A Knight in Signing Armor

By Lindsey Boyington

Patricia Moody is your typical gregarious sophomore at the University of Central Florida (UCF). She is currently enrolled in two classes and involved in several clubs, including the Sign Language Club and Best Buddies. Moody, from Stuart, Florida, is fluent in American Sign Language. She enjoys the kickboxing class at the campus gym and the impromptu pizza parties with her friends in her dorm. She is exploring a volunteer opportunity with local law enforcement this school year. Last year, she volunteered eight hours a week in a preschool classroom at United Cerebral Palsy’s Bailes School. Moody also has Down syndrome, and she is working to change the way people view individuals with developmental disabilities.

UCF launched their Inclusive Educational Services in the 2015 fall semester, and Moody is one of six founding students. Today there are 17 students in the program. There are roughly 243 other colleges and universities around the United States that offer similar educational tracks; however, UCF believes it has designed the most integrated program to date. The program offers a three- or four-year option. “Living in the dorm, making my way around campus, and eating in the student cafeterias are all delightful new experiences,” states Moody. She also enjoys UCF football and has attended every home game this season.

Interested students undergo a competitive application process and are expected to participate in the full college experience, including living in dorms, taking college courses, joining clubs, and attending other social engagements with their peers. This type of integration allows for a natural support system where these students learn from others students. They stand right alongside the other 63,000 students enrolled at UCF who are also learning how to live away from home, do their own laundry, and practice good time management.

The university knows that in addition to the valuable classroom knowledge being learned, the college experience translates into a whole host of skills that lead to improved employment potential and opportunities. Moody’s father, Mike Moody, says, “An important part of the program is to guide each student in their individualized person-centered program to develop goals with an emphasis on career planning. Patricia has recently changed her career aspirations of working in speech therapy with children with special needs using her fluency in sign language to teaching law enforcement officers sign language.”

Moody receives services funded through the Agency for Persons with Disabilities’ Consumer-Directed Care Plus (CDC+) program. This program allows participants to hire nontraditional providers to supply specialized services generally not available through the traditional Medicaid waiver. One of Moody’s providers is friend and fellow student, Kiki Digiacomo. She is a senior at UCF majoring in music and a trumpet player in the Knights Marching Band. Moody said, “My CDC+ provider supports many of my activities both on and off campus. She gets me to and from work and helps me become independent and more involved in campus life. She has introduced me to many new friends and has even arranged for me to sing and sign the National Anthem for the opening game of the Lady Knights basketball season last fall.”

Moody has presented her life story to UCF College of Medicine first year medical students for the past four years and at the University of Florida last year. She hopes she has changed any misperceptions about individuals with Down syndrome to the hundreds of soon-to-be doctors. She is proving that she and others with developmental disabilities have so much to offer to their communities. Moody’s advice? "Come to UCF. You've just got to do this! I am learning so much, and I really like being on my own and being mature. And it is so much fun being a Knight!"

Patricia Moody with the University of Central Florida Knight on the Orlando campus.