LEADOn! Article

A Riveting Success Story

December 2023 | Good Jobs and Competitive Integrated Employment

South Carolina’s Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) has 31 area offices ready to assist jobseekers with disabilities and employers wanting to recruit, train, and retain talented individuals with disabilities. A few years ago, Larry Phillips began working with a VR counselor at the Berkeley-Dorchester office. He strived to become self-sufficient and not rely on disability benefits. Larry uses a manual wheelchair and has prior justice system involvement. He came from a family of welders and wanted to make a career of welding. South Carolina is home to many companies that either specialize in metal fabrication or require welded parts, including BMW, Mercedes, and Boeing. On average, welders earn nearly $50,000 per year.

South Carolina’s VR provides many services in one location, including disability benefits specialists, job coaches, technology specialists, and engineers. When they heard Larry’s request, they agreed that just because welding from a wheelchair had not been done before by any of their clients did not mean it was not possible. His VR office partnered with a local welding school called ArcLabs Welding School. With support from the teachers and students at the school, the VR engineers designed and fabricated a desk that could easily and safely accommodate Larry’s wheelchair; an extra-long smock to protect him from sparks; a bucket elevator to the second-floor classroom; and even a special set of solid tires for his wheelchair that would not pop or pick up metal flakes.

Once Larry completed his nearly 300 hours of training at ArcLabs, he applied to welding jobs in the area. W International, a metal fabricator that specializes in U.S. Navy submarines, customized a training program and daily work so that Larry could thrive. With accommodations similar to those he received at ArcLabs, Larry has been successfully working at W International for two years. Because he now earns a good salary, Larry is financially self-sufficient and no longer relies on public benefits. Others see him as a role model. Recently, another wheelchair user in the area received training to be a welder after learning about Larry’s story. Because of Larry’s perseverance and many achievements, he won South Carolina VR’s 2022 Consumer Achievement Award.

For more success stories, visit the LEAD Center’s new webpage, Employment Success Stories.