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Episode 008: Jim Rothrock’s Story

Today we check in with the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services Commissioner Jim Rothrock, and talk about executive order number 46 from Governor Terry McClaulif. Some exciting new actions in the Commonwealth of Virginia emphasizing the value of hiring individuals with disabilities.

Transcription of the podcast follows:

VR Workforce Studio

This is the VR Workforce Studio, Inspiration Education and Affirmation at work, the VR Workforce Studio is produced by the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center, a division of Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services brought to you by the WWRC Foundation at VR or in iTunes.

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Welcome to another episode of the VR Workforce Studio:

This is the disability employment podcast from the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center where we are showcasing the successes of individuals with disabilities who are either in or preparing to be part of the workforce here in Virginia. Also celebrating the champions of the business and industry that hire individual with disabilities and as well as the vocational rehabilitation professionals who dedicated their lives in careers to creating hope and a path forward to employment. So, individuals with disabilities can lead more productive lives and enhance our Virginia workforce and move our new Virginia economy forward.

This is episode number 7 of the VR Workforce Studio:

Today we check in with the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services Commissioner Jim Rothrock, and talk about executive order number 46 from Governor Terry McAuliffe. Some exciting new actions in the Commonwealth of Virginia emphasizing the value of hiring individuals with disabilities. Also some reflections from Jim on disability employment and his life as a highly successful public administrator and an individual with a disability. Also on the show today a totally fun crew Cindy Roberts, Kanika Davis and LaPeral Smith way in on this new video called “Don’t Diss Me” recently released by CVS Health which is going viral, it’s a cool video on disability, also on the show Elizabeth Creamer reflections on workforce development and the new WWRC and as well we will check in on Ann Hudlow about the October 23 concert with George Dennehy. All straight ahead here the VR Workforce Studio.

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So the big news in Virginia with July 27th release of Executive Order (EO) number 46, supporting Virginians with disabilities in the new Virginia economy is that there is a need for qualified workers including those with disabilities as a focus of an executive order from the governor. The Commonwealth’s vocational rehabilitation program administered by Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services as we often hear that referred to here in the Commonwealth as DARS, as well as the Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired, you know annually they assist more than four thousands individuals with disabilities in securing jobs in business like Amazon, as well as the Hershey Company. Now reflect with me for just a minute on episode 4 and if you are just tuning in, go out to iTunes or even VR Workforce and look up episode 4. We had a real nice show featuring the HR Manager, the site operations manager, and an employee for Hershey’s company talking about the hero’s program, so this this great company is now being cited in the EO and we have talked about them here, in the VR Workforce Studio. You know if you go out to iTunes and search podcast’s you will see episode 4, is far and by our most popular episode thus far and I think it’s the reasons we’re still listed in the new and note-worthy section for podcast in iTunes. Anyways back to EO 46, Governor McAuliffe. Also Bon Secours Health System, because of the work done out there hiring individuals with disabilities. So in these instances, the Governor goes on talk about individuals with disabilities in the EO, he says that” the workers not only meet the demands placed on them by their employer and inspire their co-workers and positively impact their corporate culture of work place behaviors for all employees yet not enough job seeker with job disabilities find full time, competitive, waged jobs and not enough young people with disabilities find career pathways through education or training that lead to full time competitive wage jobs. So the point of this EO is that the Commonwealth is going to encourage and enable persons with disabilities to participate fully and equally in the social and economic life of the Commonwealth and to engage in employment. So here’s an interesting fact for you, in 2014 the disability statics annual report says that only 35% of Virginians with disabilities were employed in 2013 while 78% of Virginians without a disabilities were employed during the same time, all qualified worker’s in Virginia have to be given the same opportunity to seek gainful employment, utilize their talents in this growing economy. So, if you go out to our website, at VR Workforce, we have the link to the entire EO, but we are so fortunate to have Commissioner Jim Rothrock on the podcast returning as a special guest today. Jim, welcome. With the release of EO 46 what do you think this means for disability employment in Virginia.


