Rick Sizemore: You had a stroke, recovered through voc rehab, you’re in a new career. What do you want listeners to know most about you?
Ben Payne: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, just stay the course.
Announcer: VR Workforce Studio, podcasting the sparks that ignite vocational rehabilitation through the inspiring stories of people with disabilities who have gone to work. 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 disabilities.
Debby Hopkins: To help expand registered apprenticeship.
Announcer: These are their stories.
Megan Healy: Because there’s 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 87 of the VR Workforce Studio podcast as we celebrate national disability employment awareness month. Increasing access and opportunity, this year’s theme from the federal department of labor’s office of disability employment policy. Don’t forget to check the link in our show notes for ODEP’s free poster and additional resources to help share the important messages of disability employment throughout the month of October. CSAVR’s Steve Wooderson and Kathy West-Evans from the national employment team joins us in the VR briefing room today to talk about exciting events on the horizon as both CSAVR’s fall conference, and the Nets Summit will be virtual this year. Steve talks about how they’ve harnessed the challenges of the pandemic to fuel innovative ways of bringing conference attendees an energized and dynamic platform with what will likely be one of the most engaging and valuable conference experiences to date.
Rick Sizemore: Of course, the always entertaining and informative Cherie Takemoto standing by with our National Clearinghouse report, but let’s get the show started with an amazing story of a former nondestructive metals inspector who now works in manufacturing, following a stroke and his amazing journey through vocational rehabilitation along the career pathway. Ben Payne works for Swissomation. He’s here to share his story. Welcome to the podcast, Ben.
Ben Payne: Thank you, I’m glad to be here.
Rick Sizemore: We’re excited to talk to you. Ben, like so many other people who have disabilities, there was a day in your life when you were involved in a career and things were going along and suddenly things changed. Can you take us back and tell us about the day that your disability came into your life?
Ben Payne: I’m from Virginia, but I was living in Owensboro, Kentucky and doing NDT, non-destructive testing. So one day I was doing some tests on some piping. I was just going through my regular business. It all happened so fast. It’s like one second I was fine, and then literally it was just like something popped in my head and I had the worst headache ever.
Rick Sizemore: Wow.
Ben Payne: This happened in July 3, 2017, and because it was July, I thought that maybe I was just dehydrated so I finished the shot and then when sat in the truck, drank some PowerAde, but the headache wouldn’t go away, in fact, it got worse. And after about 20 minutes, Todd, the man I was working with asked me, “Do you think you need to go to the hospital?” I said, “Yeah, I think that’s a good idea.”
Ben Payne: They did an MRI and normally it takes them like 45 minutes for them to be like, “All right, the doctor will see you now,” and blah, blah, blah. I did the MRI, it was like five minutes later they’re like, “Oh, you’re having a stroke. We got to take you to Vanderbilt.” I remember a little bit of the ride, but by that time, I don’t remember anything else. I woke up like a day or two later in Vanderbilt and the entire right side of my body was paralyzed.
Rick Sizemore: So you’re working, you have a career, you have a stroke, and all of a sudden you find that your life circumstance has changed. What brought you to vocational rehabilitation and thinking about a new career?
Ben Payne: I went through a lot of therapy and I think the DARS program and such, they were with me from the beginning. I mean, I didn’t have to go out and find them, but they were with me from the beginning. I did some physical rehabilitation, and then when I was done with that, I started speaking to DARS, my agent was Nycole. One day, Nycole called to tell me that she knew about this job that they’re offering and she thought that I would be really good fit and she wanted me to come over and turns out that it it’s been a great fit.
Rick Sizemore: Ben, you mentioned working with Nycole at the DARS office locally, and so we talked with her about your journey through disability, the career change, and then going to work at Swissomation. Here’s what she had to say. Let’s take a quick listen.
