South Charlotte

Website created for people with disabilities

The Arc of Mecklenburg County , led by Executive Director Lauren Borchert, has launched a new website - separate from the agency's main website - called SCHOOL2Life to assist young people with disabilities in transitioning from school to college or employment.

The organization, located on Park Road, is a United Way agency for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The site, parts of which are still under construction, grew from discussions on best practices with other groups working with the developmentally disabled and an identified gap in transition services.

Funding for the project came from a school-to-community-transition grant through The Arc of the United States.

In initial competition for funds, said Borchert, 32, the local chapter wasn't selected; but as more funds unexpectedly became available, the local Arc's bid was successful.

People ages 16-26 with Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy and other developmental challenges probably will be the primary users of the site, though others can use it, too, said Borchert

"It almost is to a point where just about anybody could use this and benefit from it, disability or not," she said. "It's got some great tips and tricks and sample interview questions."

Care was taken to make the site accessible through a simplified design and larger font sizes in some sections. There also are portals for students, parents and employers.

Borchert cites statistics showing a high percentage of families reporting that their adult family member with an intellectual or developmental disability isn't employed. Borchert wants this to change.

"They have the same wants and needs and aspirations that the rest of us do," she said.

Borchert says those with disabilities often are reliable, passionate employees who can succeed in a variety of settings, like the North Carolina man she knows with Asperger's syndrome - a high-functioning form of autism - who excels in a Department of Defense job in Washington, D.C.

Post-secondary study also is possible. Borchert points to programs like UNC Greensboro's Beyond Academics and Western Carolina University's University Participant, which allow students with intellectual disabilities to have a college-based experience and enjoy independence without earning a degree.

Borchert has personal reasons for her career choice: A relative, Becky Austin, has autism.

"She is the whole reason why I do what I do," said Borchert. "Aunt Becky has been a major part of my life."

Borchert's grandfather, Don Austin, is a former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools board member and disability rights activist.

The Arc has had other names over the years, including the Association for Retarded Children and Association for Retarded Citizens. Its present name isn't an acronym for anything, says Borchert.

The idea of the name and swooping logo is that "We will encircle you with support and services," said Borchert.