Five STEPS students sitting on a wall.

Supported Training Experiences Post-Secondary (STEPS) Helps Students with Disabilities Thrive in College

by Amanda Corbin

The Supported Training Experiences Post-Secondary (STEPS) case study project provides leadership skill-building opportunities for college freshmen with disabilities who participated in the HDI Summer Leadership Experience (SLE) camp. HDI’s Teresa Belluscio leads the project. Teresa is a disability advocate with over twenty years’ experience serving underrepresented groups.

Five students participated in STEPS. After attending SLE camp as high school seniors, they graduated and began their first semester of college in August 2018. These five students met together regularly with Ms. Belluscio to discuss leadership and self-advocacy. They also became official peer mentors for high schoolers at the 2018 SLE camp where they worked with campers throughout the week.

In addition to learning leadership and self-advocacy skills, STEPS gave students the opportunity to demonstrate those skills. Ms. Belluscio visited them at college to talk about how their classes were going. She says, “Early study results show that is it’s not enough to teach leadership and self-advocacy skills. Practicing and demonstrating these skills—that’s where they really start integrating what they have learned.”

As for the overall goals of the project, Belluscio explained, “It takes a specific set of skills to pass a college course when you’re a freshman. For students with disabilities, there’s a whole added piece. It includes asking for accommodation, implementing it, talking to instructors, really speaking up for yourself—that vital piece is something that they learned about.”

It is hoped the STEPS case study results will also reach beyond these five students when it comes to disability advocacy. “We talked about being leaders in the community. How can you speak up for other students with disabilities? [W]hat can you do within the community? [STEPS helped] them to identify their strengths and start using them. I think that’s the bigger picture.”

For more information about STEPS, the Summer Leadership camp, or other HDI programs, visit