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SALT LAKE CITY — For young people with disabilities, dreaming of a professional career can seem like a far-flung, unattainable goal. But a program developed through the Utah Department of Workforce Services is aimed at making those fanciful ideas into real possibilities.
When Grantsville High School junior Zane Rhyne, 17, was younger, he dreamed of being an airline pilot. However, about four years ago, his world changed when he was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disorder that was causing him to lose his hearing. Today he faces adulthood as a deaf person, yet he still has aspirations of a career in which he can make a difference in the lives of people.
"I want to do something in the medical field, a doctor of some sort," he explained. "There's not a lot of deaf doctors that know (American Sign Language), so that's something that appeals to me. That's something I could help a lot of deaf people (with) as well."
Rhyne was one of about 20 students who participated in the annual Transition Mentoring Day recently. The program was hosted by the Governor's Committee on Employment for People with Disabilitiesat the downtown offices of global financial services firm Goldman Sachs.
Students with (various) disabilities between the ages of 14 to 21 visit local employers to help the students engage in the community and develop confidence about their employability, explained Leah Lobato, director of the Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities and Business Relations.
"We really want to open up doors and opportunities for youth to think about other opportunities they never thought were an option for them," she said. "For youths with disabilities, it really is an uphill battle. That's (true) for anybody with a disability."
An employer that hosts a Transition Mentoring Day typically takes a group of students through their location and explain different job roles, she said. Employers also get to meet with an untapped workforce and recruit for internships or employment, she said.
The employers have found that employees with disabilities tend to have equal- or high-job performance rates, higher than average retention rates and lower absenteeism, she added. The governor’s committee hosts several mentoring days at various businesses and has helped hundreds of Utah students with disabilities connect with local employers over the last 10 years, Lobato said.
David Lang, partner with Goldman Sachs, said the program aligns well with the company's deeply held belief in the benefit of diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
"We have many individuals in this office with disabilities (seen and unseen)," he said. "It's all about giving people opportunities to learn a little bit more about what it takes to work in a professional work environment."
"It's educating young people and (providing) outreach to young people to help prepare for a future — if they so choose — to work in a professional environment," Lang said.
For Jeanette Rhyne, Zane's mother, the mentorship program provides information and hope to kids like her son, who still have much to offer if given the chance to reach their potential.
"There are companies, colleges and individuals out there that are willing to work with (students) and individuals in the community that have skills that they can offer and bring to the table even if they are deaf," she said. "(It shows) you can go to college and you can work and you can have families."
"All of the students here today, I'm sure the parents and (the kids) hope to have a future to do something useful in the world, whatever is in their hearts that they want," she added. "This (program) is showing us today that people out there are actively interested in including the community that has disabilities."
For Caleb Stone, 20, a student at Canyons Transition academy who suffered a traumatic brain injury after being struck by a drunken driver three years ago while in a crosswalk near Hillcrest High School, the experience gained in the mentorship program has given him hope for his future.
"Now I know what (classes in) college I need to go through and the types of degrees I need to have (for a good career)," he said. "I want to start out at (Salt Lake Community College) and take the essentials that I would need to get my (associate) degree and see where it goes from there."
For those people with disabilities who struggle with hardships and challenges, he said determination is the key to overcoming those obstacles.
"Don't give up!" he said. "No matter how hard it gets, just keep moving and keep going toward (your goal)."