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Workforce Commission Aids Recovery Through Career Counseling

Wallis Watkins

Maritza-Smith Romero was planning to study veterinary medicine. But that all changed in 1998, when she was paralyzed in a car accident. Ever since then, she’s been adapting to a new way of life -- and to a new career. 

Smith-Romero is talking to her computer, which she controls through voice recognition software. It’s sitting on a table that’s fixed to her wheelchair. She’s in the middle of writing code. 

It wasn’t until 2010 that Smith-Romero thought about a career in computer science.

She started meeting with a Workforce Commission counselor who talked with her about jobs she could pursue as a quadriplegic. It’s part of Louisiana Rehabilitation Services, a program offered to help people with disabilities prepare for and find employment. It was her counselor who encouraged her to try computer science, Smith-Romero says, "that just kind of opened the door."

The program provided Smith-Romero with tuition for her undergraduate degree, as well as a patient care assistant to go with her to school everyday. Of the 20,000 disabled people the Workforce Commission served through the program last fiscal year, 2,400 found a job.

Now Smith-Romero is working on her master’s -- and she’s got the talent.

This year, she applied for the Google Lime Scholarship. "That is a scholarship that is targeted directly to the disabled community, hidden or obvious. There are 12 recipients of that scholarship from around the country," she says.

Smith-Romero was one of them.

She’s expecting to complete her master’s degree in May. After that, she says, "I’d like to get out in the world, work, learn new things at the job, be productive, be a contributing member to whatever workplace I’m in.”

She’ll keep meeting with her Workforce Commission counselor every few months, and together they’ll begin looking for and applying to jobs.