Grant Aims to Help Those with Developmental Disabilities Earn Credentials

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Many people may be surprised to learn what individuals with developmental disabilities can do.

“I think traditionally, people have made assumptions about people with disabilities that maybe professions in STEM, or utilizing mathematics or manufacturing would not necessarily be a good fit for people with disabilities and that’s just not true,” said Shirley Bowald, employment and community inclusion manager at the Columbiana County Board of Developmental Disabilities. 

Earlier this year, Youngstown State University’s Excellence Training Center, the CCBDD and the Columbiana County Educational Service Center received a $500,000 grant to increase participation in and attainment of industry-recognized credentials and apprenticeships for students with disabilities. 

It was one of four such two-year grants awarded in Ohio through the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities-Pathways to Careers-Improving Post-Secondary Education Options for Students with Developmental Disabilities.

“We’re doing something a little bit different than some of the other groups in that we’re trying to target people with developmental disabilities that might have sort of fallen through the cracks but who have particular abilities for the types of programs that are offered here at YSU’s Excellence Training Center,” Bowald said.

The boards of developmental disabilities in both Mahoning and Trumbull counties also are involved with the grant.

The ETC, part of YSU’s Division of Workforce Development and Education, offers advanced manufacturing classes including robotics, additive manufacturing, industrial maintenance, machining classes as well as online programs. The division also provides information technology classes.

Several students are working in online courses. Other students are in the assessment phase which enables those working on the grant to know how to serve them.

Six students are set to start class next week in Lean Six Sigma, a team-focused process improvement strategy. 

“We have about 15 students who are at various stages of moving past the assessment,” Bowald said. “Some of them are doing sort of the preliminary courses like the IBM professional skills.”

The grant is for the classes of 2020 through 2023, or those years through and after the height of Covid.

“Those were the people who had sort of fallen through the cracks. A lot of districts were closed and people were doing things online,” Bowald said.

They want to open it up to others with disabilities who may be working with the ETC already and to businesses providing advanced manufacturing who need to improve their employees’ skills.

“I think people don’t always understand that a developmental disability could encompass disabilities with language acquisition or physical disabilities in addition to cognitive disabilities or learning disabilities,” Bowald said. 

For students who have individualized education programs or evaluation team reports, the agencies request them from their school districts to help in placing the students and finding the best fit.

“We’re trying to be as accessible as possible,” Bowald said.

Ruller said the grant will pay for tuition and any accommodations required.

“I can’t imagine us turning away anyone who wants help,” she said.

Students may start the classes anytime. Online ETC classes are self paced and some that are in person at the center run for a few days. They don’t necessarily align with YSU’s semester schedule.

Of those students pursuing enrollment through the grant, several are interested in advanced manufacturing, manufacturing and IT classes.

Bowald said boards of developmental disabilities serve people who have completed shorter-term training and some who have college degrees. That may surprise some.

“It just has to do with people not having a relationship with people with people with a developmental disability,” she said. “They don’t really know necessarily what they’re capable of.”

The ETC is also in the process of setting up apprenticeships with companies and once those are established, they will be open to people with disabilities, too.

“I have a company that has said to me that they absolutely would be willing to consider folks like that,” Ruller said.

People who are interested in participating in the grant may contact Ruller at or Bowald at

Bowald hopes the grant is extended beyond two years, but she and Ruller believe that their respective organizations will be able to use other available grants to continue the program if it’s not extended.

“We’ve made some inroads and we will be able to continue in this pathway,” Bowald said. “We’re going to learn a lot from what we’re doing here. I think one of the things that the department of developmental disabilities wanted to establish are some parameters and some guidelines to do this sort of work.”

Pictured at top: Jackie Ruller, director of Youngstown State University’s Excellence Training Center,;and Shirley Bowald, employment and community inclusion manager at the Columbiana County Board of Developmental Disabilities, stand by one of the robots at the ETC that students learn to program. The ETC, CCBDD and the Columbiana County Educational Service Center received a grant earlier this year to increase participation in and attainment of industry-recognized credentials for students with disabilities.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.