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Students with disabilities getting extra help with more funding for education programs

Federal grants add resources and opportunities for students facing disabilities to help them find work.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — $9,992,013 in funding through federal grants is going to the South Carolina Department of Education to bring more programming and resources to students with disabilities who are preparing for the workforce.

The U.S. Department of Education's Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) will fund 20 model demonstration projects to improve economic self-sufficiency for children and youth with disabilities by creating systemic approaches to enhance post-school outcomes.

This is part of the Pathways to Partnerships innovative model demonstration project that supports collaborative partnerships between state vocational rehabilitation agencies, state and local educational agencies, and federally funded centers for independent living to help individuals with disabilities seamlessly transition to life after high school, preparing them for independent living, competitive integrated employment and community integration. Pathways to Partnerships is the largest discretionary grant ever administered by RSA. ($199 million in total across the U.S.) 

The department awarded recipients of the Pathways to Partnership grants full funding for five years.  

Derek Phillips with the South Carolina Department of Education said this funding will be a big step in a better direction.

"Any type of employment that could be out there, that may not currently be available to them, because it requires a certain type of skill set that they currently cannot receive because of whatever disability is facing them, so it's really exciting to be able to roll this out and see what it looks like over the next five years," Phillips explained.

According to a study done by Disability Statistics and Demographics in 2023, 14.3% of our state is made up of people who identify with a disability.

Able SC said only a third of adults in South Carolina are employed.

"We rank number seven for having the highest unemployment rate for people with disabilities," said Kimberly Tissot, the CEO of Able SC. 

Tissot said they are partnering with the Department of Education for this programming and helping delve out the program's funding as quickly as possible.

"We have three months to come together to create an MOU of how we're going to collaborate and initiate the programming, and we're going to start implementation. So we are going to be working with several districts to pilot the program, so we'll start piloting working with their students with disabilities, creating the curriculum for alternative pathways to a diploma," Tissot said. 

Current programs in the state for helping people with disabilities find jobs include Hire Me SC, Vocational Rehabilitation, Able SC, etc.

Other programs for help can be found on the Department of Education's website and the South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs.

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