Empowering Students with Disabilities


By Erin Jayes, Community Engagement Assistant, AmeriCorps Public Ally

A Byte Back student works with specialized technology during PC for Beginners I class. Photo by Erin Jayes.

A Byte Back student works with specialized technology during her PC for Beginners I class. Photo by Erin Jayes

Note: This article is part one in an ongoing series about our service to people with disabilities in the D.C. metro area. We will be profiling incredible students, instructors, and staff who have had a profound impact on the way we think about disability in our city.

Returning citizens, veterans, and people with disabilities make up a consistent student base at Byte Back, especially in PC for Beginners classes. The needs of these groups are overlapping, as well as the challenges they may face.

Disability is one of the nation’s most important public health issues – approximately one in five U.S. adults has a disability. Over 16 percent of people with disabilities are unemployed, almost double the rate of unemployment among people without disabilities.

Disability is highly correlated with low education, poverty, low resources, communities and individuals with low resources,” said Mitchell LaPlante, head of the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research’s Disability Statistics Center.

Because many people with disabilities do not have access to a computer, they can be among the hardest groups for Byte Back to reach. There are 300,000 people in the D.C. area without a computer, and many people within that population are people with special needs.

Along with other populations, Byte Back’s job readiness team is committed to improving employment outcomes for the many people with disabilities who are not working but are ready, willing, and able to work.

“We need to actively imagine possibilities for this population that we serve,” observed Neil Rickard, Registrar at Byte Back. Recently, he’s noticed a dramatic increase in the number students with disabilities we serve.

“There isn’t an easy answer,” he said. In addition to our current outreach, “we need to reach out to other organizations and learn about how they are making a difference in the lives of people with disabilities.”


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