Nycole Fox: We realized that Ben would be a great fit there so Ben was able to do a working interview and receive some assistive technology support from Paula Martin and was able to do a lot of their entry level job duties at this manufacturing company, and they’ve been a great partner with us. And Ben has really just thrived there. I mean, he loves going to work. He enjoys his coworkers. The owners have had nothing but positive things to say and he’s definitely expressed to me a couple of times that he’s really appreciated the process and feels really good about being able to go back to work. And he just really engaged all of that and he has a very high drive and motivation to be successful.
Rick Sizemore: High drive and motivation to be successful. What was it like working with Nycole as you tried to figure out?
Ben Payne: Well, she is very informative, dedicated to her job and intelligent. She is really dedicated to helping me find a job and get it going.
Rick Sizemore: Ben, we’ve heard what it was like working with Nycole, but we also ask her what it was like working with you.
Nycole Fox: I think when I meet with a client, I tell them in the beginning, if you’re willing to show up and work hard, I’m going to be right there showing up and working hard with you, and I think it’s really a partnership.
Rick Sizemore: So it seems like the two of you really had some major commitments that you both fulfilled to get you into this job at Swissomation.
Ben Payne: Oh yeah.
Rick Sizemore: Well, let’s fast forward a little bit. You went through this period of exploration and you found the job at Swissomation. Tell us about the job, what are you doing now?
Ben Payne: I started out almost exclusively, I do what’s called a de-burring because Swissomation is like a machine shop, but they make really small parts for hundreds of different things. My job was to take the burrs which are just little defects. Since then, I’ve really branched out. They’ve had me try some other things that I’ve been good at and I’m also doing something called broaching. I blow out the holes on small plastic pieces because there’s sometimes little bits of plastic down in the holes and so I blow them out. And I do all kinds of stuff now.
Rick Sizemore: What do you want people to know most about vocational rehabilitation through DARS and your experience at Wilson Workforce?
Ben Payne: I can’t praise it enough. I’ve had some of the best times, since I’ve had my stroke, I’ve been at the Wilson Center. All of the people, the workers and such, they care about you and they actually, they want you to succeed and the DARS program is, they’re all in it to find you a job. There were even times I was like, well I mean, I didn’t say it to them but I said it at home just to myself. I was like, “I’m good just volunteering.” They don’t stop until they find you a job, but then when they found the Swissomation, this is actually pretty good.
Rick Sizemore: Well, Ben it’s national disability employment awareness month. So I have to ask you what you’d say to an employer or a business owner about hiring someone with a disability.
Ben Payne: I feel like a lot of people with disabilities, they just really want to work. They really want to get back into doing what they’re doing before the disability. Just give them a chance. I never really thought everything was ending, but I don’t know some people might….. just stay the course. Go through vocational rehab, go through DARS. It’ll all turn out all right in the end.
Rick Sizemore: Ben Payne works in manufacturing for Swissomation. You could find out more about them in our show notes. Ben, thank you for joining us and best of luck in your future endeavors.
Ben Payne: Alrighty, thank you.
George Dennehy: Well, hey everyone. My name is George Dennehy. I just wanted to wish you all a happy national disability employment awareness month. It’s going to be a great month and we’re going to raise some light and raise awareness.
Rick Sizemore: The national anthem for vocational rehabilitation’s music video featuring George Dennehy is showing up in VR 100 celebrations all across the country. This has led to several VR agencies reaching out to George for virtual performances, as well as inspiring keynote addresses. If you’d like to get involved with George or use the anthem in your local celebration, just check the show notes at vrworkforcestudio.com for more information. We can share a free HD copy of the Anthem with you, and if you’d like to feature your local talent, you can get a free download of the soundtrack as well as the sheet music.
Rick Sizemore: CSAVR’s national conference is going to be virtual this year and we’re delighted to welcome Steve Wooderson to the podcast to talk about the upcoming conference and national disability employment awareness month. Welcome to the podcast, Steve, how are you today?
Steve Wooderson: I’m good. I really am doing fairly well.
