Transcript by business students: Matthew Watkins, Cristene Hamm and Marlin Moore
Intro: I believe it is possible for everyone to go to work with the right accommodation: All you have to do is ask.
VR Workforce Studio: Inspiration, Education and Affirmation at Work. We’re bringing you the stories of individuals with disabilities who are in or preparing to be part of the workforce in Virginia. And we’re celebrating not only the champions of business and industry that hire individuals with disabilities, but also the vocational rehabilitation professionals who’ve dedicated their lives and careers to creating hope and a path forward to employment so individuals with disabilities can work and lead more fulfilling lives while building Virginia’s workforce and moving our economy forward.
Welcome to the VR Workforce Studio education, inspiration, and affirmation at work. We’re bringing you the stories of individuals with disabilities who are in or preparing to be part of the workforce here in Virginia. We’re celebrating not only the champions of business and industry that hire individuals with disabilities but also the vocational rehabilitation professionals who dedicated their lives and careers to creating hope and a path forward to employment so individuals with disabilities can work and lead more fulfilling lives while building Virginia’s workforce and moving our new Virginia economy forward. This is episode number ten we are thrilled and delighted that you’ve joined us for this podcast and on today’s show, from our inspiration showcase the one and only Angela West, she’s a professional VR counselor and Miss Wheelchair Virginia 2015-16 showcasing communication excellence in demonstrating assistive technology in a way that will truly inspire you. Also Ginger Shiflet, a speech language pathologist here to discuss assistive technology and how it opens the door to employment for individuals that have difficulty with their speech. Also on today Andrew Stow with news notes and updates from the Virginia Rehabilitation Association and as always Ann Hudlow WWRC Foundation.
Always a pleasure to welcome Ann Hudlow, the executive director of the WWRC Foundation to the VR Workforce Studio, Ann nice to have you on the podcast today.
Ann: Thanks Rick, it’s great to be here. You know Ann research tells us that time and time again that transportation or the lack of transportation is one of the most significant obstacles to a person with a disability getting and keeping a job. You know I know from speaking with clients and staff here at WWRC that is certainly the case. That’s why on any given day you’ll see a number of WWRC consumers learning to access public transportation by using the local coordinated area transportation buses and you’ll see a fleet of drivers education cars with instructors and consumers doing assessments in drivers training.
Rick: Pealar Yawnest had this to say about how learning to drive is changing her life and preparing her for employment.
PEALAR: It’s a big thing for me because it makes me more independent. I am not stuck in my apartment just waiting for people to take me out and uh this way I uh can you know get out by myself and uh and the main thing for me right now is because I wanna find a job. I wanna, you know, work, start working again, and um and uh being in an apartment all the time you know, uh, it’s difficult to make appointments and just depending on what people take you. ANN: As we heard from Mary Brice during Occupational Therapist and Driving Specialist here at WWRC, one of the things some folk may not know is that specially outfitted cars are needed to help an individual help with a disability learn to drive.
MARY: The vehicle we most recently got that was sponsored from the foundation it’s been equipped with I think there is six different hand controls on there, so that gives us the ability as the evaluator to kind of see from a client’s disability standpoint what’s gonna be the best match for them. Now unless we have the chance to try that we really can’t recommend, it’s difficult to recommend thing unless we have the ability to actually try them so, as people said we she came for her evaluation she had the opportunity to try. That day that she came we tried three different hand controls and that allowed her to kind a see what kind she felt was gonna be the most comfortable, it allowed me as an evaluator to see what I felt was gonna be the most be the best match, but if we don’t have that equipment then it’s really difficult to try that.
We also looked at for loading your chair a car type carrier and we also have the access to try that here, and I think for you Pealar being able to see that in action allowed you to say yeah that’s something I think would be workable for me and then to try it you know to actually try it.
PEARLAR: Because sometimes you and your mind you think that you can do it and when I saw that thing on top of the car you know, I wasn’t thinking, and you know that would take the chair I wasn’t thinking of something being on top of me, so then when I saw I tried it first, I tried to put my chair in the back and, I did it but it was so much time consuming and if I want or have an appointment, or its raining or snowing that will take me forever to do that with the car top carrier it is so much easier. I saw the lady, it just pulled the wheelchair up and it was so fast and she went home so easily. And I realize oh this is much easier for me and plus, I am very small and the chair is so much heavier than me.
