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National Disabilities Awareness Month celebrated at SC Vocational Rehabilitation Department in Seneca

National Disabilities Awareness Month celebrated at
SC Vocational Rehabilitation Department in Seneca

A hidden gem in Seneca is getting some long-overdue exposure this month as October is National Disability Awareness Month. Disabilities cover an array of things, from physical to mental, and dispite these challenges the South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Department is assisting people to gain and retain employment.

“We have been serving South Carolina for 90 years strong and we are the best keep secret in the area,” said Sheila Ford, Area Supervisor for the SC Vocational Rehabilitation Department serving Oconee and Pickens counties. “We serve 130 different disabilities. In addition, we have seven specialty caseloads where we offer services to transition students. We have a rehab counselor for the disabled, deaf and hard of hearing. Also, we have probation and parole counselors because we want to help those people who have barriers to guide them back into competitive employment. So, we can services just about anything, if you have a disabling condition that is keeping you from getting a job or keeping your job.”

On Oct. 18, 2016, the department hosted an open house, which allowed community members to see first hand the work being done locally. “The open house was for people to come in and see what we do for our clients, what we do for local businesses, and also what we do for the community,” Ford added. Tours were given of the facility at 1951 Wells Highway in Seneca. Attendees were shown high-technology classrooms, private counseling offices, and a state-of-the-art training center.

“The tour started with WorkKeys, which is one of the first services they receive here,” said Beverly Smith, Counselor with the South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Department serving Oconee and Pickens counties. “WorkKeys wakes up the brain cells and gets them ready to learn. WorkKeys provides a certification on math, reading, and locating information. Employers want to see that; is this person going to be able to learn this job,” continued Smith.

The next stop on the tour was the Training Center. This warehouse space complete with high-tech machinery is the place where clients and students get ready for work as well as get re-introduce to work if they have been on disability.

“Another part was our Vocational Assessment where we match the skills and abilities to what they want to do and then we talk about what they can do; we try to focus on the ability and not the disability,” said Smith.

The tour concluded with the counseling offices. Here counselors teach how to prepare resumes, conduct job interviews, put applications on the computer, and follow up with potential employers about positions they have applied for at their business.

After the tour, the large crowd of business leaders, government officials, healthcare workers, and other special guests were treated to lunch. Here guest speaker, Kelly McCorkle Parkison, Miss South Carolina 2002, shared her story to the crowd about overcoming her own disability to achieve her dreams.

“It was such an honor to represent our state as Miss South Carolina in 2002. I was an ambassador for people with learning disabilities and shared a lot of my story of overcoming that and working through it. I don’t know if it is something you ever overcome because I still live with it as an adult but I hope to inspire people that you can achieve things even when others may say that you can’t. I barely graduated from high school and there were definitely people that tried to discourage me but on the flipside, I had a lot of people in the state; teachers, parents, and mentors, that really encouraged me that I could reach my dreams. I was able to go on and do things like be Miss South Carolina, graduate from high school, graduate from North Greenville University, I even did something wild and crazy like compete on the Amazing Race reality show and then I went on to work in Washington, D.C. I just cherrish the times with the learning disability where it was hard because it made me who I am today. I hope to inspire the students and their mentors that dreams can be achieved,” said Parkison.

The celebration also included area students as the South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Department held their salute to Disability Mentoring Day. This is an opportunity for students with disabilities to job shadow in occupations that they are interest in to see if that is something they realistically want to do in the future.

“It’s a great thing for our students with disabilities to work with Vocational Rehabilitation to try to get them job experience and this day that they organized to get some of our students out in different work experiences where they can observe people in different jobs that they hope to get one day,” said Dr. Michael Thorsland, Superintendent of the School District of Oconee County. “It’s just a great experience for our students and we are thankful that Vocational Rehabilitation partners with us to help educate those students,” he added.

The South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Department serves people in Oconee and Pickens counties with disabilities. Their office is located at 1951 Wells Highway in Seneca. Their phone number is 864-882-6669. You can also learn more by visiting

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