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Free computer class for people with developmental disabilities

EUGENE, Ore. - A new computer class in Lane County is bridging the digital divide for people with developmental disabilities.

Less than half of people with disabilities have access to the Internet, according to the Arc of Lane County, an organization that offers services for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Angela Phinney, Director of Employment Services, says that is a big barrier to finding work.

"Most of the jobs you have to apply for online, you have to create a resume, fill out applications, all those types of things," Phinney says.

The Arc's new computer learning lab is aimed at fixing that. The learning lab was made possible by a $15,000 grant from Comcast. The free, six-week program teaches basic computer skills, resume building skills, basic email skills, Internet safety, and more.

"This class is a truly amazing experience," says learning lab graduate Erik Whedon.

Whedon, 21, works as a janitor at South Lane Mental Health.

Another graduate, Gus, used his newly-learned computer skills to get a job at Taco Bell.

"We're really proud of him," Phinney says, "He was able to go online, fill out his online application, so it is a really exciting things for him to be able to use those skills."

Learning lab instructor Karen Gold says it is very rewarding to watch her students grow.

"It's broadening their horizons," Gold says. "It's teaching them opportunities they didn't even know existed."

For example, many students were isolated from online communities. Now, they are more connected through social media.

"For someone with a disability, who for instance can't speak, they can actually use computers to help communicate with other people," Phinney says. "It allows them to get onto social media, connect with their friends, and meet new people in a safe environment."

The students also walked away feeling more connected outside of social media. Whedon says, for him, the most important thing he learned was how to interact with others.

"Being around other people with disabilities is one thing I really enjoyed about being in the class," Whedon says. "Knowing that you're not really having to be alone."

The learning lab graduates like Whedon were recognized at the Arc's annual gala Thursday night. The Arc thanked employers and community sponsors that have supported the organization.

The Arc of Lane County offers a number of free services for children and adults. Call them to learn more about how to get involved: (541) 343-5256

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