Episode 100 VR Workforce Studio
Celebrating the 100th Episode of the VR Workforce Studio
Singers: VR Workforce Studio
Singers: VR Workforce Studio
Ryann Mason: You know, “Aha,” awakening kind of moment It’d be, “Okay, something has to change. What if the next time you fall, you are with a patient, or have a patient on your arm?”
Announcer: Four…three..two….one…. VR Workforce Studio, podcasting the sparks that ignite vocational rehabilitation through the inspiring stories of people with disabilities who have gone to work.
Jered Lem: Tech Support this is Jered speaking how may I help you?
Rose Hilderbrand: I have a position at Masco Cabinetry.
Alfred McMillan: I’m a supervisor at Sedexo.
Announcer: As well as the professionals who have helped them.
James Hall: A job, and a career, you got to look at how life changing this is.
Announcer: And the businesses who have filled their talent pipelines with workers that happen to have disabilities.
Debby Hopkins: To help expand registered apprenticeship.
Announcer: These are their stories.
Megan Healy: Because there is such a great story to tell about people with disabilities.
Announcer: Now here’s the host of the VR workforce studio. Rick Sizemore.
Rick Sizemore: Welcome to Episode 100 of the VR Workforce Studio Podcast. We have an amazing show for you today. Our guest in the Big Inspiration Showcase, Ryan Mason, is simply unbelievable. Can’t wait for you to hear her story. Carol Dobak, from RSA, as well as America’s top podcast talent coach, Erik K. Johnson, both here to help us celebrate not only our 100th episode, but International Podcast Day, and National Disability Employment Awareness Month, as well as Cherie Takemoto, with our National clearinghouse report. You know, Betsy, as we celebrate our 100th episode, listeners have been really excited about you joining the VR Workforce team as our co-host.
Betsy Civilette: Well, thanks, Rick. I am so happy to be here. And since I’m new to the podcast, I have some questions for you, about what it takes to produce a podcast.
Rick Sizemore: Cool.
Betsy Civilette: I know you always start with a big inspiration showcase, but take us back to 2015. What started as recording of your monthly director’s report, that you e-mailed to staff and Workforce Partners, turned into what we now know as the hugely successful VR Workforce Studio?
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. The first episode was released on my dad’s birthday, February 18th, back in 2015, and we were excited to be able to share some of the updates and information from Wilson Workforce, and it turned into a thing. The next thing I know, we’ve had 31,000 downloads with these success stories.
Betsy Civilette: Well, that is amazing. Share with us, though, some of your reflections on your 100 episodes, some of your favorite stories.
Rick Sizemore: Oh, there’s so many, I really hate to pick one. But the episode with the Blue Man Group, which my son helped set up, backstage with Jason McLin, amazing to hear their story and how their outreach has affected so many people with autism. Of course, Vicki Lee Varner, the former Miss Wheelchair Virginia, is an amazing guest. Rod Early, seven months from the time he was almost killed in accident, until he went back to work, walking again. Those stories touch people’s lives. But George Dennehy, who now is known for the National Anthem for VOC Rehab, all great episodes.
Betsy Civilette: Yes, but an amazing musician, George is. Is it hard, though, to listen to some of these old episodes, especially of people who are no longer with us, like Jim Rothrock?
Rick Sizemore: Yeah, wow.
Betsy Civilette: What impact did Jim have on the podcast?
Rick Sizemore: Well, it was substantial. he always used the phrase, “Never confuse being alert with being awake.” He was a great supporter.
Rick Sizemore: I remember, one of our first episodes, he took to the beach on CD, and came back, and went to the State Rehabilitation Council meeting, held it up and said, “Folks, we’re onto something.” So yeah, he’ll always be a big part of this podcast.
Betsy Civilette: Of course, none of this would have been possible without the support of the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation, and other sponsors. Who are some of the greatest supporters who have helped you along the way to Episode 100?