Rick Sizemore: This podcast is all your fault because I was thinking back about meeting you and when I’ve heard you speak and the first time you had a real influence on me was in Richmond, Virginia. We had the national conference in Richmond and you spoke and your message that day was, “Folks, you have to tell your story.” And I remember driving away from that actual conference saying. Well, I know how to do that. He’s right, we should do something. And from that humble beginning, and I think that was the first time I heard the words, Vision 2020, this podcast has grown over the past five years now into what is episode 87 and that’s what we’re doing is telling the story of voc rehab. It’s all your fault.
Steve Wooderson: Well, you know what? There’s are a lot of times I’m blamed for things I shouldn’t be blamed for, some that I should take credit for and I don’t, but I’m going to own this one.
Rick Sizemore: Okay.
Steve Wooderson: I’ll own this one. So I appreciate you saying that and boy, isn’t that the truth? Telling our story. What greater responsibility do any of us have than that?
Rick Sizemore: Exactly.
Steve Wooderson: Appreciate that Rick.
Rick Sizemore: Well Steve, its 2020, and you have for the past several years, captivated the VR community with your vision for VR with Vision 2020. It’s here and with the backdrop of celebrations focused on VR 100, ADA, and now national disability employment awareness, Vision 2020 comes to life in the pages of investing in America. That must feel amazing.
Steve Wooderson: Oh my. What an exciting time it is to be able to see our whole history laid out in front of everybody. So yeah, it is exciting and there’s an element of pride, Rick, to be honest with you. Not a haughty pride, but pride in being part of a profession that’s delivered services for a hundred years consistently, nobly, and in a way that, we’ve had to adjust, right? We’re had to adjust to national world events for a century now, so that’s pretty cool. It’s pretty cool. We’re a hardy profession, one that’s had to lead change at times. And I think Rick, a good example of that is we were the ones leading the whole charge for engaging business has being identified as the dual customer or the equal partner, if you will. And the VR program in history led change or actually joined in that change movement of the civil rights movement of the sixties, seventies and we’ve adjusted through the years. A good example is how it may not be in our niche when it came to the pandemic, but we were adjusted to it.
Rick Sizemore: It’s amazing.
Steve Wooderson: And so just being proud of that is really an exciting thing to be able to share our history and let people know about the work of the VR program.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. You know, it’s been said that investing in America contains some of the most important messages in vocational rehabilitation this year. Why is that true?
Steve Wooderson: Well, I don’t want to fall into the trap of framing all that we’re doing by the COVID pandemic, because that obviously wasn’t our plan when we began to develop this edition. But if you think about it Rick, isn’t it a good thing that we take a moment to really find ways to tell good stories when our world and nation is going through all this stuff right now?
Rick Sizemore: Tough times.
Steve Wooderson: Yeah. We need to be intentional about reflecting on what’s good and what’s right. And the VR profession in concert with our colleagues and the community and our business partners, well, we do good and right stuff. So we have opportunities to improve processes and services. Always have to be in that mindset of continuous improvement, but particularly today. 2020, I think it’s a great opportunity for us to stand tall on the strong history of our profession, celebrate who we are and use this really as a catalyst to launch us into the next century of VR services.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. Well, having accomplished the milestones that you set out in Vision 2020, what does investing in America suggest about the future of VR, especially if you consider all those lessons that we have learned through COVID?
Steve Wooderson: Yeah. Well my immediate thought when you asked me that question, is it goes back to our Vision 2020 principles and the tagline that we have for Vision 2020. That Vision 2020 tagline is “Today, Tomorrow Together,” right? So today 2020, that’s nearly over. Tomorrow, that’s right on the horizon, so whatever’s out there, we’re going to be tackling it together. And we really don’t know at this time, Rick, what some of those yet to be known long-term health, disability impacts may be from COVID and frankly, our nation is in that unsettled period of social unrest, racial bias and justice on many fronts. But how will these emerging health and social issues play out and how will VR respond well? Speaking of the future, I truly believe that we’ve shown our resolve throughout the last century. And VR has proven to be resilient, responsive, ready to adjust to whatever this next normal may be and find those new and innovative ways to deliver services and an ever changing marketplace.
