Kimberly Tissot was met with a challenge in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the executive director of Able South Carolina, a Columbia-based organization that provides services to people with disabilities, Tissot had to find a way to continue offering services to those in need. Like other social service organizations, Able South Carolina — which focuses on supporting independent living — had basic emergency guidelines in place for natural emergencies. However, COVID-19 was more than anyone had bargained for.
Tissot says the disabled have an inner resilience that became a strength for her organization during the pandemic. Since most of the employees have a disability, she believes that adapting to different environments and situations is not unusual for her team.
“I think COVID-19 has made us stronger,” says Tissot, who earned her master's in social work in 2007. “We can adapt to every situation thrown at us and that will continue because we’re used to adjustments in our daily lives. This is just one additional thing we've had to overcome.”
Advocacy is at the forefront of Able South Carolina’s mission, and the group wanted to make sure those who needed its services could still access them.
“Our staff remains committed to providing services and has been incredible through this pandemic,” she says. “They recognize the importance of making sure our organization stands strong and pushes through this crisis.”
In addition to providing client services, Able South Carolina helped organize emergency management services for all South Carolina residents with disabilities. The organization worked closely with the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control and Department of Social Services to help coordinate services for people with disabilities, ensuring they are not forgotten.
We can adapt to every situation thrown at us and that will continue because we’re used to adjustments in our daily lives.
“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.”
Megan Wagner, who graduated with a master's in social work degree in May 2020, interned at Able South Carolina this past academic year and embraced the opportunity to advocate for others.
“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."
Despite the current crisis and uncertain future, Able South Carolina’s mission of creating greater access and opportunities for independence through empowering individuals with disabilities and promoting community inclusion remains strong.
“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 don’t want anyone to fall through the gaps. 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.”