Ann: My favorite driving Success story has to be George Denehee who we heard from in an earlier episode, of course learning to drive without arms. And he is going to be here at the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center on Oct 23rd with Robyn and Linda Williams for a special benefit Concert. I know you are going to be there out to this great show Rick.
RICK: Yes absolutely.
Ann: And if you would like to know more about the Concert and where to get tickets, you can visit our website.
RICK: Thanks Ann. You can reach Ann Hudlow at the WWRC Foundation on their website at WWRCF.org.
Up next, guest co-host China Jewel and straight ahead Miss Wheelchair Virginia, Miss Angela West.
China Jewel is the co-director of the Miss Wheelchair Virginia program and today’s guest co-host welcome China “hey Rick”.. Coming to us remotely through video teleconference and China, to honest, you sound like next door.
China: I know it really is, I can’t believe we can do this.
Rick: So thanks for helping me bring Angela on to the pod cast. You have spent a lot of time with Angela over the past few years.
China: Angela is such a wonderful representative for us. She has competed in your prior in Miss Wheelchair and this year of course, she won. As you will hear today on the podcast she is such a motivational speaker. She is an inspiring young woman with her master’s degree but more than that she speaks from her heart and I know that even in casual social gatherings when we have been around her. I can remember at Galax at a meet and greet. We were just, you know just all the girls coming together we were just sharing our stories our platforms of advocacy and she was sharing hers Sharing our story and she was sharing hers and me and many of the others were just brought to tears just by how passionate she was and just by her life’s story. One of her mantras or mottos or way she lives it that she really loves public speaking she really loves to be able to make a difference through public speaking. Being able to be on this podcast the way she is and spread her message. Really means a lot to us as an organization and to her. There wasn’t really a dry eye. When she was speaking in that situation She is such an inspirational young woman and she just lights up a room being around her and other people when she is with them just being around her and other people, I have been able to see that first hand. It’s really remarkable.
Rick: Angela West lives in Chesapeake, Virginia and is employed as an Asian cultural broker for the Center of Family Involvement at Virginia Commonwealth University. Angela received her Masters of Science in Rehabilitation counseling from Virginia Commonwealth University. She enjoys writing for her blog, working with youth with disabilities, spending time with friends, and being active in her church. Angela uses a wheelchair due to cerebral palsy which occurred at birth. She describes herself as determined, compassionate, gracious, diligent, and faithful. Angela West, welcome to the VR Workforce studio.
Angela, good morning. Thank you so much for your commutating with us today in two ways. One your normal voice and I’m so appreciative of the links that you go to in order to offer expressive commutation and it’s truly impressive. And you’re also using an assistive commutation device. Can you explain what this device is and how it works?
Angela: It is like a little laptop where I can program what I have to say and can also type the things that I need to say at the very minded.
Rick: So Angela, tell us what it’s like to have been in Miss Wheelchair Virginia.
Angela: Being Miss Wheelchair is awesome. I can say that it is one of my top ten life achievements. Many people believe that it is just a wearing the crown and looking pretty but it is so much more than that. It is being a role model for people with disabilities and educating the community. I love speaking to youth about disabilities because they are the future. One of my favorite things was traveling to Miss America and meeting the other amazing state title holders. We made friendships that will last a lifetime.
Rick: Angela, let’s begin with your disability and its effect on your daily life. So, what challenges does your disability represent and how do you overcome them.
Angela: My disability is cerebral palsy. I need to use a wheelchair for mobility and I use this wonderful communication device so that people understand clearly what I have to say. I have this new wheelchair that directs to blue tooth which allows me to use a communication device by my joystick. When I first got it, I was totally fascinated. These are some of the things that I am grated for because we are in the age where technology is advanced.
Rick: Angela, I was in the audience when you won the Miss. Wheelchair Virginia Title. Your witty, you’re intelligent, and you’re charming. You have it all. The audience, and I was part of that audience, was literally spellbound when you came out on stage as they anticipated your speech, but honestly at first, I think this audience had a bit of emotional reaction to seeing your struggle and wondering how you would communicate. And then this device came on and it was a magic bridge between this beautiful and intelligent contestant on stage, and it connected them to you. Take us back to that night and tell us what it was like to win over a capacity crowd and hold them in the palm of your hand through your personality and your machine.
Angela: I have to say that usually the machine is not my preferred way of communication because I want people to hear my persona and sometimes it gets lost with the computer but I learned how to use profound words through that so it still see my persona and can clearly see what I have to say.
