Finding the Door to the Goldmine through the Manufacturing Academy at WWRC- Episode 12

Transcript of podcast follows

Rick Sizemore (Rick) Welcome to the VR workforce Studio. Today on Episode 12 we answer one of the most compelling workforce and disability employment questions of the modern age. “Where is the door to the goldmine?” You’ll get the answers in an interview with a retired senior engineer from the Hershey Company and past president of Margin Development Training. Compelling answers and strategies to help individuals with disabilities not only find the door to the goldmine but we open it up and take a look inside at the opportunities that exist for those interested in the new wave of jobs in manufacturing.

I’m Rick Sizemore along with Co-Host Anne Hudlow (Anne) here in the VR Workforce Studio. We are bringing you the inspiring stories of how individuals with disabilities are overcoming the obstacles to employment as we celebrate the champions of business and industry that hire individuals with disabilities as well as the vocational rehabilitation professionals who dedicate their lives and careers to helping individuals with disabilities go to work so they can lead more productive lives, build up our workforce and move the Virginia Economy forward. Stories from the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center published by the WWRC Foundation at

Rick – Anne we have lots of exciting things going on.

Anne – I love the show title- Where is the door to the goldmine. Well I know where one door is….because we continue to hear is how forklift training and experience often provides a gateway to employment in numerous fields, especially the manufacturing environment. I talked to a WWRC Trainee, Aaron Laznow and he said the first time on a forklift was a little unnerving but with practice he now feels confident about the fork truck and in getting a job.

I was a little nervous at first because you don’t know if you are going to scrape it on the side or the top. But once you get the hang of it, its just like driving a car except your steer it with wheels in the rear. I think it will help me get a job because the more you know the more you are likely to get the job you want.

Anne – And walking through that employers door with the skills needed to get that job is what WWRC’s program is all about. We are really excited about Aaron and everyone who is training at WWRC. Our Foundation is designed to help vocational rehabilitation at WWRC. If you’d like to know more check us out at

Rick – Jim Leech is a retired senior engineer with over 20 years of project management and process system design experience with the Hershey Company in Stuarts Draft, Virginia. After leaving Hershey, he joined Blue Ridge Community College as the Program Head for their Manufacturing Engineering Technology program where he instructed and developed four of the curriculum’s course books including texts on Industrial Technology, Business Management, Manufacturing Economics and Industrial Automation.

Prior to Joining the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center where he is now employed as the Manufacturing Technology Training Instructor and with the responsibility for the program’s curriculum development, Jim operated a management consulting business entitled Margin Development Training, LLC which consulted with plants throughout the Shenandoah Valley on margin improvement and skills training for maintenance and technology based employees. Jim now works with individuals with disabilities at the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center helping them prepare for job in manufacturing.   Jim Leech welcome to the VR Workforce Studio.

Jim – Glad to be here with you today, Rick.

Rick– Jim we are constantly hearing about how manufactures are looking for skilled and credentialed workers in Virginia and how the pipeline of potential candidates is a major issue.   You’ve worked in manufacturing a long time, what do you think the answer is to finding workers for all these jobs that becoming available in modern manufacturing?

Jim – Well, Rick, there are a couple of things to look at when considering a job in the manufacturing sector of our state’s economy. The first is there are a lot of jobs to consider with literally hundreds of different jobs found throughout the world of manufacturing. Many of these require specific skills to do, however most of the jobs required a basic knowledge of a variety of skills, such as math, reading and comprehension, etc. to move through the doors of a plant and be ready for the plant to begin training you for what they want you to do. I can’t overemphasize the need to have these basic skills.

The second consideration for the person thinking about seeking employment in the manufacturing sector revolves around finding out what actually occurs inside of the plant in the production of the product produced there. What I mean here is the fact many in our society including parents, teachers and even friends do not understand the skills a person must have to work in a modern manufacturing plant, nor do they understand the rewards that come with the work. For example, a local company starting up in the Shenandoah Valley is paying its beginning employees $20/hr, with benefits! That is equal to annual earnings of over $40,000 per year! This plant is so clean you could eat off of the floor, and they will train their new employee in their job at their cost.

We really need to get through this concept of an old, dirty work environment. Many people working in manufacturing routinely earn more than other non-farm payroll jobs. The other issue is job security. I read on-line this morning hiring in manufacturing is at the highest rate since August 2013! This means the jobs are in high demand, for those with the skill sets to interview and be hired. When you put medical benefits on top of job security and pay, it is a field of work that rivals the traditional four year college degree.
Rick – Jim, when you say manufacturing jobs of today –how are they different and how are they changing.