Rick Sizemore: Wow, powerful words. As you lead the national effort to promote vocational rehabilitation, why do you think that everyone in the VR community needs to be aware of investing in America and how do you think it can be used to benefit vocational rehabilitation?
Steve Wooderson: Well, I think there’s a piece of it specifically for our professional community and also for the broader community. I see that for those of us that work in this field, and I’ve said it already, it’s an opportunity to reflect, to feel connected to the past, gain that spirit of renewal. But for the larger community, our schools and partners and businesses, I hope they can see the actual printed version of investing of America, Rick, because when you fold it out-
Rick Sizemore: It’s gorgeous.
Steve Wooderson: It’s a full poster size of all the events for the last 100 years. It is absolutely incredible. And you could actually see that online as well. But I think seeing and having an appreciation for the history gives them a sense of confidence in the work of the VR profession. Recognizing that although services have been delivered differently with different priorities and emphasis over the years, the mission and the purpose of VR has been ever steady. Innovation, creativity, new and different is good. But when you couple that Rick, with a rich history and evidence based practice, I believe it offers hope that VR will continue to meet the needs of both customers, the individual career seeker and the business seeking qualified talent.
Rick Sizemore: Well, the VR community is certainly indebted to you and the team at CSAVR for leading that charge and producing this incredible document, which of course we’ll have a link to in our show notes, but there’s a virtual conference on the horizon coming up next month. Tell us what’s on the horizon.
Steve Wooderson: Oh yeah. Well, I am so thrilled about this, Rick. I got to tell you, I walked into this, knowing that this was going to be our first ever virtual conference with a great deal of trepidation. I mean, I don’t know a thing about how you deliver a comprehensive conference to hundreds of people online.
Rick Sizemore: Who does?
Steve Wooderson: Oh my gosh. But we partnered with some dynamic folks from YesLMS. They have helped us put together a platform that we’re able to bring together then some dynamic speakers. Some that are going to challenge our thinking. They’re going to maybe us a chuckle and maybe cry, but hopefully walk away with a new perspective in so many ways. So for keynote speakers, we have a day of celebration on veteran’s day, we’ll be receiving updates from our federal partners with an opportunity for a Q&A. We’ll be hearing from business partners and then we will have a couple of sessions, Rick, that will be focused on matters related to implicit bias in the workplace and some of the social injustice dealing with mental health concerns during a period of COVID. So we’ve got a really dynamic conference that I just am thrilled and excited. I can’t wait to be a part of.
Rick Sizemore: Well it looks like a great plan is in place for the virtual conference in November. National disability employment awareness month celebrates its 75th anniversary. Thoughts on this milestone?
Steve Wooderson: Yeah. Seventy-five years. And once again, Rick, I don’t know that they could have planned for a better theme. Increasing access and opportunity. Historically this is a time where we’re all on the road and there are a number of different activities and places to speak and gathering folks together in one place and so obviously during this particular time in our history, there will be a great deal more virtual activities across the country, but the emphasis is the same. Trying to get the message out about access and opportunity, trying to communicate with a broader community the significance of national disability employment awareness month.
Steve Wooderson: Rick, we have partnered with our colleagues and the Federal Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in a Twitter campaign. So we’re gathering enough resources that identify states increasing access and opportunity to where we hope that every day we will be sending out one Twitter message at a minimum that reflects the work that’s being done across the country. So this is an opportunity for us to champion disability employment practice and looking forward to having a month to really celebrate the work of all Partners, not just the public VR program, as it takes the larger community of professionals, businesses, and networks to make a difference. So it’s a great theme, looking forward to all the activities that we’ll be seeing around the country during NDEAM this October.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah, lots of folks are excited about that and I know they plan to join in the campaign. You have to be gratified by the reach and the impact of the national employment team.
