Local university giving students with disabilities an opportunity

- Who can forget this viral video of a young woman named Kaydee opening a scholarship letter for college?

Kaydee has wanted to go to Arcadia University for as long as she can remember.

The 25-year-old's dream to go to college came true, and she is not alone.

A local university is giving college-age students with disabilities an amazing opportunity to be like everyone else.

"I wanted to go to college, but I didn't think I could go to a normal college," second-year student Natalie Wilmot explained.  

Natalie, 20, who has a learning disability, is thriving at a college she is in her second year at Arcadia University in Glenside.

"Greatest pleasure, is just being here. I love it," she explained.

Arcadia is one of a handful of colleges in Pennsylvania that has a special 2-year course for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

It's called the "REAL Certificate" program.

"We program to their strengths. We support their interests and passions," Dr. Kim Dean, a Faculty Advisor at the School of Education, explained.

"When I was younger, I really didn't talk to people. Now I talk to everyone," Natalie said.  

Natalie admits she was totally afraid when she started here.

She didn't have a classroom aid to help her, like she did in high school, and she worried if she could handle it.

"Now, I'm like, I don't need an aid, I'm good," Natalie said.

 19-year-old Kayla Moody is on the autism spectrum.  She wanted to go to college, but it was just assumed she would not.

"In high school they told me, I really can't go to college," Kayla explained, "Everybody else goes to college, have fun, experience it, but I can't."

Fortunately Kayla's mom knew about the program at Arcadia, and thought it was worth looking into.

"When she came to interview for the program, she didn't say a word to anybody," Kayla's mother Tracy-Marie explained.

Not one word. Kayla and her mom had to come back two more times, and even after Kayla was accepted, it was a tough transition.

"I would not speak when I came. I would just start crying, highly nervous," Kayla explained.

But college has helped Kayla come out of her shell and she's made lot of friends. She loves hanging out in the student center, and is enjoying her classes.

"I like to study theatre, musical stuff. I actually have an improv class I'm taking," Kayla said.  

"She has surprised me in every way. I never thought she was going to drive. I never thought she was going to college. Now she is just blossoming and doing all that," her mother added.

Arcadia prides itself on embracing all students.

"Our program has three parts, vocational, social and academic," explained REAL Certificate Director Jessica Mattis, "We don't have any separate classes, fully inclusive program for student, so they can enroll in any undergraduate class they are interested in."

This is 22-year Oldanna Greenberg's first year. Anna has autism and was previously home schooled. She never had any type of classroom experience until now.

"I was really, really, really stressed because I didn't understand the schedule that my coordinator gave me. I didn't understand my assignments," Anna explained.

But the professors work with the students. They also have fellow students who act as peer mentors. Now Anna is feeling much more at ease.

"I'm very happy to be here and this is really helping me," Anna said, "I've overcome a lot of challenges."

Anna loves music, and is an accomplished piano player. She's not sure exactly what the future holds for her, but knows this was the right move for her, academically and socially.

"People with disabilities are not different. Yes they might have challenges and all, but they are not different in the send that you can't be a friend to them." Natalie explained.

Right now, REAL Certificate students spend between 20 and 30 hours a week at Arcadia, but the university is hoping to offer a residential element in the future, where students live on campus, and can get the full college experience.

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