Rick: China, you were there the night that Angela became Miss Wheelchair Virginia, what was it like for you to witness her success?
China: We have that technology just speaking to her personally I know that she wishes she didn’t have to use it but, that being said, I know she really appreciates having that because she loves to talk and she loves to socialize. She’s such a butterfly loves to, social butterfly that is, and loves also to spread her message and seeing her that night be able to spread her message using the technology really meant a lot to me because I knew that everybody was able to understand her and was able to hear her. Seeing her compete years before without it and then seeing her this year with it, I could just tell just from different people that were in the audience who got to hear the full speech and exactly every word that she wanted to say and get across. You know, just how much it meant to them. Whereas before they might not have gotten many of the words just because if they are not used to her speaking or her way of speaking they may not be familiar enough to pick up on it.
So I think seeing that technology in use this year, it was really moving because I knew that she was able to spread her message to that many more people with the technology whereas the year before she might not have she might not know how many people were able to access every word she wanted to say.
Rick: So Angela what’s next for you?
Angela: I am excited to continue serving as Miss Wheelchair Virginia till March. I have a very busy schedule in the fall because it is my goal to visit schools and educate students since October is disability awareness month.
I also, would like to give time to the homeless shelters and other needs of the community. I think it important for disability advocates to give back to the community as a whole and not just focus on disability.
I will continue working at VCU. I am very busy working with families as I educate them about disability services and cultural impact on disabilities.
Rick: So in a couple of short sentences, sum up disability employment for us.
Angela: It is difficult that ways people realize that I need help with everything that I can’t speak clearly, that I do not have an education and so no true so do I have not only do no worry about performing the job but I have to worry about how people see me in the workplace. But I believe that it is possible for everyone to go to work with the accommodations all they have to do is ask (not clear)
Rick: Angela West is Miss Wheelchair Virginia 2015-2016. You can see photos of Angela in our gallery by visiting VAworkforcestudio.com
Break – Change speakers
Rick: Ginger Shifflet received both her Bachelor and Master’s degrees from James Madison University in Communications Sciences and Disorders. She has a certificate of Clinical Competency and Speech Language Pathology and has worked for the past 17 years at the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center assisting individuals with disabilities. She served as the department director and specializes in augmentative alternative communication. Additionally, she has particular interests serving individuals with Autism. Ginger, we just heard Angela West. An amazing interview. You work with a lot of folks who use assistive technology and these communication devices are truly life changing.
Ginger: I think everybody who’s able to be employed after receiving a communication device has actually had a life-changing experience. We have lots of augmentative alternative communication users that are now working. We have individuals working at libraries, the Salvation Army, for the federal government, at Lowes, Walmart, Krispy Kreme and that’s just to name a few places and most of the time, these folks consider being able to work is a life-changing experience because before communication barriers would’ve prevented that.
Rick: As well as famous people use these devices.
Ginger: There are a lot of different famous people that do use augmentative alternative communication. Two that come to mind are, is of course, Stephen Hawking, and he is a famous scientist and professor. Since 1997, he used a system called EZ Keys by a company called Words Plus and he uses that to continue to do research, to give his classroom presentation and for everyday communication. And most recently the person that’s been in the headlines is a gentleman named Steve Gleason who played football for the New Orleans Saints and he has ALS. He is currently using an eye tracking system by Tobii Dynavox.
Rick: So who makes these augmentative communication devices and how can someone get one?
Ginger: There are a variety of augmentative alternative communication device companies. The thing we that would recommend is that somebody who is need of a device seek out a Speech Language Pathologist who can do an evaluation to determine which system would best serve that person’s communication wants and needs.
Rick: Ginger Shifflet is a Speech Language Pathologist at the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center. Always a pleasure having you in the VR Workforce Studio. Thanks, Ginger.
Rick: We’re fortunate to have in the VR Studio Workforce Studio this morning Andrew Stow, a vocational rehabilitation professional who works in Charlottesville, VA for the Virginia Department of Aging and Rehabilitation Services. Andrew welcome.
Andrew: Thank you, Rick. It’s really nice to be here. I’ve been a fan of the VR Workforce Studio and I’m thrilled to be here with you here in the studio today.
Rick: So, Andrew, how long have you been doing this kind of work? I know it’s more than a couple of decades. You and I have been around for a while.
