Pathways to Partnerships — South Carolina

NOTE: October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month


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South Carolina — Partnerships Making A Difference

By Kimberly Tissott, ABLE SC

How can partnerships advance employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities?

In the July 30 webinar, The Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Community Living (ACL) and the Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) brought together vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies, centers for independent living (CILs), and special education from four states: Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and South Carolina to discuss successful partnerships and to describe how their partnerships and collaboration are advancing competitive integrated employment for students, youth, and young adults with disabilities.

In a follow-up to the July presentation, this blog specifically focuses on South Carolina’s partnership between Able South Carolina (Able SC), South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Department, (SCVRD) and South Carolina Department of Education (SCDOE). All three agencies are working together to achieve better results and outcomes for individuals with disabilities relating to school, employment, independence and integration into the community and the competitive labor market.

Building and Sustaining Partnerships

Developing comprehensive services across independent agencies serving individuals with disabilities is not easy and is only successful when there is a true commitment to partnership and collaboration.

Able SC’s relationship with the South Carolina Department of Education (SCDOE) and the South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Department (SCVRD) has blossomed and grown over the years into a true collaborative partnership. Here are a few examples below:

  • Able SC began participating on the SC Advisory Council for Educating Students with Disabilities approximately ten years ago.
  • Since 2015, SCDOE has contracted with Able SC to implement Empowering A Future and Mapping Your Future Transition Conferences. Empowering a Future is a professional development opportunity for educators and service providers working with youth with disabilities in transition. Mapping a Future is a conference for youth with disabilities where they learn important self-advocacy skills.
  • SCDOE contracts with Able SC to provide targeted technical assistance and facilitate programming on self-determination, disability rights, and employment skills to select local educational agencies (LEAs) to further the requirements of postsecondary readiness as outlined by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). Between August 2019 and June 2020, a total of 42 student trainings and two professional trainings were facilitated by Able SC staff members in SC school districts. 18 schools were served, with 220 total unique middle and high school students with disabilities participating.
  • SCDOE recently contracted with Able SC to provide emergency COVID-19 virtual programs for students with disabilities as they learn from home. Able SC offered self-paced online courses in subjects like self-advocacy, work readiness, and online peer-mentoring! They also provided a series of one-on-one services to assist students with the e-learning process. Able SC provided services to nearly 3,000 students between April 1, 2020 and June 30, 2020.
  • SCDOE and SCVRD are key partners in the Hire Me SC The project is a multi-faceted “systems change” enterprise to increase employment outcomes for young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (ID/DD), specifically.
  • Able SC and SCVRD collaborate to provide pre-employment transition services. In the last two school years, Able SC has provided these services to nearly 3,000 students with disabilities in the schools.
  • Able SC and SCVRD developed a shared data collection tool that local interagency teams can use to objectively track student services and outcomes (e.g., referral to developmental disability and VR agencies, participation in work experiences, access to pre-employment transition services, and enrollment in career and technical education or job training programs).
  • Adequate funding is critical for partnership. Centers for Independent Living, like Able SC, receive limited funding to provide services and, thus, benefit from leveraging funding with other programs, such as VR agencies and SCDOE, to better meet the needs of individuals with disabilities. Resources committed by Able SC, SCDOE, and SCVRD collectively provide the investments needed to serve many students and youth with disabilities and ensure they have the training, skills, and knowledge to achieve employment and independent living.

Partnership and Collaboration

Through their partnership, Able SC, SCVRD and SCDOE have come to appreciate the expertise each agency brings to the table. Respecting and recognizing the expertise of each agency has fostered a collaborative, non-competitive environment.

  • SCDOE provides guidance to school districts and are the experts in education. They are also aware of the education gaps.
  • SCVRD VR counselors and staff are the experts in rehabilitation services, vocational guidance and counseling, and job placement.
  • Able SC (CILs) are the experts in disability rights, peer-to-peer services, self-advocacy, accessibility, and independent living.


Through the respective expertise of each agency and commitment to strong collaboration, they have developed initiatives that resulted in successful competitive integrated employment opportunities and better outcomes for students, youth, and adults with disabilities. Below are a few examples:

  • The Partnerships in Employment Systems Change (PIE) pilot program has increased the number of students who have accessed employment experiences in high school, the #1 predictor of employment after high school.
  • Benefits counseling has resulted in numerous students and young adults feeling confident in accepting employment or increasing their hours.
  • Apprenticeships and internships have led to students gaining employment experience and securing employment after high school and college.
  • Students with disabilities throughout the state are being mentored by people with disabilities and seeing their possibilities.
  • Improvements in data collection have helped to identify gaps in access to services for students in transition.
  • Referrals have increased among the partners, particularly for students with more significant disabilities.
  • Students with disabilities have greater confidence, pride, and knowledge of how to advocate for their needs and rights.
  • The partners have developed resources to demonstrate the value of CTE programs for serving students with disabilities leading to successful outcomes.

Success Stories

SCVRD and SCDOE contract with ABLE SC to provide a variety of pre-employment transition and training services. Below are just a few of the success stories resulting from their collaboration:

  • A 16-year-old high school student with a learning disability has been working with Able SC on the self-directed Individualized Education Program (IEP) curriculum during classroom visits. Throughout the sessions, the student displayed a clear idea of her future goals but had repeatedly expressed concern that she had trouble advocating for herself during her IEP meetings. During the accommodations lesson, the student discovered several accommodations she believed would assist her in reaching her goals. The student expressed that by simply knowing the names of the accommodations, she now feels more confident to advocate for herself during her IEP meetings. By partnering to provide pre-employment transition services, SCDVR, in coordination with local school districts, has opened doors for Able SC to expand its work in schools across the Midlands and Upstate SC.
  • Also, as part of the pre-employment transition services funded by SCDVR and promoted by SCDOE, a 16-year-old high school student with a learning disability worked with Able SC on a financial literacy curriculum during classroom visits. Following the end of the second budgeting lesson, the student stayed behind to thank the staff member for everything that he was learning from the curriculum. He explained that he has a goal of one day opening his own business but often worried that managing and budgeting money could hold him back. Thanks to the partnership among the key entities, he feels more confident that he will one day achieve his dream.
  • Hard work paid off for two students in Project Search , a program through which SCDVR, SCDOE, local school districts, Able SC, and employers collaborate to provide work-based learning experiences and other pre-employment transition services to students with disabilities. . An 18-year-old who has Autism and a 19‑year-old with an intellectual disability are working toward completing their internships at a national hotel chain. After working with Able SC staff to strengthen their self-advocacy and work readiness skills, they both were hired into part-time positions at the national hotel chain.
  • Able SC was invited to facilitate an all-day teacher training at the Oconee County Teacher Summer Institute focusing on self-determination and student-led IEPs through a contract with SCDOE to provide technical assistance to educators. This 6-hour training focused on creating and fostering a sense of independence and self-advocacy for students in the classroom and creating a bridge to encourage students to carry those skills into IEP meetings and lead in creating relevant goals and purposeful accommodations. The training was very well received, as many teachers stated they would be implementing the structure in the fall. Able SC was invited back to continue the training next summer.


Able SC, SCVRD, and SCDOE have developed and maintained partnerships with great success by supporting each other and maintaining ongoing collaboration. Building partnerships creates opportunity for excellent service delivery across the agencies, which, in turn, results in better outcomes for youth with disabilities in school and in their journey to competitive, integrated employment.


For more information on the Able SC, SCVRD, and SCDOE, please contact:

Kimberly Tissott at ABLE SC:

Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

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