This is the premier episode, “Tour of the Studio.” The show starts with a 90 second vocational rehabilitation success story preview. Then Guest Co-Host Kanika Davis, Miss Wheelchair Virginia 2014 and Rick Sizemore take you on a tour of the four categories available on this podcast; 1) Inspiration Showcase 2) Business, Industry and Employer Gateway 3) VR Briefing Room and 4) Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Insider. The last half of the show is an engaging and personal interview with Kanika Davis – her positive attitude and winning approach to life will inspire you. The tour is filled with quick introductions to future guests.
Episode 0001 Transcript
Transcribed by: Cameron Payne Scott
VR Workforce Studio: inspiration, education, and affirmation at work. The Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center: A division of the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services available in podcast on ITunes or by subscription at www.vrworkforcestudio.com, sponsored by the WWRC Foundation.
Welcome to the VR Workforce Studio, I’m your host, Rick Sizemore, and everyone here in the studio is absolutely thrilled to welcome you to our first episode. The studio is where we celebrate individuals with disabilities who are either in or preparing to be a part of the workforce in Virginia. We not only celebrate the champions of business and industry who hire individual s 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 better lives.
Our whole crew has been working for months to get us up and running for this day: the first day, the grand opening, the debut, our ‘premiere’! And we’re delighted that you’ve joined us for this tour of the studio.
Up next, we have the most incredible 90-second vocational rehabilitation success story you’ve ever heard, I guarantee it! And you have a front row seat! So, let’s get this podcast off of the ground and bring the VR Workforce Studio online!
DARS FIELD COUNSELOR: “Three years ago, Morgan was not in a good place. She was having some real problems making the adjustment from being a kid to being an independent living adult.”
FATHER: “So we sent her to welding school down in Newport.”
MORGAN: “I ended up hurting my back really bad and every few months it would go out to point where I could not walk for three days.”
FATHER: “And she says ‘Dad, I quit.’”
DARS FIELD COUNSELOR: “Somehow Morgan you know she does what she needs to do. And that is what really made me want to get behind this young lady.”
MORGAN: “Carpentry turned out to be a heck of a lot easier on my back. I’m like, ‘Ok, this is what we’re going to do right here!’”
INSTRUCTOR: “Morgan is a very skilled woodworker. She has taken everything I’ve had to give as far as cabinet making and furniture assembly. She soaked it up like a sponge.”
EMPLOYER: … I’m Paul Borzelleca Modern-boy Woodshop in Staunton. And Morgan is turning out to be a really diligent worker and very serious about her work. But great to hang out with also. She’s been a fun addition. And she doesn’t mind doing the menial stuff as long as well as the more fun stuff. So she is a good addition to our crew over here.”
FATHER: “And so to see where she is at today [Chuckles proudly] compared to three years ago! It reminds me I am a Marine, and we take kids out of civilian life, put them in the Marine Corps, and make them Marines. Today she can call herself a graduate. And I love her!”
MORGAN: “I love you, Dad!”
You can hear the interview with Morgan in its entirety in an upcoming episode from injured welding student to successfully employed carpenter: a reflection on Morgan’s journey with her vocational rehabilitation team, her family, her employer, and staff from the Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center.
Our tour of the studio continues as my good fortune to be joined by guest cohost Kanika Davis, the lovely and talented Miss Wheelchair Virginia 2014. Konica, welcome to the podcast! How’s it going?
DAVIS: “I’m good! How are you today?”
I’m fine Kanika, thank you! Over the last year, I’ve had the chance to hear you speak on one than more occasion. You have an incredible voice. And, I believe, a future in podcasting!
DAVIS: “Thank you for the compliment!”
I’m guessing that over the past year you’ve been on the air and in the speaker’s bureau quite a bit, haven’t you?
DAVIS: “Yes, alot!”
Well, Kanika, this podcast is all about disability employment. And so we’ll have four categories on today’s tour. And, of course, the highlight will be an interview with you, Miss Wheelchair Virginia, so we can hear the incredible things you have been doing over the past year as Miss Wheelchair. Once you’ve subscribed to the podcast, you can hear your interview in the first category we are going to preview right now which is the Inspiration Showcase. It’s filled with inspiring stories of individuals with disabilities who have overcome their disability and are successfully employed or are on their way to a career. These stories will delight and inspire you. Here is a brief introduction with Mark Wright.
