Students with disabilities program hires director

WSU ROAR leaders look to expand enrollment, increase course duration



Brenda Barrio, assistant professor of special education, left, and Tom Falash, WSU ROAR director discuss visions for expanding the program across regional campuses Tuesday in the Education Addition building.

JAYCE CARRAL, Evergreen reporter

WSU ROAR (Responsibility Opportunities Advocacy and Respect) has recruited a new director for the program.

WSU ROAR is a post-secondary education program designed for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). It is a two-year, non-degree seeking program which guides students toward their career goals and encourages them to live independently, said Brenda Barrio, WSU ROAR co-founder.

WSU ROAR students attend audited courses, engage in social activities and workshops on various topics, Barrio said. Audited courses are classes that do not result in credits.

Falash said some of the workshops WSU ROAR students attend include topics such as communication, human sexuality and health. Helping students obtain internships in their field of interest is also an important part of the program, he said.

“We are providing experiences that push the envelope,” Barrio said. “They’re not only capable of doing what everyone else is capable of doing, but also succeeding in doing so.”

She said it is difficult for students with I/DD to enroll into a university. It is common for the students to attend specialized education in their pre-secondary schooling, so the students do not have the requirements most universities look for, she said. Those requirements include four years of English or math.

Universities also require scores from standardized tests like SAT and ACT, which may be difficult for I/DD students to complete, said Tom Falash, WSU ROAR’s new director.

Falash said he was a special education teacher in pre-secondary public schools. He has two sons who were in special education programs during school, and his new position allows him to apply the skills he learned working with I/DD students, he said.

“I’ve seen them struggle and overcome and become stronger human beings,” Falash said.

He said he is looking forward to the opportunity of expanding the program.

As it continues, Barrio said she wants WSU ROAR to become a four-year program and grow admittance exponentially. Ten years from now, Barrio said she hopes to see the program expand to other college campuses.

“They are wanting and very willing to live independent and pursue a career of their choosing,” she said. “We are breaking that barrier of what it means to be a college student.”

Barrio said WSU ROAR, which began August 2018, is the seventh program of its kind and the first in the Northwest. There are currently four students enrolled in WSU ROAR.

Falash said WSU ROAR students live on-campus and are encouraged to act independently.

Barrio said when needed, students can receive help from assisted-living advisers partnered with the program. The advisers also organize events that encourage socialization such as a movie or bowling night.

“The diversity within our university needs to be expanded,” Barrio said, “not just including people from diverse backgrounds, but also people of diverse abilities.”

The program will grow as it continues, Falash said. Becoming inclusive and known for its inclusivity is one of the program’s goals.

“We are not the face of the program,” Falash said. “We just run the program. The students are the focus of the program.”