Jim: I think it’s really exciting opportunity, it really makes it the business of the Commonwealth to create job opportunities for Virginians with disabilities and this is something we have tried to do in other EO and in other initiatives and during prior administrations, but the collaboration that’s anticipated between HHR and Sec of Commerce and trade and their agencies, is really a huge Step forward and one that I think will bring about some great results for us.

Rick -So Jim, this is the first time we have seen an executive order at least in my recollection, so specifically highlighting the State VR agency and its mission. So how does it make you feel to see DARS play such an important role in and executive order?

Jim – It was really exciting to see that the upper levels of the administration wanted to take a bold step to support our agency and our sister agency at the Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired to allow us to have an audience to really kind of strut our stuff and show that Virginians with disabilities can be looked upon to be more significantly placed in the new Virginia economy.

Rick – So in your opinion Jim, what kinds of things do you think we can expect in the coming months as a result of EO46?

Jim – I would expect that you’ll see additional training from both public and private sector organizations, including state agencies and organizations that we have relationships with already like Hershey’s and Amazon and CVS, but more importantly expanding that to new companies in the Commonwealth. AND we will be looking forward to in the Commonwealth’s effort to recruit new businesses in to our state, being able to demonstrate that a piece of that, not only qualified workers that can be found amongst our vocational rehabilitation caseloads, but also some of the incentives, tax measures and training that we can offer to job match with new companies coming to the Commonwealth making sure that they have the very, very best qualified workers that can to do whatever their business is.

Rick – So there’s a lot of work to be done in the coming months with the Chief Workforce Development Advisor having to deliver, or report to the governor. What do you think we’ll see in that report?

Jim – I think we’ll see number one, a recitation of the activities that we do, but more importantly we’re already preparing to develop some clearly stated metrics that will demonstrate the impact based on, not only the number of people hired as a direct result of this initiative, but also some of their earning capacities and the impact that they have on the overall economic wellbeing of the Commonwealth looking at return on investment and some other measures that we hopefully will be able to put together that clearly demonstrate the success of this effort.

Rick – Jim, this executive order talks about expanding the existing efforts to recruit, accommodate, retain and advance Virginians with disabilities in our Commonwealth’s workforce, all really great things, but it tasks the Chief Workforce Development Advisor, the Secretary of Health and Human Resources, DARS , DVBI. You know these are people that we all know and have worked with for a while now. Pretty exciting stuff.

Jim – Oh absolutely. We got solid partnerships with Dr. Hazel, Secretary of Health and Human Resources have been one of our strongest advocates. And we have been able to work with Maurice Jones with commerce and Trade, Elizabeth Creamer who works with our Workforce network across the commonwealth and establish solid partnerships on which to build.

Rick – What kind of things do you think DARS will be able to bring to the table to support EO 46, Jim?

Jim – I am hoping that our ability to match our client skills with the needs of businesses and State Agencies in the Commonwealth to make sure that 1)-our clients get assisted in finding career opportunities and 2) that our overall commonwealth workforce is improved.

Rick – Always a pleasure to hear from you Commissioner Jim Rothrock. Your perspectives on EO 46 their potential impact are truly appreciated. Any final thoughts on the EO order?

Jim – Specifically toward WWRC, we will be looking to ya’ll to continue to helping us build relationships; identify prescriptive training that we can do to help us reach the quite lofty goals of this executive order.


Rick – Jim you are truly a busy man, thanks for fitting us in. We are going to connect with you later in the podcast from another location. We will dial you back in in just a few minutes, I think our engineers are actually going to try to FaceTime your call in so please keep your cell phone handy. We will talk with you in just a few minutes. Don’t go away, we have more with Jim Rothrock later. But up next “Don’t Diss me”.

