This is the VR workforce studio, inspiration, education and affirmation “AT WORK”. The workforce and disability employment podcast from the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center, a Division of the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services. The VR Workforce Studio is published by our Foundation at wwrcf.org and is available in iTunes and at vrworkforcestudio.com. You are listening to the vrworkforcestudio.
Rick: Welcome to today’s episode, we appreciate you joining us, I’m convinced that today’s guest and her story will forever change the way you think about disability. We are going to be up and personal with Dr. Pam – the always entertaining certainly informative, and provocative Pam Cobbler.
Anne: Educator, businesswoman, and spokesperson for individuals with disabilities.
Rick: Welcome to the vrworkforcestudio podcast, and Hudlow directs the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation, Hi Anne.
Anne: Hey there Rick, and Rick Sizemore directs the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center.
Rick: And together we bring these courageous stories of vocational rehabilitation. In the big inspiration showcase today…
Anne: Dr. Pam Cobbler has a list of accomplishments and accolades that are so long that it would probably take most of our show to read through them, in fact I was just joking with her birthdate is not on the resume so I could not figure out how in the world a 29 year old could get all of this done.
Rick: in 29 years.
Anne: And that short amount of time so in that short amount of time so congratulations Pam.
Pam: I’m not even sure what year I would have been born if I were 29.
Anne: Well Pam maybe is best known as a model and former Ms. Wheelchair Virginia, which paved the way for her to be the head of Ms. Wheelchair Virginia programs for many years, following a tragic accident she blazed a new trails on a journey through vocational rehabilitation in education, business, and as a spokesperson for individuals with disabilities. It’s a pleasure to welcome you today Pam thank you so much for being here.
Pam: It’s an honor to be invited and share my stories so thank you.
Anne: Thank You.
Rick: Awesome. Well Pam you and I go back a long way what role has Vocational Rehabilitation played in your numerous successes?
Pam: We’ll start with the Vocational rehab that I had here at WWRC, and after my injury I was a road warrior prior to my injury and so one of the main things and one of the things that I wanted to do, post-injury, was get back on the road and get behind the wheel. My legs didn’t move – I had no instinct to move my legs – so it was all in the coordination of the hands and everything and arms. So, I was able to drive – I came here and got my driver’s evaluation so I could drive and get back to work,and get back to school. Finding the transportation is an ordeal.And for me – again, because I love driving I love traveling – it’s important to me it’s an level of independence that was really important. Driving was one of the main Vocational Rehab goals that I had and the other one was for work because of the level of nature of my injury, I’m not supposed to lift over 5 pounds when I’m working full-time and I am required to have a travel attendant with me and I came to WWRC for my job and travel attendant evaluation.
Rick: What other kinds of Vocational Rehab supports did you get early in the Vocational Rehab process?
Pam: I had to get back to my job at Patrick Henry Community College and get the office setup. Occupational Therapy was important, Physical Therapy, Outpatient Physical Therapy.Again, things pre -injury that were a spring board for me and to post injury success mixed with Voc Rehab. I worked out five days a week, and enjoyed sports and athletic things. And,because I was in good shape prior to that the Physical Therapy segwayed to PT pretty well and then Occupational Therapy – to getting the house modified and getting things that I needed to get to work, and learning how to reassess, relearn that I had to do differently.
Anne: Pam, can you walk us through some of the accomplishments that you are most proud of? I know that there is a very long list but wondering which one is dearest to your heart?
Pam: Well, of the obvious ones would be winning Ms. Wheelchair Virginia title. I was called by Nancy Red and we referred them to Ms. Walking Virginia’s and they get it because we have a great sisterhood with a lot of those girls. And, I saw Nancy Red at a Roanoke Chamber of Commerce workforce meeting. It was a business meeting there and she said “Have you heard of Ms. Wheelchair Virginia? And I said “No” and she said “Well I think you should get involved with that program”. In my mind, I was thinking crowns and wheelchairs – I don’t think so and then I realized it was an advocacy role. I loved the girls that walk with the crowns and they have great servant’s hearts. What Ms. Wheelchair of Virginia does is an advocacy title so that was important to me, and I felt that it was a great accomplishment – not because I won – but, that was a way to get really involved within the community of people with disabilities with a specific focus on women in wheelchairs. The other accomplishment that I had was finishing my doctorate – that was a goal that I had set. And, the other thing, was getting back into some of the sports.