Rick Sizemore: Oh, wow, there are so many. Kathy West-Evans and Steve Wooderson out at CSAVR, of course, their social media person, Danielle Guest, and one of their marketing consultants, Katia Albanese. We have such a friend in Paul Stennen, out at the Office of Special Ed and Rehab Services, RSA commissioners Carol, and all of the former RSA commissioners. Of course, Jim Rothrock, Kathy Hayfield, the National Rehabilitation Association, business leaders like David Casey and Duayne Rohr, from CVS, Hershey’s, Karen Van Curen. There just been so many others, Dave Jackson and Erik K. Johnson, and the podcast community. Of course, that list couldn’t be complete without listeners. And we thank each and every person who gives their time and support to this podcast. There’s one other really special person in this whole process, happens to be my brother, Randy Sizemore, who does all of our tech support, and all the back end work. He’s simply a genius and does exceptional work. And I’d like to thank you and the marketing professionals at the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehab Services. You’ve always been there for me to uplift and support.
Rick Sizemore: So thank you. And thank you for joining us on this VR Workforce team.
Betsy Civilette: Well, Rick, you are the true rock star here and leader the band for these 100 episodes. So here’s to the next 100 episodes.
Rick Sizemore: Thank you, Betsy. We’re delighted to have Ryann Mason, a former ER nurse who transitioned into case management, and now a nurse again, she is a spokesperson and disability advocate, who uses social media to spread some very important messages about EDS, a genetic disorder that affects connective tissue, primarily the skin, joints and blood vessels. Welcome to the podcast, Ryan.
Ryann Mason: Thank you for having me.
Rick Sizemore: Well, you’ve had quite a ride, quite a journey, in terms of your disability and career as a nurse. Maybe we could start with you just giving us the story of your disability and nursing career.
Ryann Mason: Sure. I was diagnosed with a genetic collagen disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, when I was about 16 years old. It’s actually something I was born with. Like you said, it affects all of the collagen in my body, which is the glue that holds me together. So it affects my skin, my joints, my organs, pretty much everything, just makes everything too stretchy, leading me to be prone to dislocations, very hypermobile joints, very flexible kid. We didn’t think anything of it when I was young. Just thought that I was a kid that would get my feet stuck behind my head, and just roll around on the floor.
Rick Sizemore: It seemed like you had a lot of fun with it, with your …
Ryann Mason: Oh, for sure.
Rick Sizemore: With the kids in your class, talking about how flexible you are. And then it turned out to be something more serious.
Ryann Mason: Absolutely. Growing up, it didn’t bother me a bit. The only real symptom, that I had that I remember from my childhood, was from birth, my right shoulder would dislocate over 100 times a day.
Rick Sizemore: Wow.
Ryann Mason: It would immediately slip back into the joint. It wasn’t painful in any way. We just knew of it as my trick shoulder. When they would ask what our talents were in class, I said, “Well, I can get out of a straitjacket, so …” It wasn’t something bad at all. It wasn’t till I was 16, that I went to an appointment for my sister, who was getting looked at for a different genetic disorder that she ended up not having. But I was there with her at the appointment. The doctor said he saw how I was standing, and the way I was holding my body, and asked if I would mind being observed. So I did, and he was like, “Oh, have you ever heard of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome?”
Ryann Mason: Which, of course, the answer was no. That was the beginning, so … Yeah.
Rick Sizemore: Yet you had a successful career as an ER nurse, for quite a while.
Ryann Mason: I did. Around the same time, I was in and out of the ER, constantly, for different dislocations for falls, things that were all related to my disability, but we didn’t know at the time.
Ryann Mason: It seemed like there was one year around the time I was 15, 16, where I was in and out of the ER constantly, and my mom made a joke. She was like, “Ryan, if you’re going to be here all the time, you might as well get paid for the stretcher.”
Rick Sizemore: Get a job.
Ryann Mason: Exactly. At the time, I was a dancer, I was in theater, I was a singer. I was in no way, shape or form medical. And there was no one in my family that was medical at all.
