services that help to mitigate the loss, she said. The Cosmos program will accept 48 students this year.
Another RDC program recently suspended was a two-year Engineering Technology diploma (Instrumentation, Electrical and Mechanical).
Students currently enrolled in the diploma program will be able to complete the final year of their studies at RDC and graduate in June 2022.
“While these are difficult decisions, we have witnessed a trend of low or declining enrolments in RDC’s Engineering Technology programs, as well as challenges associated with student retention and completion,” Nunoda said.