Anne: So what are some of the sports that you enjoy?
Pam: Right now I am Horseback riding, and I went skiing with some of my spinal cord injury mentors and the other thing swimming is fun, it’s a little bit harder but basically the swimming and horseback riding has been my number one goal to get back on the horse.
Rick: We’ve got a great gallery out at vrworkforcestudio.com, they’re
Pam: I was heading to buy wheat as a passenger on a motorcycle – and we’re not sure, the driver what happened, we think he fell asleep but because he had a concussion, there is no memory of any of the wreck or anything – just flipped. I flipped five times and landed in the concrete cul-de-sac and I just realized then that I was lying in the ditch. I thought I was going to die; and I knew that I was hemorrhaging. Then after the test results came back, I had twelve broken bones in my back, spinal cord was severed at T6 and 7, both lungs had collapsed and my ribs were cracked.
Rick: How did you deal with all of that? How did you come to terms with in the earlier stages of your rehabilitation?
Pam: Well, I was hauling horses in a trailer, and I was driving a five speed sports car and someone said “She is in denial nothing’s wrong, she’s not crying, she doesn’t seem worried, shedoesn’t seem upset.” Well it was my faith. I practice the Christian faith. I clung to that early on.The other thing was already being in physical shape and then just genetically there is a lot of grit. And, so you think, ok this happened and you have an intuition to problem solve so then you start problem solving and you just take your grit and faith and you move on. I have always said “Life is more interesting than Fiction. Well I’m the true story.
Anne: Well you mentioned wild stories; we love to hear at least one.
Pam: I wouldn’t say I would guarantee but that I would be assured other people will have the same stories and mine are so unique and I start listening to other people well that happened to me. And they try to 1 up on your stories… So, I was driving back on 220 south and if you remember that part of the world and if you remember that part of the state I was driving up on those hills on 220 near Franklin County and a deer ran out of me and I slammed on my hand brake and when I did, everything from the back seat… when I’m traveling… everything from the back seat was full of stuff, everything came to the front. And then I knew then that if you listen to the story you’re going “ I wonder what happened…?” “Is that a big deal…?” When I got home, I was trapped in my van and couldn’t get out because everything; chair, suitcase, books, book bag, everything that was in the back seat had piled in the front. Took me three hours to get out of my van and that’s real those things happened. The other great story that happened to me very recently was I was going up my ramp at home, and I fell off my ramp and fell onto the pavement, should I wear the life alert button, should I call 911 but because of the grit and the stubbornness and I got myself and my chair into my van and it was 26 degrees and the wind was blowing pretty hard and I was determined and that is there’s some things I would not do, like I four-wheel and stuff like that, but physically I won’t hurt myself or challenge myself to much for some things but something like that happens to me.
Rick: That’s athletics and problem-solving.
Pam: Well grit and a little bit of anger I was just so mad, this really after all of this time after 15 years post injury this still happens and these things actually happen to people. That’s what I’m thinking the whole time like I was asking myself did this just happen to me?
Rick: well these stories are just fascinating and I have one that I would like to bring up one of the photos that stick in my mind is you on the floor of the General Assembly receiving a resolution.
Pam: Where did you see these pictures at?
Rick: I’m not stalking you, these pictures are everywhere.
Pam: And, I have to remember…And I saw you there… or I saw the picture.
Rick: It was a picture of you on the floor of the General Assembly getting a resolution for Ms. Wheelchair and as you received that what did it feel like knowing that you represent so many people who have disabilities and get this acknowledgement?
Pam: Well, I take it very seriously and when you mention it something brings tears to my eyes because politics are ok I have against politics the Ms. Wheelchair program is a bipartisan, non-partisan advocacy role for people with disabilities to have the honor; I like history, and love our state love our country, love our state just historically being in a position to be in a position to talk about people with disabilities and when I’m doing that, it’s just not for wheelchair users it’s for every mom, dad, brother, sister, business owner, business representative, every employer that again it’s cliché and corny, but when you have the opportunity to receive something like that from the General Assembly of Virginia, the commonwealth of Virginia you do realize that you are in the spotlight that there is a focus on you and your life, so it is your job to represent and again historically Virginia is very important to me again now a very personal concrete experience of what I refer to as the suffering, we have there is a lot of funny stories there is a lot of laughter; laughter is like a medicine, again I would say that I have a great sense of humor that life is funny to me.