Ryann Mason: I came from a family of jazz musicians, yoga teachers and artists, so no, and I said, “Well, okay. I don’t like it when people tell me things that I cannot do.” I said, “Well, I can’t think of anything scarier than working in the back of an ambulance,” so that’s exactly what I signed up to do. I took night classes while I was in high school, to become an EMT, and ended up doing it, passing my test and absolutely fell in love with it. Because, coming from my background, as what I like to call myself, a career patient, I knew exactly what it was like to be that patient sitting there in the bed, being stared at by all these guys in white coats who speak a language, that sounds like it could be Greek, for all you know. I knew what that was like. I had this experience. And I was like, “I think I can do this differently, and hopefully, in the long run, better.”
Rick Sizemore: So the EDS became more prevalent in your life. And there was a day you had to transition out of the ER, and take on other jobs. Tell us about that transition, and what happened.
Ryann Mason: Sure. My real memories of being diagnosed with EDS when I was young was, everyone just kept telling me, “Oh, well, you’ll be in a wheelchair by the time you’re 20.” But when you’re 16, I was invincible. I was, “Okay, well, sure. But right now, it’s not bothering me at all.”
Rick Sizemore: 10 feet tall and bulletproof.
Ryann Mason: Oh, exactly. 100%. So I didn’t think anything of it. As I got older, and my joints in my legs became a little bit more effected, it started that I could pop out both hips on command. It was like a party trick when I was a kid. Then, as I get older, every once in a while I hip would slip out while I was walking, and cause me to fall. It got to the point where my left hip began dislocating every time I would take a step.
Ryann Mason: At this point, I’m working as a charge nurse in an ER, locally here to Roanoke, and that was my dream job. I was working towards being a flight nurse. My goal was to stay in ER, in trauma for as long as possible. But suddenly, I am falling more. My legs are going out from under me without any warning. I had one fall at work, luckily, not with a patient. I was just walking down the hallway by myself.
That was my “Aha” awakening kind of moment. It’d be, “Okay, something has to change. What if the next time you fall, you are with a patient, or have a patient on your arm?”
Rick Sizemore: You’re at a crossroads.
Ryann Mason: Exactly. So I took that as my sign, and took myself out of the ER. I found a job that was away from the bedside, in case management, and said, “Okay, I’m going to take some time to get my health together.” I went to see my physical therapist, thinking that I was going to be fitted for forearm crutches, and ended up walking out with a prescription for a wheelchair, because my gait had just gotten so bad.
Rick Sizemore: Wow.
Ryann Mason: And ended up transitioning into this position, away from the bedside, which was great for my health, and exactly what I needed. But it was just so hard.
Rick Sizemore: I can’t imagine that. Well, let’s fast forward, to the point where you turned lemons into lemonade. You took the step back into nursing.
Ryann Mason: I did, yes.
Rick Sizemore: What happened?
Ryann Mason: So, COVID.
Rick Sizemore: Oh, it changed everything, didn’t it?
Ryann Mason: Yes, it did. Around that time, I had been networking with other nurses in wheelchairs, and realizing that, “Hey, this is a possibility for me. I don’t have to be away from the bedside for the rest of my life.” So I got this idea in the back of my head, and I was like, “I just really need to get somebody to give me a chance.” Around that time, COVID struck. My hospital at the time, just like every hospital in the nation, was incredibly short-staffed, so they started asking for help on the floors. So I immediately signed up, I said, “Hey, I can work, taking shifts as a nursing assistant.” They’re like, “Are you sure? Can you do that?” I said, “Yeah. Yeah, I can do that.” Fake it till you make it.
Rick Sizemore: Absolutely.
Ryann Mason: So I signed up for some shifts, and it was really just to be able to prove to myself that yes, this is something that I can do. I signed up for those shifts and realized, “Okay, wait a minute. I took these steps away from the bedside, to become comfortable in my wheelchair. And now I’ve gotten to a point where my wheelchair is just an extension of my own body.” Doing this job that I had done for years was difficult, to try to rethink doing it from a completely different perspective, than I’d been used to for the past 10-plus years, but I could do it. After that, that just lit a fire under me.
