Ashley Moates became Miss Auburn 2017 after running on a platform of helping those with intellectual disabilities.
Now, thanks to the Education to Accomplish Growth in Life Experiences for Success, or EAGLES program, she is able to do just that.
“People with disabilities are not defined by their disabilities, it is a characteristic of who they are, not a definition,” Moates said. “They have goals, dreams and desires just like every one of us do, and for some, one of those dreams is to attend Auburn University… with EAGLES, they have a chance to accomplish that goal.”
EAGLES is a postsecondary program for students with intellectual disabilities that is orchestrated by the College of Education’s department of special education. Starting in the fall semester of 2018, students in the program will engage in a residential collegiate experience.
A team of faculty in the college of education has been working on the program for about three years now, according to Associate Professor Karen Rabren. Rabren said they have modeled EAGLES after other programs for students with intellectual disabilities like those found at Vanderbilt and Clemson.
“We are really excited for Auburn to join the ranks of other universities that recognize the benefits for students with intellectual disabilities,” Rabren said. “We have visited many programs like this, and what I have found so rewarding and reassuring is that those without disabilities embrace this type of program and gain as much out of it as the people with intellectual disabilities, if not more.”
Moates said she joined the project at the beginning of this fall semester and was put in charge of the student volunteer initiative.
In that position, she is tasked with getting students involved with the EAGLES students through mentoring, event planning or just hanging out over lunch via the Real Impact on Student Engagement and Experiences, or RISE, initiative.
“I think that both groups will be able to learn from one another and grow with each other, just like any other family does,” Moates said. “This will create a wonderful opportunity for those who have never been able to interact with someone with a disability.”
Moates said she is mainly excited about the program because of her sister Anna’s desire to attend Auburn. Anna has an intellectual disability, and Moates said she has always been disappointed because she couldn’t go to the same school as her father and two sisters.
“Anna is very intelligent, very bright and very capable of being in a program like this, just like many other people with disabilities that did not have the opportunity before but now do,” Moates said. “There’s no words to describe how special and incredible that is.”
Moates will begin work on the volunteer initiative by having disability awareness screenings available campus wide to get students and faculty ready for the first EAGLES class. Potential RISE volunteers will then have to go through an interview process and training, all of which are in tentative stages of planning as of this report.
“I’m so thankful to Auburn University for making this happen, it really is something that is going to be huge and monumental for this university,” Moates said. “This program will not only allow [students] to continue their education and learn independence, it will also give them the opportunity to interact with people their own age, make friendships, have fun and have a college experience just like we all do.”