South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Department

Helping people with disabilities to become and stay employed.
Helping businesses find and keep talent.

2017 Journalism Contest

2017 South Carolina Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities Journalism Contest winning essay.


by Sandy Phillips
Hilton Head Island High School , Hilton Head, SC

Edwin turns his mouth up at the corners as he prepares to knock on the door of yet another Cordillo Courts resident. Edwin Rivera, 16, works in the apartment complex of Cordillo Courts, assisting the vegetable man that comes periodically to sell home grown vegetables. Edwin’s job is to inform everyone in the complex that the vegetables have arrived and answer any questions of potential customers. He knocks at every door and always completes the task with a smile on his face. Edwin has worked this job for two years and he states, “I am very responsible, always on time, I always smile, and I try to do everything that my boss asks me to do.” Edwin has a learning disability, which can sometimes make it difficult to comprehend things at an expected pace. He is one of the 2.4 million people in America that has been diagnosed with a learning disability. Learning disabilities can affect one’s ability to read, write, speak, spell, calculate math, and may affect one’s ability to pay attention. According to The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 82.5 percent of people with disabilities are unemployed.

Many employers fail to consider the impact that a person with disabilities can have on a workplace. Just ask the employees at the McDonald’s on Hilton Head Island. Steven Cole was an employee at McDonald’s for many years before he recently passed away in the comfort of his own home. He was always full of laughter, joy, and was undoubtedly an irreplaceable asset to the workplace. Steven was a Special Olympic athlete who traveled around the world spreading his talent and goofy, contagious smile. Mary-Anne, a co-worker of Steven’s for over 8 years, was devastated when another employee called her to inform her of Steven’s tragic passing. “Steven was irreplaceable. He took so much pride in his work. He would bring in the mail, clean the tables, and maintained the lobby and overall cleanliness of the restaurant. It used to be a highlight of my day when I would look outside and see Steven standing in front of the restaurant, saluting the flag. McDonald’s has not been the same since Steven hasn’t been here. He is definitely irreplaceable.”

Many people with disabilities offer different advantages and perspectives on the attitude and effort that needs to be given in a workplace, and can prove to be very valuable to their respective employers. Elizabeth Cruz, 17, participates in job enclaves, when a group of students work at several locations within the community under the supervision of a job coach, at Hilton Head Island High School. She meets regularly with a South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Department (SCVRD) representative. Elizabeth likes going to work because she is gaining experience and becoming more prepared to enter the workforce. She puts the chairs down off of the tables and rolls silverware at Main Street Cafe. She also folds pizza boxes at the local Giuseppe's, helps to clean the kitchen, and stocks shelves at the local Walgreens. Elizabeth gave five reasons why someone should hire her: “I am friendly, always on time, responsible, good at my jobs, and easy to work with.”

According to Economic Picture of the Disability Community Project during the 2010-2012 period, the unemployment rate for a person with a disability was 68 percent. As of 2015, the unemployment rate for a person with a disability was 82.5 percent. It shows how uninformed employers can be about the ways they can benefit from hiring people with disabilities .The impact that Steven Cole made is a testament to the fact that people with disabilities have a positive impact on a work environment and their fellow employees that work there. Both Edwin Rivera and Elizabeth Cruz’s favorite part of going to work is helping people. SCVRD is gaining more and more ground every day in hopes of finding people like Edwin and Elizabeth more employment opportunities. Through the influence of Steven, Elizabeth, and Edwin, it is clear that with the help of SCVRD, inclusion works.


Economic Picture of the Disability Community Project; Key Points on Disability and Occupational Projections Tables (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 13 Jan. 2017.

"Persons with a Disability: Labor Force Characteristics Summary." U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 21 June 2016. Web. 13 Jan. 2017.