Rick – Well there is a new video out on the internet from CVS Health called “Don’t Diss Me”. You can go out to our gallery at and see the video. It will blow your mind. It has everything from an artist who does everything from da Vinci quality drawings with a pencil in his mouth because he’s paralyzed from the chest down – a good friend of ours, Bruce Dillinger. Also, you’ll see an archer with one arm doing some amazing archery and a myriad of other folks illustrating the indisputable fact that individuals with disabilities can do incredible things; all laying the ground work for that disability employment conversation.

We have in the studio the lovely and talented Kanika Davis, former Miss Wheelchair of Virginia featured in the video “Looking Wonderful As Usual”. Kanika, how do you think the video turned out?

Kanika: The video turned out, you know, beyond expected. They did a very good job. I was so glad that they, you know, decided to choose, you know, WWRC to, you know, host the event. I just think it, you know, will show the community as well as society, you know, a lot about, you know, what we’re doing at WWRC and, you know, how our clients are benefitting and just hopefully give them a little bit of an eye-opener of having a different perspective about a person with disabilities and employment.

Rick: LaPearl Smith is a Business Development manager for DARS and has been a key contact in getting things off the ground with CVS Health. What do you think the video will do for individuals with disabilities?

LaPearl: I think going to be a wonderful tool, for us to use to promote with business the potential that people with disabilities can bring to the workforce. One of the things I like about the video is that it captures the diversity of people with disabilities. We have folks that are hearing impaired, we have folks that have visual impairment, people that have mobility challenges, people that have cognitive challenges.

Rick: Finally we have Cindy Roberts has been on the ground floor of the initiative with CVS Health since the beginning. What strikes you most about this video, Cindy?

Cindy: Just being able to see the face of those individuals and what they are bringing to the CVS video as well as what they can bring to the workplace is absolutely phenomenal. Any potential employer that sees that video is going to be so excited. They’re, again, not just about what Woodrow Wilson is doing, and CVS, but what people with disabilities there again, are doing and the mark they’re making on our society.


Rick: Cindy, Kanika, LePearl let’s keep an eye on this “Don’t Dis Me” video.

Straight ahead, more from Jim Rothrock.

You are listening to the VR Workforce Studio:

Rick: Okay, we have Jim Rothrock on the line. Let’s get him dialed in from Richmond, Virginia where he operates the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitation Services as the Agency Commissioner. A person who has been incredibly successful, having been injured in a sledding accident as a teenager, he has lived his life in a wheelchair, but has always risen above the challenges of disability to be successful. So, Jim, welcome back. This is your second time on this podcast. I want to continue the conversation we had last time. We talked about the sledding accident and your growth, and going to college, and becoming a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor. I’d like to get some of your perspectives on disability employment. Could we start with what you consider to be your greatest achievement as an individual with a disability?

Jim: Oh wow. I guess it’s really the job I’m in right now. It’s kind of a culmination of a 40, 50-year career that, interestingly enough, really started, in a professional level anyway, as an employee at Woodrow Wilson doing Job Seeking Skills, then sliding into a counselor job and then bumping around in a wide variety of other jobs all with kind of a workforce rehabilitation orientation, but then being culminated in this position, that I have the honor of to serve in now as Commissioner of the Agency and have the opportunity to see, as I uniquely am I able to see, the many accomplishments that you and your staff at Woodrow, and our staff across the state offer to Virginians with disabilities. So this is kind of…my job now is kind of the cherry on top of the sundae. I continue to be energized, and this goes back to my experience at Woodrow Wilson, energized at seeing people, who society holds very little expectations for them, being able to transform their lives from being dependent to independent, being employed rather than unemployed, being a taxpayer rather than a tax user. And each and every day, almost, I see or hear of an instance where the services that we provide, as an Agency, including those at Woodrow Wilson, all for the opportunity for a Virginian who has a disabling condition of any sort, to go way beyond any expectations that society, or family, or friends, or themselves, in fact, had and become successful. And if that doesn’t inspire you to be that intense advocate, that you so kindly noted, I don’t know what can push your button other than that.

