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UCF's downtown expansion planning committee is discussing launching a program for students with intellectual disabilities.

The program would first launch at UCF's main campus in fall 2015 or spring 2016, and become available at the future downtown campus as well once its up and running.

The committee held a discussion meeting last Thursday that featured guest speaker Debra Hart, a national expert on students with intellectual disabilities and the director of the Education and Transition Team for the Institute for Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.

"Students with intellectual disabilities are the most excluded," Hart said, referring to the lack of opportunities for these students around the nation. "I hope — before I pass — that is no longer true."

In October, a group of the UCF downtown planning committee members traveled to the University of North Florida to observe and connect with the intellectual disability programs available there for students.

Related: UCF Downtown: New website dishes details on new campus

"Our trip to UNF was more about… seeing what's happening elsehere. Our ultimate goal is to design something that is innovative, creative — radical, maybe, if you want to use that word," said Adam Meyer, director of UCF's Student Disability Services and chairman of the UCF Intellectual Disabilities Program committee.

The plan is still in its early stages, but the goal, Meyer said, is to start a pilot program later this year at the main UCF campus. Once the downtown campus is established, students with these disabilities would have the option to be at one or both locations.

"This is not just a downtown initiative. This is a campus-wide initiative," Meyer said.

Hart stressed that if UCF plans to solidify beneficial opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities, ranging from autism to dyslexia, the university must integrate their education into the current class structures.

Related: Deans 'excited' to possibly move UCF schools downtown

Hart said that inclusivity is not about modifying courses, as professors would still use the same course materials but would have to refine the way the class is taught, conveying the most important and essential information that all students should know about the subject.

Meyer hopes the program will also allow students with intellectual disabilities to comfortably assimilate within UCF's social atmosphere.

"I hope that opens people's eyes a little bit… in that, they are certainly capable to participate fully in a college campus experience," Meyer said.

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Nada Hassanein is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @nhassanein_ or email her at NadaH@CentralFloridaFuture.com.

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