Jim – Well, as I mentioned, many of the plants are very clean, with bright well lighted environments to promote production efficiencies and support a feeling of satisfaction in being employed at the company. It is very expensive not only to hire the wrong person, but also to release that person and begin to seek someone else for the job. Companies want long term employees, who are a part of the ‘team’ and work well with others. When you consider all of the training you will get as the years go by, your value to the company increases, along with your pay.

Rick – Jim its fine that we have all these jobs but how do you make the case that they are good job for, well anyone, but in particular individuals with disabilities?

Jim – Again, when we see the demand in manufacturing for good employees due to the baby-boomers retiring and the growth in most of the companies, the worker with disabilities, with proper skills, offers the employer a reliable and dedicated worker that can perform equal to the non-disabled worker in many jobs. Statistics and data back up this claim. Industry wants to hire the disabled on many levels, but at the end of the day, the worker with disabilities as does the non-disabled worker, must perform at the expected level of contributing to the bottom line of the company. With training and possible other support efforts, the worker with disabilities today has never had a better opportunity to move into manufacturing and demonstrate what they can do on the job.

Rick – Having worked in manufacturing and knowing the demands of that environment and now being a person who helps individuals with disabilities prepare for employment, how do you make the case that it’s a good match?

Jim – The first thing that WWRC does is to evaluate every consumer entering the center to determine their abilities and their limitations. This is a very specific process and is driven by professional knowledge of assessments and our consumer needs.

Secondly, the consumer (with consultation) selects the field of training they wish to enter- so there is a true desire that this might be what they wish to do. This is very important. The new Manufacturing Technology Training program is a twenty week curriculum aimed at preparing the consumer with the desire to enter manufacturing, by giving them the basic skill sets and credentials they will need to succeed after being hired by a company in Virginia.

When you combine both the desire to choose a career in manufacturing along with the tremendous skills training they will be given, the result is a dedicated, knowledgeable and motivated individual that should do very well on their job.

Rick – what would you say to the skeptics……who doubt that individuals with disabilities can do this work?

Jim – Again, manufacturing has changed tremendously in my working career. There is still a need for assembly line work, or warehouse work, but many jobs today require the ability to think and react to the process, with many operators now controlling the machines through touch panel screens and programs. Even maintenance employees today must understand solid-state instruments, and controllers, be able to read technical prints and drawings, and think correctly as to how to repair or bring the machines back on line. These are very valuable skills that can be done by the disabled worker as well as the non-disabled worker.


Rick – So what is on the horizon to reach out to youth with disabilities who are interest in a technical field?

Jim – First, we need to improve their exposure to the sciences while they are in high-school, or even before. Programs that introduce how machines work, why math is important, what is critical thinking and how to solve problems begin to promote interests they can then further pursue as they seek out other and broader interests in this technical world.

An example of this is the Manufacturing Academy we are planning in late spring at the WWRC for those young people with qualifying disabilities. For one week, these students will be exposed to a number of STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Math), environments, culminating in the building of a solar powered, water treatment plant where we will draw water from our on-campus lake, filter and treat the water, then bottle it on a production line. Every student will have a role to play with the effort being measured by the success of the team, not the individual.

Rick – Jim, we are getting support for a variety of sources for the Academy and other manufacturing initiative. One of those sources is the Career Pathways for Individuals with Disabilities grant, which is a significant grant involving numerous partners to help create pathways to employment. Dr. Joe Ashley, who we have on schedule for an interview about his amazing story and to talk about the grant has a new project manager, Emily West. Emily stopped by and had this to say about the Academy.

Emily West – I think there are some misconceptions of modern manufacturing and I’m really looking forward to coming up and see the PERT students.

Rick – Where are the participants from this coming from?

Jim – The participants who will come to campus for the Academy experience are coming from the PERT program or Postsecondary Education Rehabilitation Transition which is designed to transition those young people with qualifying disabilities into the training programs available at WWRC, and on to the world of work.

Rick – What do you expect to accomplish in the academy?

Jim – First, WWRC is fortunate to have access to funding form various grants such as the newly passed Career Pathway Grant, which will supply funding for a number of our training efforts, such as this Manufacturing Academy.

This manufacturing academy on the WWRC campus is designed to offer an exposure to many of the skills and interests they may not have had prior to their visit to campus.

For example, they will be learning to study and report on how a manufacturing process works and document its flow. From this, we will then visit a local manufacturing company to observe and ask questions on a real process.

The academy participants will work in teams for understanding the important relationship in work as to how to work with others towards a common goal.

