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“Good Jobs” Success Story: How a Disabled South Carolina Worker Earned Financial Independence

March 8, 2024
Source: LEAD Center Blog

South Carolina’s Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Department has 31 area offices ready to assist jobseekers with disabilities, as well as employers seeking talent to meet their workforce needs. A few years ago, Larry Phillips began working with a VR counselor at the department’s Berkeley-Dorchester office. His goal was to become self-sufficient and fully transition off 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 it himself since many companies that either specialize in metal fabrication or require welded parts, such as BMW, Mercedes, and Boeing, have operations in South Carolina. On average, welders earn nearly $50,000 per year.

South Carolina VR provides many services in one location, including disability benefits specialists, job coaches, technology specialists, and engineers. When the counselors there heard about Larry’s welding aspirations, they agreed that just because it had not been done before, did not mean it was not possible. His 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 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.  He now earns a good salary and is financially self-sufficient. What’s more, he is serving as a role model for others. Recently, another wheelchair user in the area trained 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.

News source: leadcenter.org/blog/larry-phillips

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