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Why Representation Matters with Kara Ault and Emmie Bennet of Abilities in Action

By Pat Brothwell - October, 5 2020

Assistant operations manager Kara Ault and owner Kimm Kessinger had just 3.5 weeks’ notice that the Abilities in Action summer program would become virtual this year. Kara and Kimm needed to create and curate 60 hours of content for a five-week remote program for youths aged 14-21 with disabilities who've traditionally gone out into the community to work. The program would need to be flexible to adapt to the needs of the learners, while also being intuitive for admins because of the condensed timeframe for training.  

Abilities in Action turned to VirtualJobShadow.com as its solution. The Abilities in Action team was impressed by the wide variety of careers the program exposed clients to, something they possibly wouldn’t have been privy to if they worked locally over the summer. Because the Ohio-based organization serves youths in an agriculture-heavy region, Kara said  many students typically express interest in the farming careers they’re familiar with. Since some clients have physical disabilities, farming isn’t always an ideal option.  Kara said the VirtualJobShadow.com experience empowered many of their clients to explore other agriculture-based careers that captured their interest, such as a horticulturist, food scientist, or parts representative. 

What also struck the Abilities in Action team about the career exploration platform was the representation. Their clients don’t always see themselves reflected in the media they consume, and both the VirtualJobShadow.com Life Skills Videos and Job Shadowing Videos feature successful professionals who happen to have disabilities working in many different fields. Kara said it’s powerful when her clients can envision themselves working jobs that may have felt out of reach before.   

Abilities in Action believes that people with disabilities have a right to live within their community and participate in meaningful work compatible with their interests. The clients participating in the summer program earn minimum wage, resulting in approximately $100.00 per week for the fifteen hours of work they complete.  Kara said she loves the labor market information that’s integrated into the VirtualJobShadow.com platform as it allowed her to have insightful conversations with her clients. Since they now had experience making minimum wage, the students had a better understanding of how much they’d have to work at minimum wage to fund the lifestyle they envisioned, and then adjust their goals and priorities accordingly.   

Seventeen-year-old Emril Bennet, who goes by Emmie, is in 11th grade at the Ohio State School for the Blind in Columbus, Ohio.  Like most teenagers, Emmie is very tech-savvy, and her disability makes her passionate about ensuring that technology is accessible for those with vision impairments. She has an interest in coding, which is how she found herself helping pilot and test the accessibility of online platforms as a part-time job.   

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When we spoke to Emmie, she said she really appreciates the diversity the platform showcases. Emmie connected with a video featuring Dr. Sandra Bullins, a blind research associate at Virginia Commonwealth University who studies employment discrimination. While Emmie doesn't want to become a research associate, she said seeing Dr. Bullins thrive in her role provided peace and minimized some of her own anxiety about succeeding in the workplace. “Feeling that you are represented in the workforce is a great feeling,” Emmie said. “I used to worry about someone being willing to hire me in the future. That’s a genuine concern I had. Now I know I shouldn’t worry about it.”  

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