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College of Social Work

Alumna Ensures COVID-19 Does Not Interrupt Client Services

June 8, 2020
Chris Woodley • 

Individuals with disabilities face daily challenges. But in today’s environment, they may be more susceptible to COVID-19 if they have compromised immune systems. While person-to-person contact and social distancing are currently the norm, one nonprofit serving people with disabilities has not stopped providing regular services to their clients.  

Alumna Kimberly Tissot, who earned her Master of Social Work degree in 2007, has been the executive director of Able South Carolina since 2011. The Columbia-based organization provides a variety of services to people of all ages with various disabilities. And even during a national pandemic, Able South Carolina has proven that they can maintain their high level of service during unprecedented times.   

“We were one of the first organizations to start transitioning to virtual services to protect our consumers and staff,” Tissot says. “There are still people who really need that human contact and want more hands-on assistance. But we support them and walk them through everything either on the phone or virtually.

We have also provided food and services to ensure our clients have essential items while keeping them safe. It’s important to prevent our clients from going out into the public where they could get exposed to COVID-19.”

Tissot credits her staff with a smooth transition from normal operations to virtual services. Since most of the employees have a disability, she believes that adopting to different environments and situations is not unusual for her team. 

“I think COVID-19 has made us stronger. We can adapt to every situation thrown at us and that will continue because we’re used to adjustments in our daily lives,” Tissot says. “This is just one additional thing we've had to overcome. Our staff remain committed to providing services and have been incredible through this pandemic. They recognize the importance of making sure our organization stands strong and pushes through this crisis.”

Like other social service organizations throughout the state, Able South Carolina had basic emergency guidelines in place for hurricanes and floods. But unlike other organizations, their planning needed to be more creative to make sure a staff of higher-risk individuals were working from home to prevent them from being exposed.

“We're really adaptable to a lot of the environmental changes,” Tissot says. “As soon as we knew this was going in a bad direction, we stepped in and immediately made the transition. Through that, we prevented a lot of people from not being alone, and that was really important for us. We might not be able to provide face-to-face services, but we're still there for all of our clients.” 

Megan Wagner, who graduated with her MSW in May, interned at Able South Carolina this past academic year. She is not surprised at how the organization has adapted to new challenges.

“I have never worked with a more committed group of people,” Wagner says. “The staff continues advocating and providing services during a pandemic because they are dedicated to the mission and efforts to help support the disability community. That passion goes beyond the 8-5 workday and showed in many of the people I worked alongside." 

Advocacy is at the forefront of Able South Carolina’s mission. Whether working to bring change to issues such as accessibility or public accommodations, disability rights advocacy never stops, even when COVID-19 limits social interactions. In addition to providing client services, Able South Carolina helped organize emergency management services for all South Carolina residents with disabilities. They worked closely with the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control and Department of Social Services to help coordinate services with people with disabilities and ensure they are not forgotten.

“We will never stop advocating for our clients,” Tissot says. “When COVID-19 started, we were extremely concerned with medical rationing because in other states, people with disabilities were being denied services that would save their lives. We stepped in early to make sure that our state understood that it’s an issue, provided solutions and our message was respected. Medical rationing is not occurring in South Carolina.

It’s also important to make sure the information going out right now is accessible for all people with disabilities. For example, we ensure people with intellectual disabilities receive information via plain language or have an interpreter and closed captioning at the governor’s press conference for those who are deaf.”

No local, national or worldwide crisis will stop Able South Carolina from providing their essential services. Despite the current crisis and uncertain future, their mission of creating greater access and opportunities for independence through empowering individuals with disabilities and promoting community inclusion remains strong.

“We don't want anyone to fall through the gaps,” Tissot says. “While other agencies may not be able to provide their typical services, we're able to be really creative to make sure our clients still receive their services, allowing them to remain independent.”

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