Somerville:Former Wall Street banker leads a quiet revolution in life choices for developmentally disabled adults

SOMERVILLE, Ma. – This is a story about a smart and committed local Mom, who has worked five years to create an innovative program to help launch young adults with developmental disabilities after high
school. The program, the result of a collaboration with universities, agencies and educators from across the Greater Boston area, just opened a unique residential “Life College” in Somerville.
Deborah Flaschen, of Brookline, created 3LPlace Inc. in 2009 after a year-long quest for a transition learning program for her son, D.J., who has autism. She found that most of the transition programs in the Boston area were remedial in nature, teaching basic life skills such as tying shoe laces or crossing the street, rather than identifying an individual’s aspirations and interests. There were some better programs elsewhere, but Flaschen couldn’t find anyone willing to share a comprehensive curriculum.
With a group of other local parents, Flaschen raised close to a half a million dollars to develop a collaborative curriculum project. The goal was, and still is, to create research-based best practices in transition learning that would provide a path to a meaningful life for individuals and a replicable framework for other communities. The Transition Curriculum collaboration has relied on experts at Tufts, Lesley, Harvard and Boston universities, as well as clinicians, educators and agency staff.
The 3LPlace Transition Curriculum was published online last year. This month, after raising close to a million dollars more and gaining needed state approvals, 3LPlace opened its 3LPlace Life College in a diverse residential neighborhood near Davis Square in Somerville, using the Transition Curriculum as the structure. It’s a radically different sort of 24/7 experiential learning: presuming competence, emphasizing self-determination, and based on the idea that the motivation to learn comes through tapping into an individual’s interests and passions.
Flaschen’s ground-breaking work to develop opportunities for developmentally disabled adults across the lifespan has been tapped as a finalist in the 2014 Root Cause Social Innovation Forum. Her son, D.J., is one of the first members of the Life College.
“I think there is real possibilities,” D.J. typed recently to his mother. “Everywhere I see unique people in the street who just don’t feel I am weird and they greet me respectfully…. how far i did come to have courage to move from protection of my family to a new city and all new friends.”
Photos, fact sheet, additional information available at Deborah Flaschen and other contacts available for interview upon request. Contact June Mallon at 617-990-4003 or by email
It’s also a story about social stratification: While disabled students are guaranteed access to education
and services while they are in school, after age 22, the picture is bleak. Nationwide, only 14 percent of working age adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities have jobs outside of a care
facility. And in Massachusetts, a leader in other human services and rights, developmentally disabled adults are less than half as likely as their peers to be employed at all, earn less than half as much when they are employed, and the majority work at jobs paying less than minimum wage with no hope of health insurance, vacation or sick leave benefits.

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