Social media such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are transforming how businesses develop new products and improve services — and the need for tech-savvy people to run social media for companies is growing by leaps and bounds. At the same time, young people with disabilities like autism and other developmental or intellectual disorders are finding themselves underemployed. One possible solution: Put them to work in the social media field.
TecAccess, a provider of accessibility consulting services, has teamed up with the Virginia Department of Rehabilitative Services and non-profit American Epiphany for a pilot internship program to teach special needs young people to become social media specialists and land jobs in the corporate world, with the goal of helping them develop long-term successful careers.
“Corporate America is finally realizing what the kids have known for several years now….and want to jump on the social media bandwagon, says Debra Ruh, founder and CEO of TecAccess. “Our goal is to expose these young people to a work environment and teach them how to use skills they already have in an appropriate way that can pay huge dividends for the businesses that hire them,” says Ruh.
The first class got underway earlier this month, with students between ages 19 and 24 with disabilities ranging from autism and Down syndrome to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Social media is a niche that can easily be filled by high functioning people with these types of disabilities, because it doesn’t require an as-intense level of social or customer interaction as other jobs might. The focus on information technology also appeals to many people with disabilities who have grown up with technology that helps them learn and communicate, and tend to be more tech-savvy as a whole.
Class instructors are already reporting progress. One of the interns with Aspergers’ who came into the first class was very hesitant and withdrawn, and didn’t connect with other members of the group, says instructor Chris Hagerman. The intern had difficulty speaking when asked a question in class, but she could write “furiously” and had no trouble reading her answers out loud. “There was much less pressure writing down her answer and then reading it to the class,” Hagerman says. “Now she can’t wait to get started.”
Long-time Richmond, Va., news anchor Andrea McDaniel is the founder of American Epiphany, a one-year-old 501(c)(3) non-profit that works to help writers create and promote stories that celebrate the vision of America’s Founding Fathers. McDaniel says media folks were early to jump on the social media bandwagon. Facebook and other tools are “the fastest ways of getting information out, as we just witnessed in Egypt [when long-time Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down],” McDaniel says.
For the state of Virginia, which recently received a warning from the U.S. Justice Department over the way the state treats its citizens with disabilities, the pilot internship program is an affordable solution to bringing more training programs to the community for people with disabilities. The Virginia Department of Rehabilitative Services helped develop the course curriculum and has provided ongoing support.