Students with disabilities crafting career paths by learning new skills

The summer program resulted from a partnership between USC, Vocational Rehabilitation department

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WOLO) —More than fifty students are learning how to overcome their disabilities to become productive members of the workforce.

Through a partnership between the University of South Carolina and the South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Department, students between the ages of 16 and 21 are learning new skills and visiting several businesses as part of the “Power Up” Career Academy.

“Individuals with disabilities have the hardest time finding jobs. So, any type of exposure that we can give these young people is absolutely incredible,” said Ramona Carr, the Director of Community Service and Special Projects for the South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Department.

The United States Census Bureau says only a third of all people in South Carolina with a disability have a job. 

Throughout the week, students had the chance to shadow different companies, learn interviewing and networking skills, and learn ways to work with their disabilities on the job.

“This is an opportunity that any parent with a child who is 16 through 21 would be loving to have. It’s an opportunity for them to explore different types of careers, find out what you might want to do, and what you don’t want to do,” said Cindy Steele of the Center for Child and Family Studies at USC.

By introducing these students to hands-on opportunities and new careers, some say they are confident these students will thrive with their new skills.

“You can hear it, you can read it in a book, but until you actually practice it, you don’t really understand how to do it. They are practicing the new skills they are learning, like interviewing, learning how to ask for special accommodations on the job, do other kinds of things,” Flynn said.

For students like Matthew Mobley, taking in what the program has to offer while also learning about new careers will be helpful when deciding what to do for the future.

“It’s very good to kind of learn how an autistic person like me would work in the workplace, and learning about a lot of things like mindfulness and giving a good image of yourself and giving off self-confidence to others. I’m just very glad I get to be a part of this learning experience and get to learn a lot with people like me,” Mobley said.

On Monday, the group of 50 students went to observe the daily happenings a variety of different businesses. These included the USC College of Nursing Simulation Center, Columbia Police Department, Colonial Life Insurance, and Coca-Cola.

The third and current installation of the program wraps up Tuesday with a graduation ceremony. 

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