By Tamara Khader
Kathryn Junod, a mother of a University of Georgia student with Down syndrome, has financial challenges quite different than most parents who send their child to the state’s flagship university.
Her primary challenge is the lack of funding for the few college programs available for students with disabilities. Her 23-year-old son, Jordan Huffman, is enrolled in the Destination Dawgs program at the University of Georgia which provides academic, experiential, social and independent living opportunities for students with intellectual or developmental disabilities (I/DD).
Programs like Destination Dawgs are important because they allow students with I/DD to get a college experience like their peers. Students “are able to explore courses and career paths, make new friends, and grow into more independent adults just as all college students do,” said Carol Britton Laws, the director of Destination Dawgs and an assistant clinical professor of disability studies.
The Destination Dawgs program costs a minimum of $7,879 per semester (spring 2018 rates) for tuition, program fees and UGA student fees. The program is five semesters long (two and a half years), and students graduate with a UGA Certificate in College and Career Readiness upon completion. For two and a half years, this can cost a minimum of $39,395, but that does not include housing, transportation or other living expenses.
While flat rate tuition is the same for all students taking six hours or more at UGA, funding isn’t. For example, students like Huffman who are in Destination Dawgs are not eligible for state scholarships such as the HOPE or Zell Miller programs.
“That is not available for him, but it should be, and the government should allocate money for these programs because it will support independent living and independent employment,” said Junod, a single mom who works full time from home.
Junod said another challenge is that people with disabilities don’t often get equal opportunities in the work force to provide a steady income for themselves. This means they are likely to be financially dependent on their parents for life, she said.
While Huffman has a part time job, “it barely covers the gas it takes to get him there…but this is what it takes to provide him with the experience he needs,” Junod said.
“This has definitely impacted my finances, as far as retirement and earning ability…I work from home so that I can have the flexibility to take Jordan to school, work and social activities,” Junod said.
Huffman said he is thankful for everything his mom does for him. “I love how hard she works and everything she does to help me succeed,” he said.
Junod said the government provides benefits for people with disabilities, but said they can easily be revoked through a system that discourages them to become more self-sustaining. She explained that Jordan receives a $480 social security check, which can be reduced if he makes more than a $1,180 a month, which she called unfair. “No one really talks about these challenges in order for them to be addressed,” she said.
She added the entire process can be frustrating and difficult to navigate.
“People don’t realize that if you try to call Social Security, the wait time is about two hours plus. I don’t know who has two hours in a work day to stay on the phone, but I don’t,” Junod said. “It’s obvious there needs to be some changes in the way we support people with disabilities.”
Tamara Khader is a journalism student at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.