Sen. Dave Courtesy is pictured with students and officials of the College of Adaptive Arts (CAA) in Saratoga. The senator announced a $2.2 million state investment was secured to fund the college’s programs for special higher education students. (Photo courtesy Sen. Dave Cortese/Facebook)

OF THE MANY MYTHS and stereotypes that surround adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities, a persistent one is that they cannot be lifelong learners, attend college or get a degree.  

The College of Adaptive Arts in Saratoga (CAA) has challenged that glass ceiling by providing people with collegiate experiences who historically have not been given the opportunity for a college education. It hopes to serve as a model for all higher education settings.  

“The vision is to be as widespread and accessible for lifelong learning opportunities for adults with special needs, just as the international Special Olympics infrastructure provides for lifelong athletic opportunities,” reads the CAA website.  

On Aug. 18, Sen. Dave Cortese, D-San Jose, joined with special education leaders to announce a $2.2 million state investment into CAA. The money will help expand the program, which is a part of West Valley Community College, and will strengthen career pipelines through apprenticeships and teaching classes. 

“CAA’s model is not just about education, it’s about fostering lifelong connections and growing communities that embrace acceptance and belonging,” said Cortese.   

AJ Vanderpan is a student studying technology, fitness, Italian, visual arts and employment skills, he said.  

“CAA has pioneered special higher education programs for students just like me — hungry to keep learning and growing into the best versions of ourselves,” he said.  

‘Fostering inclusivity, equity’

Most people with intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDD) max out of the state’s special education system at 22. Though many would like to continue to take classes or learn a skill, the vast majority of higher learning centers do not provide things like note-takers, extended time frames for test taking, or make room for people who might have communication challenges.  

Most advocates for the IDD community would say that they’d like to see a world where people with differing abilities and needs are fully integrated into all settings, but for now, CAA hopes that its program will serve as a global model.  

“Another portion of the state investment will fund the development of a sustainable and replicable CAA model for institutions of higher learning all across the globe, fostering inclusivity and equity on an international scale,” said Cortese’s office in a statement Friday.

CAA began with 12 students in a musical theater class in 2009 and by 2021 had grown to over 140 students taking more than 75 classes in 10 fields and schools of instruction, the college said.  

Katy St. Clair got her start in journalism by working in the classifieds department at the East Bay Express during the height of alt weeklies, then sweet talked her way into becoming staff writer, submissions editor, and music editor. She has been a columnist in the East Bay Express, SF Weekly, and the San Francisco Examiner. Starting in 2015, she begrudgingly scaled the inverted pyramid at dailies such as the Vallejo Times-Herald, The Vacaville Reporter, and the Daily Republic. She has her own independent news site and blog that covers the delightfully dysfunctional town of Vallejo, California, where she also collaborates with the investigative team at Open Vallejo. A passionate advocate for people with developmental disabilities, she serves on both the Board of the Arc of Solano and the Arc of California. She lives in Vallejo.