Story

Spotlight on Samuel van der Swaagh, Perkins Employment Program alumni

Samuel van der Swaagh is an artist, a tech enthusiast, a proud New Yorker and a young adult with a visual impairment. Hear him tell his story about working with the Perkins Employment team and share tips he learned that helped him land his first job.

Samuel van der Swaagh is an artist, a tech enthusiast, a proud New Yorker and a young adult with a visual impairment. Sam and his family first heard about Perkins through their connections to the New York Institute for Special Education. As a high-schooler, Sam took part in a variety of Perkins Outreach programs including Space Camp and hiking in the Adirondacks where he learned teamwork and other life skills. 

Upon graduating from high school, Sam knew that he wanted to attend college, but admits that he didn’t have a solid idea about what he wanted to study or how it would connect him to a career. Sam enrolled in a local community college and eventually transferred to a 4-year university where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree. During this time, Sam was also traveling abroad and exploring his interests in technology, learning coding and data analytics and pursuing artistic endeavors, learning hand weaving and setting up his own Etsy shop to sell custom textiles. Sam credits his parents with not pushing him down any one path, but instead allowing him the freedom to explore and make mistakes. 

Armed with his degree, professional experience as a volunteer mentor for college students with visual impairment and strong technology and coding skills, Sam embarked on his job search to find a role in computer programming. Even with great credentials, many young people with disabilities face obstacles trying to break into the workforce, and unfortunately Sam was no different. He experienced discriminatory questions from hiring managers, interviews that never led to job offers, and he questioned whether he should disclose his disability at all. Then came the pandemic. With companies putting hiring on hold, Sam’s job search came to a halt. As a self-described lifelong learner, Sam utilized his newfound downtime to pursue certificate programs and build his professional network. When Covid restrictions started to lift, Sam continued interviewing, but none of his efforts landed him a job. 

After some prompting from family members, Sam decided to reach out to Perkins for support. Sam was able to connect with Perkins employment experts who provided holistic employment support including: career exploration, interview coaching, connections to industry professionals and access to Perkins employer partners. Sam says that when he came to Perkins he was very set on a certain type of job- a coding job, but through research within the industry and talking with tech leaders, he discovered that coding is a very difficult field to break into and the demand for computer programmers is expected to decrease. While in the program, Sam discovered his love of customer service and was able to pull from his experiences of interactions with people and mentoring students. This realization allowed Sam to expand his job interests, giving him access to more in-demand jobs. 

“With Perkins, I was able to practice vital skills such as customer support, learning how to receive feedback, learning essential things such as Microsoft Suite and Salesforce, I was able to talk with actual HR organizations to fine-tune how I interview or seek out jobs, look at my resume, and also learn how to talk about my disability. “

-Samuel van der Swaagh

The Employment Services team at Perkins was able to connect Sam to a job opportunity with a longtime employer partner. Sam interviewed for and landed a role as a Customer Service Representative at the IT security firm. Sam says, “Perkins has always been good at empowering me to do things.” He has learned that it’s ok to ask for help and he feels empowered to advocate for what he needs. Sam will be celebrating his one-year work anniversary in the spring of 2024, and he’s optimistic about his career, saying that he can see himself as the company for a very long time. It’s growing and there is a lot of opportunity.  

Thanks Sam! For more information about Perkins Employment Programs and Support, visit our Transition Center.

SHARE THIS ARTICLE
Webinar

Transition Talks workshop #6: Health Insurance – Keeping the Wheels on the Bus!

Webinar

Transition Talks workshop #5: A Comprehensive Guide to Guardianship

Woman surrounded by and linked to images of files, documents computer, setting gears, etc. symbolizing learning management system.
Guide

Using Blackboard Ally with low vision