Steve Wooderson: Oh my goodness. I am so-
Rick Sizemore: Phenomenal work.
Steve Wooderson: Excited to see, yeah, so good to see the work that’s being done and kudos to Kathy West -Evans, our director of business relations who has built, I think, a premier network where we’re able to not only have experts representing each state Vocational Rehabilitation Agency that has additional expertise and working with business, but also as part of our communications network as well, that they’re able to reach out to the community and to their colleagues across their own state agencies.
Rick Sizemore: Steve we’re featuring Cathy next month. Here’s a quick segment from that interview about how the NET is bringing life to Vision 2020, even during these crazy times, we’ve been facing..
Kathy West-Evans: You know, the saying, with every challenge comes at opportunity. Platforms like the talent acquisition portal, a lot of businesses are reaching out because it is the only fully accessible platform, taking some great ideas from our teams in the field and we’re doing reverse career fairs. We’ve got businesses joining us for conversations about the future of business, and it’s just great to see that.
Steve Wooderson: I had just a great opportunity to be a part of some windmills training this week, which has been sponsored by CSAVR and The NET, so there’s a great number of activities that are going on related to The NET that I think speaks well to our response and meeting the needs of business and our state agencies across the country.
Rick Sizemore: Steve Wooderson is the CEO of the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation. Thanks for joining us on today’s show Steve, and congratulations on Vision 2020. Best of luck in the upcoming virtual conference.
Steve Wooderson: Thanks Rick. And thanks for the work that you do as well. We’re proud to be working with you and enjoy hearing your messages.
Rick Sizemore: Thank you, Steve. As we continue our national disability employment awareness month celebrations, it’s time for clearinghouse update with Cherie Takemoto. Welcome to the podcast, Cherie.
Cherie Takemoto: Hey Rick, and every month is disability employment awareness month at the VR workforce studio.
Rick Sizemore: It is indeed. You know, as we were listening to Ben’s story, it was so exciting to see how he’s gone down that career pathway and we’ve worked with some great partners to bring about some pretty amazing opportunities for people with disabilities. Of course, Virginia Manufacturers Association, the Valley to Virginia Grant that opened up so many apprenticeship opportunities, it’s been very exciting to see these kind of things emerge in the last few years in voc rehab.
Cherie Takemoto: Yes, it’s a whole new world and RSA funded these career pathways for individuals with disabilities projects for Virginia, Georgia, Kentucky, and Nebraska.
Rick Sizemore: Great work going on in those States, I’ll tell you.
Cherie Takemoto: Yes, and so this month we have a whole resource list from those projects that we will share along with a link to a virtual series of webinars and resources from these projects, as well as other RSA funded technical assistance and innovation projects.
Rick Sizemore: This whole initiative was really to try to figure out how to work in the career pathway setting in to reach out to some of these employment sectors like manufacturing and some others as well. So it really is great to have those lessons learned cataloged there in the clearinghouse for others to download and consider as they move forward in vocational rehabilitation.
Cherie Takemoto: Yes, and stay tuned for later this month because we’re going to also upload a new webinar that the four states are developing, bragging about the wonderful outcomes from their projects.
Rick Sizemore: Well, thank you so much, Cherie. Always a pleasure to have you on our podcast.
Cherie Takemoto: Okay. Let’s talk next month.
Rick Sizemore: Will do. Here’s Lynn Harris, director of the Wilson workforce and rehabilitation center foundation
Lynn Harris: Our Foundation is so pleased to bring you these exciting stories of how vocational rehabilitation is changing people’s lives by helping them gain the skills and credentials they need to be successful in business and industry. We thank all of our partners in podcasting who made this episode possible. Able Now, Aladdin Foods, The Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation, CVS Health, First Bank and Trust and the Hershey Company. You can find out more by visiting us at wwrcs.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 promotional considerations.