Andrew: We sure have, haven’t we? Since 1987, for me, and I had a mentor who once said he’d been around since dirt and it’s about this time that I feel, start feeling that way, Rick. I wanted to talk a little bit about the profession because it’s very important in terms of the things that I feel like I’ve, the perspective that I may have gained over the years and I’ve just seen a lot of changes in the past 25 years. From working with a majority of people either with physical or intellectual challenges to working with a large number of individuals with all kinds of emotional, memory, organization and social skills issues. And I believe this is had, I’ve seen this have two major effects: one is that the level of expertise needed to do our jobs has grown such that it now requires a Master’s degree in Counseling or Rehabilitation Counseling in the Commonwealth to qualify for the work that we do at least in the public sector. And it has spawned a growth industry in the need for people who are known as job coaches. Different organizations call them by different titles, employment specialist, employment consultants, and vocational counselors. But they are people trained to provide the proper supports looking to find and maintain work.
Each person with a disability is an individual as you know, the way one person works successfully with one may look very different from the approach with another. Give you quick example, somebody with Asperger’s on the autism spectrum, requires usually an approach that is very concrete. You don’t want to be asking a lot of open ended questions generally and you are wanting to be a little bit more directive than I might be with someone with another kind of issue like a substance abuse issue where you are going to be asking a lot more open ended questions and you are going to be trying to bring to the fore using some different strategies, their feelings about their drinking or different kinds of challenges they might have. So the point is the approaches are different and you have to know that across a wide variety of disabilities. But the heart of the work is to find a good match between an individual and the workplace and use the perspective employee’s strengths to overcome any of the limitations at the worksite.
Rick: So Andrew a question I ask allot of our guests is to give us a few thoughts or maybe in a quick sentence, your perspective on disability employment.
Andrew: Well Rick, I am a firm believer that a fully integrated and diversified workforce strengthens our community. I have witnessed again and again how employment allows people with disabilities increase their Connection with other and provide a sense of satisfaction through increased autonomy and self-confidence. It benefits both of us – The community as a whole benefits and the individual benefits.
Rick: Andrew one of our podcast categories is the VR briefing room for VR professionals like yourself. We both belong to the professional association the National Rehabilitation Association and its State affiliate: the Virginia Rehabilitation Association – referred to as “VRA”. If you were to briefly describe VRA, what would you say?
Andrew: This organization works tirelessly to promote the vocational rehab profession and to provide training, networking and leadership opportunities to the individuals who dedicate their lives to assisting people with disabilities find and keep jobs. One of my professional roles is as the VRA Communications Chair. So, our organization supports both people with disabilities and the hundreds of counselors, job coaches, employers and other behind-the-scenes staff each and every day. I’d like to take a moment to talk about two fine accomplishments – one goes back a little longer and the other is more up-to-date. Back in the mid 80’s and early 90’s; VRA was the catalyst for the initiation and subsequent enactment of the Virginian’s With Disabilities Act in the General Assembly. This was back in 1985 and that was 5 years before the passage of the American’s With Disabilities Act – nationally. And, the Virginia Act is considered by many to be the model for the federal legislation – ADA. So, that’s one thing. Second, VRA also sponsors an advocacy consultant in the Virginia General Assembly every year. In 2015, she successfully worked with other employment and disability groups to increase state funds by over 3.5 Million dollars to provide support to people with disabilities throughout the Commonwealth. So, you see we are an active organization with proud roots and viable accomplishments.
Rick: Andrew, we have posted the address to the VRA website at: VRworkforcestudio.com; and you also have a newsletter?
Andrew: Yes we do. It’s called “NewsNotes” and it comes out quarterly in both paper and electronic form to all our members with a few special additions sprinkled in, here and there. Its purpose is to keep our members in touch with the happenings in the legislation at the State and National levels with the education and training opportunities; and to help us communicate with each other better.
Rick: We, here at WWRC, want to thank you for that special edition recently. It featured some cool things that are going on here at the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center – we appreciate it so much.
Andrew: You’re very welcome Rick. The activities at the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center well deserve to be featured with a special edition of News Notes.
Rick: So, what’s the latest in the VRA News, Andrew?
