SCHENECTADY — A pilot program beginning in the fall at SUNY Schenectady County Community College in partnership with Our Ability Inc. will provide 15 people with disabilities the opportunity to become entrepreneurs or find employment at no cost.
“We’re in the shadows of what General Electric is and has been and you can’t think about it without the bright lights of an idea and the bright lights of an idea moving forward can start here,” John said. Robinson, CEO of Our Ability Inc., on Friday at a press conference announcing the new program.
Our Ability Inc. in Albany is an online portal used worldwide by people with disabilities to find employment.
Robinson said that in running his business, he realized that employment was not just about getting a job, but about providing access to the skills needed for jobs or entrepreneurship. Students would take courses lasting one year. According to a press release from the college, courses in the entrepreneurship stream include an introduction to developing a business plan and a business plan. Business courses include cooking, coding, and medical billing.
Program logistics continue to be worked out, said Sarah Wilson-Sparrow, vice president of workforce development and community education at SUNY Schenectady.
However, she said there will be some sort of application process.
The plan is to run the program for four years, enrolling 15 people each year, said state Deputy Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, who is also the Chairman of the State Assembly Subcommittee on Autism Spectrum Disorders.
Joined by his son Michael, who has autism, Santabarbara announced that $150,000 has been allocated from the state budget for the program. He said he would seek even more funding in the years to come.
He said everyone knows the difficulties of finding and keeping a job now, but those challenges are magnified for people with disabilities. For adults with autism, the unemployment rate is between 75 and 80 percent, he said.
“The truth is that people with disabilities play a vital role in our workforce and deserve a fair chance to succeed,” he said.
Robinson said people need to think about how they do business differently, and partnering with the college is a step in that direction.
SUNY Schenectady President Steady Moono said the partnership has special meaning for him, noting that his sister Gladys is hearing impaired and mute.
“The measure of a country, the measure of a community, the measure of an institution is how you care for the ‘less fortunate’ as defined, the oppressed, the voiceless,” Moono said.
He said it was morally and ethically right for the college to be a partner in the program.
As a business owner, Schenectady County Legislator Richard Ruzzo said he was thrilled to see the program happening in Schenectady and giving people the tools to achieve their dreams.
“If you can dream, you can do it. If you can build it, they will come and if you can dream it up and build it better than anyone else, you will succeed beyond your wildest imagination.
Ruzzo said he can’t wait to see what the inaugural class can accomplish.
“To all the students who take the pledge, I say be bold,” he said. “Never give up on your dreams because what awaits those who dare will change their lives.”
Journalist Shenandoah Brière can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @SB_DailyGazette.
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