WRIGHT: “I was working at the ‘Y’ and my heart just stopped and so they revived me and when we went to the hospital, they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. And they were saying that my heart was like a 16-year-old heart and they put me through all these stress. And so, for insurance, they put in a pacemaker. The defibrillator went off and I hit the ground. Well, the floor which was a hard-wood floor and broke my neck. I’m paralyzed from my chest down.
“I have a trucking business called The Wright Company…”
Hear Mark’s amazing story of comprehensive rehabilitation, assistive technology, and the unstoppable human spirit that returned him to his dream career in the trucking business.
WRIGHT: “I just love the trucking business! You can knock me down, but I’m going to get right back up!”
Konica, someone once said to me that ‘Individuals with disabilities are just deeply creative people.’ What would you say about that?
DAVIS: “I would have to say that we definitely have a very creative sense of mind. You know, I think about some of the situations I have been in and it’s like trying to figure out how to make it work or you know being with other people who haven’t really encountered being around a person with a disability and when we come up to a barrier together and there just like ‘Well, I guess we won’t be able to do this.’ And I’m like ‘Oh no no no!!! You know, there is a way! We’re going to figure it out!’ But you kind of have to, especially when you’re you know wanting to achieve something or you know your mind is set on doing that. It’s not just ‘Oh, we’ve hit a bump, and I guess this is a no-go.’ It’s just like ‘Okay, let’s figure out Plan B.’ So I am always thinking about a Plan B. If ‘A’ fails, I know that there is always a way to figure it out before I’m just going to give up.”
Konica, our tour continues now with the Business Industry and Employer Gateway. Shows with real stories from the champions of business and industry about how they maintain their employee talent pools, enrich their work cultures, and build their workforces by harnessing the power of employees with disabilities. Konica, we’ll have some interviews, discussions, and stories from the front lines of disability employment about how they did it. Here is Cindy Roberts, business development manager and administrative trainee, Greg Carter, as they discuss briefly 503 regulations on federal contracting.
CARTER: “Should I tell them about my disability?”
ROBERTS: “Yes, absolutely Greg. Because, especially with 503, again one of the real bonuses is that 503 does encourage individuals with disabilities to be honest and upfront with an employer about their disability. And the employers are going to welcome the fact to know if you are going to need special accommodations on the job. That’s what they’re there for, and that’s really, to me, the grand thing about 503 is that it allows you to be able to let them know what your disability is and to not to have to worry about that or be fearful.”
Hear real stories from real folks who are working.
HERSHEY EMPLOYEE: “They, the people at Hershey, brought out the best out of me, I think. And it makes me want to do well because I enjoy working there so much. And when I had my minute or second [?], I had lunch with some of the higher-ups. I had in fact, the manager of the whole plant, I had lunch with him, and he asked me ‘What’s your favorite thing working here? Why are you working here? Why do you like it here so much?’ I told him ‘Hey, I love to work. And I come here really because of…’
Question for you, Konica: you travel around, you meet with employers, you talk to businesses, and you address communities. Have you ever been with someone when a light bulb really came on that hiring someone with a disability was going to make their business better?
DAVIS: “I’ve been able to sit down and talk with a manager at Office Max here in Lynchburg who has hired two of my individuals with disabilities and you know he has such a positive feedback that he shared with me as far as you know having the two individuals and just how much he has appreciated the work that they do, the effort that they put forth, and their dedication to the job. He definitely had shared, it has been an eye-opener for him, as far as having a different perspective about hiring persons with disabilities. And it has been a good and positive experience having the individuals that he has hired.”
Konica, next up on the tour of the studio, the VR Briefing Room: news, information, and interviews for vocational rehabilitation staff and professionals. Everything from lectures on policies and regulations to labor market reports, employment trends, and where to find jobs for individuals with disabilities. Hear from workforce experts like George Taratsas, his comments now on the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act as we preview the Briefing Room:
George Taratsas: “It ensures individuals with disabilities to have the skills necessary to be successful in businesses that provide competitive integrated employment. It emphasizes services to those that have disabilities. It also enhances the accountability for the services.”
Also here in the VR Briefing Room, you get up close and personal with recruitment managers:
RECRUITMENT MANAGER: “Intros is an applesauce or Apple-product producer. And at this time, our company is growing leaps and bounds. We have alot of new lines coming in. And we want to work with the DARS for the simple fact that they are a great organization. We also want and know that people with disabilities are fully capable of doing an excellent job. And that is what we want.”
Up next on the tour, the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Insider: a stream of news, information, and updates on the Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center.