Rick: So having recognized your success as an individual with a disability, I’m curious what your advice would be to someone with a disability who’s struggling.

Jim: Yeah. To do whatever they can to become employed. I’ve seen too many lives not fulfill their potential by people giving up. And it’s a damn tough experience in many cases to have a disabling condition of any ilk. Be it a physical disability like mine, or a cognitive disability, or a substance abuse disability, or a mental health issue. Those are harrowing circumstances that many people have to deal with and you’ve got two choices: you can cave and just kind of put yourself on the bench and ride it out, which fortunately most people don’t do. Or, you can except the challenge and, as I’ve said earlier, take advantage of the services that are offered, take advantage of the familial and friend support that’s there, take advantage of the new opportunities in the employment arena similar to some of the things you’ve done at Woodrow Wilson and some of the initiatives that President Obama has put out there for federal employment. Anyway, take advantage of those and redefine yourself in an ability to be a worker. Anytime you go to a church social or a cocktail party, if you meet a new person within the first 45 seconds, I’ll bet you a dollar to a donut they say “what do you do?” I’ve seen in my career an opportunity for many people to answer that very fast (audio stop) yet I’ve also seen instances where that’s a very comfortable thing in our society to say “well I subsist on Social Security benefits”. Again, nothing against those individuals, God love them, but it’s so much more socially acceptable and the very value of work to an individual’s self-worth is incredibly important. And anytime you can feed that Freudian need, in fact, if I remember correctly, I think Freud said “You need three things: love, family, and work” I’m sure I got at least two of those, two of the three right, anytime you can fulfill those, you’ve what will be, and can be, a balanced, and effective, and meaningful existence.

Rick: Do you have a message, Jim, for families?

Jim: It so easy. First off, the easiest thing to do in life is to manage somebody else’s family. I mean, we all do it, and we all think we can do it better than anybody else if they would only do like I do, but, you know, family dynamics are family dynamics and are very personal, but you know, I’ve seen time, after time, after time that families can be so important in setting the expectations for the individual and it is so easy for family just to do things for Jimmy or Sally, their individual in the family with a disability, because it’s just easier to do and Jimmy and Sally have to struggle so hard to do it or Jimmy and Sally should be expected to pick up after themselves, do chores, or babysit, or mow lawns, or whatever because they have a disabling condition of some sort. It is so imperative for families to, from the very get go, have high expectations or their disabled family members. I’ve got a college roommate in town that has a son with Down Syndrome and this young man is engaged in employment, and is engaged in public speaking, and engaged as advocate, and is a really nice guy and that is due solely, well not solely, but largely to the fact that the family from the very get go expected him to be able to learn, expected him to be able to participate, and when you look at the family dynamic, he is as important as everybody else in the family, and in many cases, more important, and that’s due solely to the fact that the family was able to start expecting this young man to do great and grand things from the time he was 2-year-old, getting himself on a school bus to go to a special aid, Special-Ed opportunity for enrichment as a 2-year-old with Downs Syndrome. And those are the type of things it’s a lot easier for families just to take care of that individual and not challenge them, but in the end it’s critical that those youngsters are challenged and the expectations for them are held quite high.

Rick: So a question you hear me ask a lot of our guests here of our guests in the studio is; what is your advice to an employer who’s thinking of hiring someone with a disability?