Andrew: Yes. I would like to highlight two articles in the upcoming edition. First we recently welcomed a new member to VRA – Susie Klein. And, I want to share a short segment from her bio to give an idea of the types of people who join our organization. First, of all she came to us from Chugiak, Alaska and travelled to Charlottesville in 2013 to complete her internship in the DRS Charlottesville office – and her Master’s Program in Rehabilitation Counseling at West Virginia University. She reports that she joined VRA as a way to stay informed and as a way to collaborate with others working to improve the quality of life for all persons with disabilities. Like many who come to the field; Susie’s background is varied and diverse. It includes initial training as a Recreational Therapist during her undergraduate years. As I recall, Rick; you have some similar background of your own in that regard. Is that right?
Rick: Well, I actually started at WWRC in 1986 as a Music therapist. I did that for a short time. And, there were so many opportunities to get involved in the VR process; that I transitioned out of that; but, absolutely started as a musician.
Andrew: Right, and again an example of a diverse background that you come to this with. Susie also has over 15 years’ experience providing support to people with substance abuse, working with those with serious mental illness and inpatient psychiatric, and as more recently has taken a more special interest in the autism spectrum in getting their independence. And getting her master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling was a great way to combine all her knowledge and experience to help others. She goes on to say that everyone has and deserves a purpose and has something to contribute, and that belief drives her passion to assist others in discovering their purpose and achieving their employment and life goals. And Rick, knowing Suzie personally I really can attest to her passion and her drive in this regard. She has an inviable energy and buoyant infectious spirt. And even as a new member there are many ways in which she already embodies the ideals of the rehabilitation association and its membership.
Rick: Yes, certainly a quality counselor, we have worked with her and she is truly a VR professional.
Andrew: Yes, yes she is. She also notes that one of her first activities at VRA was to attend the annual training conference in VA beach in November. This is known as the Collaborations Conference. It brings together three disability and employment organizations for training, sharing of resources and yes, collaboration. That it helps networking amongst our three entities.
This year’s conference is at the Hilton at VA Beach and runs from Wednesday, November 11th to Friday November 13th. A brief example of training topics include: successfully working with Ex-offenders, to examples of people starting their own business as pathway out of poverty which is very important for people with disabilities, to how to use our smart phone to reduces stress and anxiety. Our training conference is our sort off flagship conference every year and as you well know it’s a wonderful opportunity for all of us to get together and talk about the trends in the field. So I was looking at the topics yesterday for this collaborations conference and as I was reading them they got me excited to go and be part of this again this year, Rick. I have a special interest in what practices in our field that are shown to work in helping people get and succeed in jobs. And a lot of these practices seem to revolve around having a caring and involved counselor; a supportive family and a core believe by the counselor that an individual can work successfully. But one of the sessions is focused on what research shows are one of the best and most promising practices and that is what really stokes my enthusiasm. So for more on Suzie and the Collaborations Conference and other news from VRA, you need to go to our website and click on News notes, current edition and that will give you more of this up to date news.
Andrew: and that is the news from VRA.
Rick: Andrew- you know- I wonder if VRA has ever thought about evolving its own podcast. Its certainly a cool way to reach a niche audience.
Andrew: Well, funny you should mention it, Rick. One of my committee colleagues and I have been kicking around the exactly this idea recently. We want to try find a way to communicate more effectively with our members, and wondered if this could be a new format to try out. At present, we plan to discuss the idea further at a Board Meeting at the end of the month to see what feedback we get. But I’m interested in pursuing it. I hear it’s a bunch of work
Rick: I talk to a lot of folks about the podcast and its pretty common to get the following comment. ….. I’ve always wanted to start a podcast……..You know I have this idea and I think folks would be interested in my topic.
Let me say from personal experience that tackling the technical challenges, figuring our your message and dealing with the learning curve can be extremely overwhelming if not down right painful and yet the benefits of podcasting can be enormous. If you are thinking about starting a podcast let me make a suggestion. Visit our good friend Dave Jackson at the school of podcasting. Thats Dave Jackson at the school of podcasting dot com. You are only a few mouse clicks away from the guru of podcasting who offers award winning tutorials, technical support and even start up packages to get you on your way as Dave Jackson say to pain free podcasting. The VR workforce studio is a partner with the school of podcasting. So go on over and visit Dave Jackson at the school of podcasting.com and tell him all the staff and crew here at the VR workforce studio tell everyone who is thinking of starting a podcast that school is in session and Dave is your man. School of podcasting dot com.
You’ve been listening to another edition of the VR Workforce Studio. For comments please contact email@example.com. Until next time please join me in creating hope and a path forward so individuals with disabilities work, lead more fulfilling lives, enhance our workforce and move out new Virginia economy forward.