And for this podcast, the big news is the name change for WWRC, which has operated under the flagship title of Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center for almost seven decades. The change, of course, requires the General Assembly and the Governor’s approval.
GENERAL ASSEMBLY: “Mr. Speaker, in relation to the House Senate Bill 1030 now has some amended by the committee on preparations would change the name of the Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center to the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center. That is simply what the bill does. And, Mr. Speaker, I move the passage of the bill.”
July 1st, 2015, WWRC will officially be known as the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center, emphasizing the mission of workforce development while retaining the legacy as a vocational rehabilitation center with comprehensive services. Konica, the workforce insider category will bring you regular updates on WWRC.
Hear from WWRC partners like Diana Marshall of the Virginia Manufacturer’s Association:
MARSHALL: “This is Diana Marshall with the Virginia Manufacturer’s Association (VMA), and I am at the Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center. And I challenge every manufacturer in Virginia to come look at the skills they are outputting here. It’s amazing!”
As well as in-depth discussions on vocational rehabilitation training programs:
VMA REPRESENTATIVE: “The modules cover topics such as ‘What is Customer Service?’ ‘Why It Is Important,’ and ‘How to Handle Difficult Customers.’”
A unique feature of this podcast is that everything we talk about here is connected in some way to our consumers, our partners, and initiatives that we’re involved in through the Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center. We, of course, rely heavily on those real stories from the front lines of disability employment as told by those that we serve.
The podcast is produced at WWRC and available upon request, but also available through vrworkforcestudio.com which is sponsored by the WWRC Foundation. You can visit the website and sign up for just the categories that interest you. You can also see photos of our guests like Konica. Just go to the gallery and look for Konica photos and, while you’re there, check out Mark Wright and photos of his quad joy.
Well, Konika, this concludes our tour of the studio. And now it is your turn! Back to the Inspiration Showcase with Konica Davis, Miss Wheelchair Virginia 2014. And as you wind up a year that must have been quite exciting, it’s wonderful to have you with us as cohost! But can you describe for us your experience of being Miss Wheelchair?
DAVIS: “It’s been a great experience, more than I could have imagined. I didn’t really expect it to be as big as it has been this year. But I have enjoyed the events that I have attended, meeting the people that I have, and even getting to hear feedback from fans, I guess you could say, in my community and just the support has been overwhelming.”
What were your responsibilities as Miss Wheelchair Virginia?
DAVIS: “What didn’t I do? I have put some miles on the road, that’s for sure. Just traveling to different cities in Virginia, the furthest I went was the Virginia Beach area. They had a 5K fundraising event this past May that I attended. And one of the most exciting trips was going to California to the national competition where I met some amazing women, all over the state doing great things in their community and just learning from them. And just also having a chance to bond with them. And share our experiences being female professionals who use wheelchairs and you know just the ins and outs of what we deal with on a daily basis related on our disability.”
Can you tell us about your “platform”?
DAVIS: “My platform is Life beyond Limits. And I chose that platform because I choose to live life without letting my limitations to be a barrier and just to encourage others to do the same. Life is worth living and yes, you will have challenges you know, big and small. But it is worth to keep moving forward, no matter what. Not letting the fear of not being able to work, or the challenges you might think about related to going into the workforce of how others are going to perceive you or if you are going to be able to handle the expectations of working but just kind of going for it. Giving it a try is all that you can do, and you can work out the kinks as you go along.”
Konica, would you mind telling us about your disability, how it came to be that you’re in a wheelchair?
DAVIS: “Well, I have a unique story. I haven’t always been in a wheelchair. My injury happened when I was 15. I had developed Crohn’s Disease when I was 14 years old. And I had to have two major surgeries related to the complications of Crohn’s. But during my second surgery that I had, my spinal cord got damaged. I’m not exactly sure what caused that to happen, but it left me paralyzed from the waist down, and I have not been able to walk since then. So it has been 15 years since I have been a wheelchair user now. And I have had a lot of challenges along the way but it’s been definitely worth to have an attitude of Life beyond Limits just because I haven’t allowed myself to miss out on life’s opportunities. There was a point in time that it almost impacted that. But just personal growth and development is just helped me have a different perspective on life since having a disability.”
You know, Konica, as I talk with you, I think of a person who is well-adjusted, someone who is filled with life, has an infectious personality, filled with positivity. What do you attribute that to?