Jim: Well, you know, just to look beyond the facial characteristics of a person with Downs Syndrome, the absence if a limb, the use of a wheelchair, the behaviors that maybe exhibited due to Autism and see down in their very core the abilities and the skills that they have and to get beyond hiring an individual with Downs Syndrome, or a guy in a wheelchair and hiring someone that is defined by the job they do. And more and more employers, as largely a result some of the work you do at Woodrow Wilson, had been able to make that shift and see that the youngster working at Hershey that perhaps has had some social behaviors that weren’t the norm in the past is really defined as someone that can do the task very well, irrespective of the behavior. And we’re seeing more and more where that is the crowning touch and more and more employers are see that largely because, this is my hypothesis, and if I’m rambling too long, just hit the button that cuts me off, but more and more we are seeing employers step forth, and if you dig a little bit and get past the initial patina and down into the essence, you’ll many, many, many times see that that employer has a personal experience with a family member, a direct family member, or a kin, or a neighbor, or something like that, that had not been allowed the opportunity to contribute due to their disability and they’re doing their own best work to make doggone sure that people in the future are allowed to make those contributions for those firms. So it’s all about those relationships and disputing a lot of mythology about people being able to work despite their handicapping conditions.

Rick: Commissioner Jim Rothrock of the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, always a pleasure to have you here in the VR Workforce Studio.

Jim: Always! Thank you, Rick.

Rick: So we’ve had a lot of people ask us about Elizabeth Creamer’s keynote speech at WWRC on July 1. So I’ve just decided to include here address, in its entirety, into today’s show. Elizabeth Creamer is a key workforce advisor here in Virginia. She sits on the Board of Workforce Development, works for the Cabinet Secretary Maurice Jones and the office of Commerce and Trade here in Virginia. And if you travel in workforce/disability employment circles, you’re going to hear her name because her impact is substantial. On July 1, she gave what I consider to be a historic and eloquent keynote address. So let’s go now to that event and listen as Elizabeth Creamer reflects on workforce and the new WWRC. Elizabeth Creamer.

The following is the keynote address delivered by Elizabeth Cramer on July 1st at the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center. July 1, 2015.