Rick: If there is any doubt about that, you have a great sense of humor.
Pam: People are funny to me, situations are funny to me and as Albert Einstein said” If you can’t say to a kindergartener than you don’t understand it” you get right to it.
Anne: Let’s change direction Pam for a minute; we had talked a little bit about employers and businesses we recognize that who are hiring with people with disabilities, what businesses or employers can you cite as examples that are leading the way in hiring these individuals?
Pam: Well with my connection with WWRC and the State Rehabilitation Council, we’ll move Kroger and CVS to the top of the list, as far as I know as far as corporations and I see people with disabilities as employees working there. That’s just a few examples in the corporate world I know in Virginia there is a focus to hire people with disabilities that’s really important and the last thing that I’ll say that is with some of the decision making positions that I have had I have found that if the person with the disability is reasonably accommodated you will find one of yourmost dedicated employees again they are already problem solving , they are already have to look way ahead to see what might potentially happen, the dedication, and the time on task for the people with disabilities for which I have worked, they have risen to the top.
Anne: That is a great point and you don’t take it for granted, you’re prepared it seems like people with disabilities are over prepared.
Pam: Life requires that and if you can use those skills – those personal skills – in the businesses and the job and it might be a stretch but I’m a data and numbers person because my background is in education administration and you will find the majority of 80 to 90 percent of people with disabilities are gonna give you more and take less.
Rick: Your social media presence is profound and I recall the days of Facebook and YouTube really emerging – and, tell you a little about my age how long I have been doing this – and we had hired you for as a model to do a bunch of marketing videos for us. And the marketing director at the time came to me and said “I think that we need a YouTube channel and so what I would like to do is load up all of the Pam videos on a Friday afternoon – no strategy, no forethought I just want to put them into a YouTube channel and see what happens. Well I said ok why not and we did that on a Friday afternoon. We came back to work on Monday morning and we had 600 visits without any fanfare or announcement or official launch. And I said, “there must be something to this”. Then, I give my brother a call – who’s a marketer, graphic artist, web guru and I said we got 600 hits” and he said “you put a beautiful woman up on the internet and got 600 hits imagine that”. Aside from that, that was the day that we understood the power of social media and has really been a key spokesperson for us for our social media campaigns particularly from the early days. Tell us what social media has done for Ms. Wheelchair and for people with disabilities?
Pam: Social media is a part of the technology and we refer it as assistive technology of the avenues of the pathways of the number of people can reach and I was talking about my big Christian hair in those videos and just looking at those recently and when I’m thinking about going to the podcast and I claim my big Christian hair and as far as the social media I’m not old, but, I’m old school so as when I refer to as my girls, my peeps which is not just girls, my girls and my peeps do a lot of that for us as far as the Ms. Wheelchair for Virginia program is concerned, the office that I have now the consultation the advocate job that I have with the Disability Rights and Resources Center websites, YouTube, Tweeting, and that kind of thing a lot of people and now podcasting with all caps and bolds and that 6 million people will listen to.
Anne: So Pam before we wrap up today, could you give us your final reflection on the value of Vocational Rehabilitation?
Pam: I believe that Vocational Rehabilitation is needed and most important for people to be successful in their employment whether they were born with a disability or someone like me as who have walked their whole life and things were looking pretty up for me and this happened and I had no idea this was going to happen so places like the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center and the Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services provide the education, they provide the professional training and they just provide the heart and the help that the person needs need to get back to work. I have told a lot of workforce people, governors which I have spoken, international companies that have asked for my opinion and have asked my voice on some things I say “If you want me to be a taxpayer, instead of a tax user” then we need to find ways to get back to work and the WWRC and DARS in my opinion is the number one resource that we have in the Commonwealth and as far as WWRC is concerned, in the country and around the globe for getting the help that people will need, the vocational rehabilitation, the rehab part, the physical part, the emotional part, the educational part, of getting people back to life and back to work.
Anne: So the WWRC and DARS bring the resources and you bring the grit so you get it done.
Pam: You gotta have a little bit of grit, little bit of grit to go with it.
