Level Up - Advancing Employment for Youth with Disabilities

By Hannah Christensen • Feb 24, 2022
Umer working on a computer during tech labs

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Umer Sohail of Newark, Delaware has been a part of Envision’s Level Up program since 2018 both as a participant and a mentor. Currently attending college at Delaware Technical Community College, he is pursuing a certification in Information Technology. During a Level Up Chat, a monthly Zoom meeting for Level Up participants to engage with one another and learn about topics pertaining to technology and accessibility, we had the pleasure of interviewing Umer about speaking and advocating for people who are blind or visually impaired at a conference in December 2021. Umer also introduced us to Sydney Blodgett, one of the key organizers of the December conference. 

The experience was made possible by the Center for Advancing Policy on Employment for Youth (CAPE Youth). CAPE is a federally funded project in collaboration with the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, the Council of State Governments, and the K. Lisa Yang and Hock E. Tan Institute on Employment and Disability at Cornell University. CAPE Youth was created in 2019 with the primary goal of improving employment outcomes for youth and young adults with disabilities. 

This year, CAPE Youth selected six young adults with disabilities from across the country, ranging in ages 16-24, to take part in a two-day conference in San Diego, CA, to address the needs of people with disabilities in the workplace. Umer was one of the six panelists chosen to share his perspective as a college student who is blind navigating the transition and employment process. The group spoke to legislators and government policy makers to help them understand the importance of inclusion and accessibility and its impact on the economy. 

During our interview, Level Up students were able to ask Umer and Sydney questions, while learning more about CAPE Youth and available resources at Cape – Youth (capeyouth.org).

Umer, what did you learn from your participation in Level Up that you were able to use while at the CAPE Youth Conference? 

Umer: “I felt comfortable interacting in a professional way. I knew how to tell people what I needed. I could advocate for myself.”

Sydney, out of all the applicants for this conference, why was Umer chosen?

Sydney: “After submitting his application, Umer followed up immediately to make sure it was received. He was proactive and took initiative.”

Umer, what was the best thing about this experience for you personally? 

Umer: “I enjoyed meeting different people my age, who are going through similar experiences as me. I made a lot of great memories and feel like I was heard.”

Umer, what was a topic during the Conference that resonated with you most?

Umer: “The biggest thing was advocacy. We all [the panelists] have different needs and it was important that we were able to talk about it with people who make policies.”
 

What is Level Up?

Level Up consists of various week-long training programs for students from across the country who are blind or visually impaired. Partnered with teachers, families, assistive technology professionals and several local community colleges and universities, the Level Up Program addresses the needs of students who are blind or visually impaired through every step of their education. Registration for Level Up 2022 is now available! Learn more at envisionus.com/youth-programs/level-up

Register now for the Level Up High School Conference held June 19-25, 2022 at Wichita State University
Register now for the Middle School Program held July 18-23, 2022 at Butler Community College