[Clapping] Good morning. It is incredibly humbling to follow the legislators who gave us the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center our new name. Not understanding all of the background of the name change I none-the-less woke up this morning with a sense of how profound is a name? I have three adult children and six grand-children. So I know something about naming children. And I’ve always considered that that is the first and one of the most important duties that we as parents perform for our children. We give them a name, as Southerners, as most of us I suspect are today. We give them a name that reflects family lineage, a heritage, a tradition that they can carry forward that has principles and history. But we also want to give them a sense of vision, a name that is uniquely theirs name that they can travel with through childhood and into adulthood. So often times in Southern families we have two names or even three recognizing the contributions of our ancestors, recognizing our family lineage but also a name that might be uniquely ours. A precursor to the future an indicator of future success and our own personal uniqueness. So I think that a name change is a profound event. And I was very moved to be asked to recognize both, and I’m saying this purposefully, Dr. Ashely, both Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center and the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center. Of course Woodrow Wilson was established in 1947 when the Commonwealth of Virginia purchased the Army General Hospital for one dollar. And through the years it has continually adapted to meet the changing needs of Virginians with disabilities. Always focusing on helping persons develop independence and the skills needed to get a job and be self-sufficient. Its original mission was to help return to independence and vocations, wounded veterans from World War II. And I was always so struck by how profound it is that today services like those at Woodrow Wilson are helping our wounded veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. A long lineage of service and as the daughter of a military officer, the niece of a Vietnam M.I.A., the mother of two Navy personnel, and the proud aunt of an Air Force enlisted man I certainly thank Woodrow Wilson for their long history of service. Their rehabilitation services have been unparalleled. It’s one of only eight such centers in the country and a national leader. But we changed the name to focus on a vision that Woodrow Wilson has in fact always moved forward but now does so within the increased sense of visibility and leadership. The Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center, as the workforce advisor, as Rick Sizemore said, I’m working with eight different state agencies and twenty-four federal and state funded programs. And we’re trying to move forward, common goals for each of those programs, that all Virginians would have jobs. And will have jobs that will provide pathways to middle class wages. Maybe not a middle class wage initially, but this is a significant transformation in workforce services. All Virginians will have a pathway to middle class wages. No job should be a dead-end job for any Virginians. And we are working with over one million Virginians many of them with barriers to employment, so this is a tall task. We’re doing this though two primary strategies. We’re engaged in making the workforce system, of which Woodrow Wilson and DARS are a profoundly important part, we’re working to making the entire system more business driven. And this has been and will continue to be a strength of the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center. They were early implementers of that business driven philosophy. As Mr. Sizemore said When the Virginia workforce board met here we had a presentation from Hershey, from a company who hires individuals with disabilities. But what the board members were struck by is that the company designed that program. The company worked hand and glove with job developers and the program developers from Wilson to design that program. The company was participative in the training, the company was participative in the evaluation, the company was participative in the outreach to other companies and organizations about the value of that program. And the value to the businesses bottom line not just the individuals served. That kind of practice is what we’re trying to drive through all the workforce programs. And it is notable not that Woodrow Wilson, that’s number two, Jim, and it is notable that Wilson is doing it, but listen to me closely, you’ve done it first, and in some cases you’ve done it much better than any other workforce organization in the state. You taught the workforce board, you’re teaching the other programs. Woodrow Wilson has always tried to get their students the edge in the marketplace. And I was struck researching the history of this institution, by the fact that you were first for instance to offer programs that are closely aligned to regional labor market needs and to state labor market needs. That is absolutely integral to getting the kind of employment rates for students that Wilson does. You had the first cad cam program, you had the first certified nursing assistant programs; you are absolutely at the forefront of workforce development. In addition to jobs and middle class wages and business engagement another goal we have for all twenty-four programs is to make sure that Virginians are earning credentials that count in the market place. And by that we do not necessarily mean a baccalaureate degree, although it might include that, but a real focus on those industry certifications, the occupational licenses, apprenticeships, community college certificates, and associate degrees that get individuals employment in high demand sectors: advanced manufacturing, energy, healthcare, logistics and distribution, transportation, and more. Again Wilson has taken a leadership role in the system in driving these certifications. You have the highest rate of Career Readiness Certificate attainment of any single school in the state. More than any high school, more than any single community college. Your students are earning platinum and gold Career Readiness Certificates, which are indicators, their verification that you have those foundational skills that eighty percent or more of businesses need. Let me tell you how hard it is to the platinum or the gold Career Readiness Certificate. In my office I have my master’s degree framed, I have my baccalaureate framed, and I have my Career Readiness Certificate framed. Mine’s silver because I still have a lot to learn and I wasn’t trained here. [Laughter] Congratulations, congratulations. [Clapping] You have A+ Microsoft certifications, and nursing and other allied health professions, and OSHA which is important in manufacturing. You have won a national Career Pathways Network Award. There’s three given every year, for the entire United States. That program has been in existence for more than twenty-five years. That was the first and only time that a school or a training program primarily serving individuals with disabilities has ever won the award. You beat out universities, you beat out community colleges, you beat school divisions, and you took home a silver, well done. [Clapping] Finally, one of the goals that our administration has for all twenty-four programs is return on investment for taxpayers. I’ve been privileged to see an early draft on what the return on investment is. Not just for your lives, for your family’s lives, but for Virginian taxpayers and that’s important. And it is impressive. What is also impressive is that yours was the first program and agency for which such data are available. Again you are in the forefront of workforce development. I am encouraged by the name change because, quite frankly, in my job, I need your example. We are looking to engage businesses more broadly and more intensely, we’re looking for good return on investment models on all programs so that we know the services that we’re offering make a difference, we’re looking for one stops where an individual can receive a full spectrum of services from twenty-four different programs without repetitive and time-wasting paperwork; without the bureaucracy. DARS and Woodrow Wilson are helping all of us with that. I stand humbled to be here I stand as a student to Dr. Ashely and to Rick Sizemore, and I stand here very proud to be part of a very profound name change. Congratulations, God bless, and thank you for having me. [Clapping]Proceeding was the keynote address delivered by Elizabeth Cramer at the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center on July 1st, 2015.

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