Rick: Again I would ask you to go out of vrworkforcestudio and check out this incredible gallery of this magnificent model, entrepreneur, businessperson, spokesperson for the division for persons with disabilities, member of the Rehabilitation Council, you are an incredible humanbeing and it has been a great honor to have in the vrworkforcestudio
Anne: Yes Pam, we so appreciate it.
Rick: What a great story from Pam about the impact of Vocational Rehabilitation and her life.We have standing by a good friend of ours Dr. Rob Froehlich, Rob is here to give us a bigger picture of Vocational Rehabilitation.
Anne: Welcome to the podcast Rob, how are you?
Rob: I’m good Anne, how are you?
Anne: I’m well thank you, actually I’m still reeling from the Pam story, and you know I follow you on Twitter and I’m fascinated with the ROI Story.
Rob: I’m so happy that you guys asked me to come and talk about this project that has a direct relationship to Vocational Rehabilitation but that some people on first glance might not fully get that relationship so I’m glad to talk about it today.
Rick: Rob is a project director and an adjunct professor at George Washington University Center for Rehabilitation Counseling Research and Education. Rob works with the VR Return on Investment Project and many other high profile VR activities. He has been providing rehabilitation counseling services since the early 1990’s and has been a rehabilitation counselor and educator for more than fifteen years. He’s a licensed professional counselor, nationally certified rehabilitation counselor, Welcome Rob let’s get started by having a discussion on ROI.
Rob: Sure. Absolutely. We are the Vocational Rehabilitation Return on Investment Project. So,as Rick mentioned I’m at the George Washington University but I work with some great colleagues and economists who are at the University of Richmond, the University of Virginia, Florida State University, and Stony Brook University. So, those folks – those economists, in combination with some of your colleagues Rick at Virginia DARS (Dr. Joe Ashley, Dr. Kirsten Rowe) are working with myself and my colleague Dr. Maureen McGuire-Kuletz at GW. We are working with 8 different state Vocational Rehabilitation agen
Anne: So, you have been listening to Pam’s story, which is a great story about how VR helped someone move to employment. How do you think this relates to the ROI initiative you are involved in?
Rob: What Dr. Cobbler did was that she did a great job in bringing the experience of being a person with a significant disability. She brought that experience and explained to the General Assembly and what that really means is and what that looks like. I see this project as an opportunity for us to build upon people who are in… professionals in Vocational Rehabilitation know every day that they do important work and in their gut and they understand the impact that those services are going to have and do have on the folks they work with. We are in an interesting period of time right now though where being able to quantify gut instincts… you know, it is one thing to have a feeling and to say “…oh, we do great work”; being able to quantify that and say – on paper – here’s the data that support the fact that we do good work is one of the essential pieces of this project.
Rick: Rob, you and several others have been studying a group of people with disabilities since the year 2000. Which ironically is the same time frame of Pam’s accident so what have you concluded about that group you studied and the impacts of Vocational Rehabilitation on their lives?
Rob: For those VR applicants from 2000, who received vocational rehabilitation services, 80 percent enjoy earnings gains that exceeded the costs of their vocational rehabilitation.
Anne: Well Rob that seems to me like a pretty good investment.
Rob: For every 1000 dollars spent by Virginia DARS, the average consumer earned 7,100 dollars more over ten years then they would have without those services. The top ten percent earned 45,100 or more over the same period of time. Yeah right, so you know and you are out at Wilson Workforce Rehab Center right; you know that you see these important things happening but is a pretty persuasive statistic to have in front so if you are a legislator and you are not aware of this that’s huge information don’t you think?
Anne: Yes, it is huge and we see it every day here and that is what this podcast is about, the stories that uplift and inspire, these are courageous stories of Vocational Rehabilitation. But you are giving us the overview for all of ROI on a very large group studied over a long period of time. And that positive story is something we really get excited about thanks Rob we really appreciate being here and all the best to you and the VR ROI team.
Rob: Oh my gosh absolutely, any time I can be helpful let me know.
Rick: We will have a link to the study and Rob’s contact information in the show notes at vrworkforcestudio.com; thank you for joining us for today’s episode if you would like to find out more about information you can our contact information in the show notes at vrworkforcestudio.com; I’m Rick Sizemore; Sharing the courageous stories of
Anne: I’m Anne Hudlow. Sharing the courageous stories of Vocational Rehabilitation
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