Rick Sizemore: So you’re now fully engaged in the nursing career that you love, working by the bedside. Any reflections on Virginia DARS?
Ryann Mason: Oh, my goodness. That’s such an incredible organization, that obviously, their cause is very near and dear to my heart. I’m so glad to have gotten to partner up with partner up with DARS, just because, like I said, being a nurse, and also, being a career patient rehabilitation, is a big part of …
Rick Sizemore: Absolutely.
Ryann Mason: My career and my life.
Rick Sizemore: What is your most important message, advocacy message for 2021, for people with disabilities?
Ryann Mason: It’s definitely, never stop fighting for what you believe in, or what your dreams are, just because you’re in a wheelchair, or suffering from some sort of disability. That does not mean that our lives should be any less fulfilled than anyone else’s. If there’s a will, there’s absolutely a way. No matter how many times they say no, just keep coming back, keep showing up.
Rick Sizemore: Ryan Mason is a nurse and spokesperson for disability advocacy. Thank you so much for being on our podcast today, Ryan.
Ryann Mason: Absolutely, thank you so much for having me.
Rick Sizemore: As we continue our 100th episode, we’re extremely fortunate to have one of the most distinguished leaders in vocational rehabilitation, Carol Dobak. She’s the Acting Deputy Commissioner, delegated the authority to perform the functions and duties of the Commissioner, at the Rehabilitation Services Administration at the US Department of Education. Carol joins us now from her office at RSA. Welcome, Carol.
Carol Dobak: Well, thank you so much, Rick. It’s a pleasure to be with you today and congratulations to the VR Workforce Studio on its 100th podcast.
Rick Sizemore: Carol, the episode we recorded back in 2018, in fact, that was, if you recall, backstage at a VR conference, it’s been one of our most popular episodes. What we’ve learned over these past years is that there is a core group of VR clients, family members, VR professionals, and business leaders, that are really inspired by the success stories that we publish.
Carol Dobak: I know, that’s true. I myself, Rick, have viewed them and find them inspiring, and are so grateful that you have the opportunity, through these podcasts, to share these stories.
Rick Sizemore: Well, this is our 100th episode, and we’re delighted to have you join us today.
Carol Dobak: Well, thank you. And all of us at RSA are very pleased to help support your work through the VR podcasts. I also want to take this opportunity, if I may, to thank the National Clearinghouse on Rehabilitation and Training Materials, and the opportunities that you provide through your podcasts, to highlight the work of the NCRTM.
Carol Dobak: The NCRCM plays a vital role in vocational rehabilitation for individuals with disabilities, by the webinars that it hosts, as well as all the materials that it makes available on its website, including materials that our technical assistance centers and other RSA-funded discretionary grants make available to VR professionals, including directors of agencies and counselors, families, educators, students, and other individuals with disabilities. There’s a wealth of information there that helps them to provide vital services, as well as understand the capacities of individuals with disabilities to obtain high quality, competitive integrated employment.
Rick Sizemore: We’ve loved working with the Clearinghouse, and hearing from our listeners how much they enjoy Cherie Takemoto’s reports, which always have materials and resources that can give them even more information and training opportunities about the topics that we’ve just discussed with our guests.
Carol Dobak: Yes. I think, through the podcasts and the Clearinghouse working together, it’s an invaluable resource for individuals in the field of vocational rehabilitation, as well as individuals with disabilities and their families.
Rick Sizemore: Carol, it’s been a real honor. Thank you for joining us for Episode 100.
Carol Dobak: Well, thank you so much, Rick, for this opportunity to say congratulations to the VR Workforce Studio, as well as to thank you, Rick, personally, for all that you do to support individuals with disabilities, as they make their journeys through life, and endeavor to obtain high quality competitive integrated employment. We look forward to many more episodes from the VR Workforce Studio.
Rick Sizemore: Carol, it’s always a pleasure to talk with you. Carol Dobak is the Acting Deputy Commissioner, delegated the authority to perform the functions and duties of the Commissioner, the Rehabilitation Services Administration, US Department of Education.