Finally, they will be exposed to a number of small, hands-on, exercises giving them a view into the actual methods and procedures used in manufacturing to produce a product.

All of this and more, begins to open the door to understanding the importance the sciences and math play in all manufacturing facilities. If they then desire, they can seek a further evaluation as they come to the WWRC campus as a consumer, and actually enter into the main Manufacturing Technology Training program which will then prepare them for rewarding employment at companies throughout Virginia.

The training labs in the Manufacturing Technology Training program are designed to simulate many of the conditions and skill development needs the consumer will need to understand before leaving the training. The goal is to give them the skills and knowledge that will make them successful in their career field.

Rick – What have your learned about individuals with disabilities since joining the team at WWRC?

Jim – It has been one of the more rewarding experiences of my working career. In instructing many of our consumers, I have discovered how they want to learn and achieve, just like any other young person. They want to be accepted and given the chance to succeed on their own and earn their own way. I have a lot of respect of an individual who through their disability, finds their ability.

Rick – What message would you have for manufactures who have not hired someone with a disability yet?

Jim – Talk to us at the center if there are questions or concerns about hiring our training graduates. A huge amount of work has gone into preparing our consumers to not only have the job skills, but also the personal skills such as being on the job on time, working well with others in a team, being reliable and able to learn new things. When a perspective employer can interview one of our consumers, they will find an individual who just wants to be given a chance and contribute to the work group, just like any other employee.

Rick – What advice would you have for a young person who is considering employment possibilities?

Jim – Work hard to absorb the training. The instructors are extremely knowledgeable in their areas of curriculum and truly WANT you to succeed. But you must do your part to be in class, be alert and gain the knowledge they are trying to give you. Above all, have a positive attitude towards what you are doing and how it can affect the rest of your life. That is the mission of the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center, here in Fishersville, VA.

Rick – So what’s after the academy?

Jim – Two things to look at, here. The first is the new MTT program is now coming together with modern equipment being purchased to fill the manufacturing technology lab which will allow the consumer to truly enjoy and be amazed with the technology used in industry today, including a new 3D printer we have purchased and a machine that will carve objects in soft materials such as wood through a computer program. This program and its associations with the state of Virginia, the Virginia Manufacturer’s Association, the Manufacturing Skills Institute and our many partners from the WWRC foundation under Anne Hudlowe’s guidance to our DARS partners in the field have established an unprecedented opportunity for our consumers here at WWRC and the disabled workers across the state.

The second thing to view is the fact this is just the start. As the program grows, more consumers will be welcomed into it, and the manufacturing businesses throughout the state will begin to take notice of a new resource of talent to fill their work place vacancies as the baby-boomers retire and the need for qualified employees continues to increase. This center, and its foundation partner, will play a major role in allowing the disabled workforce of Virginia to play a part in the success of the over 1500 companies throughout Virginia.

Rick – Anne, how you partnering with the Jim on this initiative.

Anne – well through the podcast we have become really good friends with Vanessa Rastberger at manufacturing skills institute (MSI) and by the way if you haven’t listened to episode 11B featuring Vannessa as she facilitates a panel on MSI and all they are doing to work with partners all around the state, you have to check it out. So MSI is helping us reach out to manufacturers all across the state, many of them are also finding the door to the goldmine….but I look at it a little differently, they see a potential goldmine of credentialed job seekers to help fill their jobs. Many have not hired individuals with disabilities before so during the academy we are holding a breakfast for plant managers and HR directors who want to come out and see what WWRC is doing to reduce the interest gap and I tell you it is going be fun to see this operation. We have DARS consumers coming from all across the state we are working with our agency business development managers and staff to really spread the word about this dynamic new program with tons of potential. So if you want to be part of this you can contact me at anne.hudlowe@comcast .net   by the way always feel free to visit us at to find out about partnering with us as we support the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center and their important work.

End of Interview.

Episode 11- B: Conclusion of Interview with VMA

In this episode we’ll conclude our interview with the VMA as well as highlights from the VMA Workforce Symposium Panelist with co-host Vanessa Rastberger. Read more

Episode 010: Featuring Angela West, Ginger Shiflet, Andrew Stow and Ann Hudlow

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

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

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:; 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 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 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.

Episode 009: Meet Andrew Stowe, VRA News Notes

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  Read more

Episode 004: The sweet story of the Hershey Company’s HEROS Program

In this episode you can hear how the Hershey Company is setting a new standard of excellence in hiring individuals with disabilities. And our show today is all about how they brought this great program online. Read more