DAVIS: “Probably my family: my mom really pushing me when my injury happened. I kind of gotten into a slump and my mom didn’t allow me to stay in that slump. She just pushed and encouraged me to do whatever I wanted to do. And when I reached the point you know which was college, I started to develop a different perspective then. And started to have a positive experience in college as well as outlook on what I wanted to do. And since then, I’ve just tried to always be positive and think on the brighter side of things because life is not going to go as you planned, I’ve definitely come to find that out. And you just have to roll with the punches and you take one day at a time, and as long as you are doing the best that you can and you give the effort, good things come out of it and you just start to see the results and that’s what drives me is that when I started to see the results of starting to think in a positive way and put the effort into it. It has definitely helped to carry me and motivate me to do other things.
“I went to Radford University and studied psychology. It was a great experience at Radford, just the relationships with my professors and the lifelong relationships that I develop with my peers that I now still keep in touch with. But during that time, it was just a lot of personal growth because it was my first time away from home and really having to deal with my disability on my own without my family being around to be my support and my buffer so I had to face telling my story to other people when they would ask what had happened. And the little challenges such as having a flat tire on campus and like ‘Okay, how am I going to figure this out?’ Just as well as being able to connect with peers just that whole experience just really helped to shape me into who I am today. And I don’t think that if I had that experience, I might not be in the position that I am in today.
How has your journey as a person in a wheelchair shaped how you work with individuals with disabilities?
DAVIS: “It definitely allows me to think ‘consumer first,’ and just kind of how their thought process and how their feeling as far as being an individual with a disability and just how that might impact them on so many levels. I feel like I can relate as far as being in that position that they were in as a youth. You know, how it was for me being eager to go to work, but being nervous about that transition because I didn’t know what to expect or you are always thinking about ‘What are other people going to think?’ or ‘Is this going to happen?’ So, being able to relate and kind of talk with them about that and sharing personal experiences to just let the know that I understand what they may be facing, but encourage them that it is worth the risk to step out and at least try and to just not turn around and say ‘No’ without knowing what they are going to encounter.”
As you’ve traveled across the Commonwealth, who’s had the greatest impact on you?
DAVIS: “I would have to say individuals who I have met that are part of the disability community. Just being able to hear other’s personal stories about how their disabilities have happened, the challenges that they have faced, and it has definitely been an eye-opener for me and was my drive to really take the position of being Miss Wheelchair Virginia.”
What do you remember most about those you talked with as Miss Wheelchair Virginia?
DAVIS: Connect with communities. To show the public that just because someone may a disability does not mean that they should just stop living or they cannot participate in certain activities. I wanted to definitely show others that anything is possible and if there is something that you want to do you might just have to figure out different way to do it. But it is worth a try.
As Miss Wheelchair Virginia and as an individual with a disability, what is your advice to others?
DAVIS: “My advice to others is, whether if you have a disability or not, is just being able to move forward in life, no matter what the challenge may be. It is worth it to figure out a way to carry on, and it is definitely worth it to do so. As I have said before, alot of things may not go as planned, but even when life throws a different direction at you, go with it! You don’t know where it is going to lead you. And as far as employers, hopefully with the continued collaboration employers will want to do with DARS, hopefully they will begin to see that the disability population is just like anyone else: we want to work, we want to be productive citizens, we definitely have goals that we want to achieve just like anyone else. And it is worth it to take a risk to open their doors to the disability population without having that cloud of ‘What if this happens?’ or ‘What will this cost us?’ Just take the chance and get to know that person and make them feel supported and I bet you the results are going to be priceless.”
Konika, thanks for being on the VR Workforce Studio podcast. You are our very first guest, and this has been a real pleasure. Thanks for the great work you have done over the past year not only as Miss Wheelchair, but also as a VR counselor. We certainly wish you the best of luck in everything you take on in 2015 and beyond. And we hope you’ll be back in the studio in the future as a cohost. Any last comments, Konica?
DAVIS: “Best of luck to VR Workforce Studio. This is a really exciting new podcast that helps all of us create hope so individuals with disabilities can work and lead better lives. Thank you Rick so much for having me on here and best of luck with the podcast.”
Special thanks to Anne Hudlow and all of the folks over at the WWRC Foundation for sponsoring the VR Workforce Studio and our podcast. You can visit the foundation at www.wwrcf.org. Until next time, this is Rick Sizemore from the Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center on behalf of the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, as well as all of our agency partners. Join us as we create hope and a path forward to employment so people with disabilities can work and lead better lives.