Rick Sizemore: We’ve included a link to Carol’s podcast interview in the show notes at vrworkforcestudio.com.
Rick Sizemore: The theme for National Disability Employment Awareness Month this year is America’s Recovery, Powered by Inclusion.
Kathy Hayfield: Hello, October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
VR Client: I got in a position at Masco Cabinetry.
VR Client 2: Good morning, US Geological Survey. Jerod speaking. May I help you?
VR Client 3: I’m thrilled. This has been a dream of mine, since I was in elementary school, to drive a truck.
VR Client 4: I’m working at a computer tech company called CSC.
VR Client 5: I always wanted to be a nurse since I was a kid.
VR Client 6: I went from leaving the house maybe once a month, to working 56 hours a week at a fantastic job.
VR Client 7: I just felt immediately engaged. I love my work, and I’m earning good money.
Kathy Hayfield: I’m Kathy Hayfield, Commissioner of the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services. Join us as we celebrate the impact of disability inclusion on our workplaces and our communities. Learn more at vadars.org.
Rick Sizemore: International Podcast Day is September 30th. As we continue celebrating our 100th episode. It’s a real pleasure to welcome to our show, for the first time, one of the podcast community’s leading authorities.
Rick Sizemore: Erik K. Johnson is a podcast talent coach, and has been near the top of the radio ratings since 2000. He’s also coached many others to do the same, with even greater success. Erik is a nationally recognized talent coach. He’s an on-air personality and radio program director. Erik’s been part of our VR Workforce Studio journey since the beginning. So I’m absolutely delighted to welcome my good friend, the podcast talent coach, Erik K. Johnson.
Erik K Johnson: Rick, thank you so much. I got to tell you, it’s been a privilege working with you and your show, and it’s incredibly exciting to see how vocational rehabilitation professionals from all across the nation are exploring the use of podcasting to really reach the disability community and employers. And it’s just been an amazing ride. When you first came to me, seeking ideas to improve the content, and increase the impact that you have in the community, our first step was to really focus on the listener. You guys have just done an amazing job, really fine-tuning the content of the show, not only for those using vocational rehabilitation, but those working in the industry, as well. I just want to say congratulations on reaching the 100th episode, coming up here in September, it’s just been an amazing ride. And it’s really noticeable, when you see the leaders in the industry that are taking notice.
Erik K Johnson: There’s a podcast industry journal, it’s called the Podcast Business Journal. And about your show, they said, “The vocational rehabilitation, or VR Workforce Studio Podcast, has emerged over the past few years as the nation’s voice for sharing these powerful and compelling stories of disability employment.” To be recognized as the nation’s voice, Rick, is just a tremendous accomplishment, and I want to congratulate you on that. But it’s not just the industry professionals that are noticing listeners are really taking notice, as well. The way your downloads and your audience has grown over the years is phenomenal. When we first started working together, that first year of episodes, you were right around 100 downloads an episode. And now, as you approach 400 downloads per episode, that’s a four times growth here, just over the first 100 episodes. Some of the episodes download nearly 2,000 times. How tremendous is that? The growth of the VR Workforce audience and the VR Workforce Studio is not only gauged by your number of listeners, but also the types of people that are listening. It’s people with disabilities, it’s their families, the CSAVR, the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, students at universities were training to become rehabilitation professionals. It’s just amazing, the type of people you are attracting with this show. VR Workforce has just passed 31,000 downloads of the podcast since its inception. It’s just fantastic and wonderful, to see what you’ve been able to accomplish. And I just, once again, want to congratulate you on approaching that 100th episode, Rick.
Rick Sizemore: Earlier this year Erik joined us for a webinar through the University of Wisconsin Stout’s Vocational Rehabilitation Institute entitled, “Podcasting, the Sparks that Ignite Vocational Rehabilitation.” The webinar is available on demand. In that webinar we take you inside the VR Workforce Studio and answer all of your question about podcasting and bring you up close and personal with the experts like Erik and our good friend Dave Jackson. The link to that webinar as well as Erik’s contact information is in the show notes for episode 100. Erik thank you for your help, your coaching and your friendship. It’s been a real pleasure to have your on our podcast today.
