High Schoolers Helping Disabled Workers
We stopped by the finals of the annual AbilityOne Design Challenge last Friday in Arlington, Va., to see how high school students are helping severely disabled adults be able to work. The winning team was this group from Wethersfield High School in Wethersfield, Conn. They created The Path, an assistive technology to allow workers with limited dexterity or no use of their hands to package metal chains used for military ID tags in small envelopes. The innovation was created for CW Resources, a nonprofit in New Britain, Conn., that employs people who have intellectual disabilities and brain injuries.
SourceAmerica COO Dennis Fields says the nonprofit helped launch the AbilityOne Design Challenge 12 years ago as a way to get more high school girls interested in STEM careers. The competition ended up being popular with all students. The Vienna, Va., organization works with government agencies and nonprofits to train and employ severely disabled people in jobs. Last year the organization served as a go-between on $2.5B worth of government contracts. The jobs range from IT support and manufacturing to food and custodial services. (Disabled workers make the majority of military uniforms.) Dennis says several students in this year’s challenge told him they’re now interested in careers in rehab engineering or social services.
Some of the nonprofits plan to continue working with the high school students. Scott Key Center is interested in working with the Poolesville High School team that created an easier method for employees at the Frederick, Md., nonprofit to put together and fill boxes for mulling spices. Scott Key’s Shawn Dennison and Vince Coates say the change has made it possible for Joe Griffith to have a new job within the organization. The Blind Industries and Services of Maryland also worked with high school students to adjust die cut press machines so that visually impaired people can make buffer pads used in floor cleaning and polishing machines.