Erik K Johnson: Oh, my pleasure, Rick. Thanks for allowing me to be part of your journey, and congratulations again.
Rick Sizemore: Well, it’s time for our National Clearinghouse report, with the always entertaining and informative Cherie Takemoto. Welcome to the podcast, Cherie, for your final segment, sharing resources from the National Clearinghouse.
Cherie Takemoto: Yes. I hate saying goodbye.
Rick Sizemore: I’m so sad.
Cherie Takemoto: Yes. I feel like, with this 100th episode, we’re just getting started.
Rick Sizemore: Absolutely.
Cherie Takemoto: I’ve accepted a position at the Independent Center of Northern Virginia, which is the local center for independent living.
Rick Sizemore: Well, I’m certain that you’ll do a great job, and congratulations, not only to you in the new job, but in all of the work that you’ve done for the Clearinghouse.
Cherie Takemoto: This is a dream job for me, as the Director of Disability Justice. And I’ll be able to put into practice many of the things I’ve learned from the resources in the NCRTM, and from this podcast. Right now, we’re working on providing pre-employment transition services for Virginia DARS.
Rick Sizemore: Awesome, so we’ll be working together. What do you have to share with us this month, though, from the Clearinghouse?
Cherie Takemoto: I thought I’d share the NCRTM resources page. Many folks use the NCRTM resources page to quickly find the new RSA website, TA centers and discretionary grants. But did you know, you can also find our federal WIOA partners? It’s a great place to go when you’re looking for something, but don’t know where to start.
Rick Sizemore: Absolutely.
Cherie Takemoto: For counselors who want to find out more about genetic conditions for their clients, the National Organization for Rare Disorders, or NORD, has information about conditions, such as Ehler-Danlos, and information about Ehler-Danlos support groups.
Rick Sizemore: Awesome.
Cherie Takemoto: You can also link to more information about the conditions, where you can check the resource database sections. If you want to find your local center for independent living, like the one I work for, you can find them at the Administration for Community Living’s links there.
Rick Sizemore: Outstanding.
Cherie Takemoto: The other thing I want to share, just because this is my swan song, is that the VR Workforce Studio Podcast has pushed me to identify related resources to share during the show notes. This work has morphed into topical resource lists, and one of our most recent is the list on customized employment.
Rick Sizemore: Well, Cherie, congratulations to you, again, on all the work you’ve done at the Clearinghouse, and in your new job. We’re going to miss you, but you have been certainly a key part of our podcast, and we wish you nothing but success in the future.
Cherie Takemoto: Thanks, Rick. And it’s just been the highlight of my job to share NCRTM resources for the VR Workforce Studio podcast, so a happy 100th episode, and here’s to the next 100.
Rick Sizemore: Thank you, Cherie. Next month… new NCRTM Podcast Reporter joins us ..I promise you won’t be disappointed with this new addition to the VR Workforce Team. Here’s Lynn Harris, director of the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation.
Lynn Harris: The Foundation is pleased to bring you these exciting stories of how vocational rehabilitation is changing people’s lives. Your support helps students gain the skills and credentials they need to be successful in business and industry.
Lynn Harris: We thank all of our partners in podcasting who made this episode possible, the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation, CVS Health, and the Hershey Company. You can find out more about becoming a sponsor at wwrcf.org, or find our contact information in the show notes at vrworkforcestudio.com.
Rick Sizemore: You can always find another exciting episode, as we podcast the sparks that ignite vocational rehabilitation, here at the VR Workforce Studio. Until next time, I’m Rick Sizemore.
Announcer: The VR Workforce Studio Podcast is owned and operated by the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation. The Foundation publishes and distributes the VR Workforce Studio, and manages all sponsor arrangements. Audio content for the podcast is provided to the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation by the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, in exchange for promotional considerations.