Episode 98 VR Workforce Studio
Evelyn Clark’s story, the attorney who brought her own chair.
Singers: VR Workforce Studio
Evelyn Clark: I remember the first time I went out to eat from the hospital. It’s like a party of three. And I was like, yeah, but just two chairs. I brought my own. And my sister was just, you are just going to be a pill.
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.
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 98 of the VR workforce studio podcast on today’s show. Betsy talks with the host of the abilities opportunities and the future of work podcast from Michigan rehabilitation services. As we get ready for a webinar being published by the University of Wisconsin, Stout’s Vocational Rehabilitation Institute. If you would like more information on that, check the show firstname.lastname@example.org, but in our big inspiration showcase today, it’s Evelyn Clark, an attorney with spinal cord injury, setting the world on fire in her career. Welcome to the podcast Evelyn.
Evelyn Clark: Thank you, Rick. I’m happy to be here.
Rick Sizemore: Well, let’s get started really with going back to a time in your life when things were going along pretty well. And, and you had a horrible accident and wound up with a spinal cord injury. Could you tell us the story?
Evelyn Clark: Yeah, so I had just graduated from undergrad from Roanoke College in May of 2015, and I had planned to take a year off and stay for the LSAT and then go to law school the next year. And six months later in January of 2016, I had an accident and suffered a T6 spinal cord injury and a host of other injuries and wound up in the hospital for about six months and went to the Shepherd Center and did a lot of rehab. And then, came out on the other side, using a wheelchair and experiencing life completely differently. But then, study, study for the LSAT when I got out of the hospital and ended up going to law school the next year.
Rick Sizemore: So many people get knocked down by extraordinary accident, like you experienced and have difficulty sustaining the career pathway, but it seems like you came out of the hospital to take the LSAT and ready with great enthusiasm to continue toward your goals of being an attorney.
Evelyn Clark: Yeah, I think I was very fortunate that I had already completed my undergraduate degree. I, have friends from the hospital. I think that would be really difficult, navigating a campus that is probably inaccessible and going to different buildings, which I think could be really difficult. So I was fortunate in that, but it was, it was hard. And I, I think part of it was that I wasn’t, able to fully do the job that I had been doing before. And so, being a lawyer, it’s not, you don’t need to do physical labor or anything like that. And so it was, it was what I had always wanted to do. And, I was, I would go and do therapy and then come back home and do a practice test. And it was really hard and going to law school was hard, but, but in the end it was, it was a good challenge and I am loving what I’m doing right now. And I just had to, put my mind back on a goal and, and have that in mind and, and say, just because I, I’m using a chair now doesn’t mean that I can’t do what I wanted to do before.
Rick Sizemore: Wow. So how did you connect with the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services?
Evelyn Clark: So it was mentioned, I was at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta and they said, your, your government should have resources to help you with. I also was fortunate I went to church with the Rothrock family. And so-
Rick Sizemore: Oh, really.
Evelyn Clark: Yeah, who recently passed.
Rick Sizemore: He’s touched everyone’s life in some way.
Evelyn Clark: Yeah, he was so incredible. He did so much good work. And so, yeah, so I think Drew reached out to him after he heard about my accident and, he reached out and told us that, we should talk to DARS. And so I got in contact with Shermale and she was just so great helping because,, you’re adjusting to life and how you’re going to navigate the world from a chair, which is inaccessible.
Evelyn Clark: But, people don’t think about the government side of it where you can’t just go out and get a new license. And so that was a big hurdle for me to my independence was learning how to drive with hand controls. And so Shermale set that up, that I was able to get my training and get hand controls put on my car and, added to my license as a restriction. And that was, that was huge because I, you need, you need help with, with some things. And, she was great with helping me come up with a plan of when I get to law school, what I would need and how to get assistance. And, DARS was really instrumental in helping me get my independence back and navigating the government side of, of having a disability.
Rick Sizemore: Right, so many people who listened to this podcast have stories similar to yours. Could you take us back to that first time that you entered a vehicle in a wheelchair and what it was like actually taking control of a motor vehicle while sitting in a chair?
Evelyn Clark: Yeah. So I am kind of a scaredy-cat. I’m very cautious. It took me a very long time to be able to do a wheelie in my wheelchair. And so it was, I mean, it was, it was nerve wracking. It was scary. It was, like learning to drive again. I think my first time actually was at the Shepherd Center where they were able to, to have, trainers that work there that, I was able to go out and navigate some neighborhoods and then went out on I-85 and Atlanta. And so, I mean, I did. Okay. I, I think my sister who was in the backseat was not as okay. So it was scary, but I mean, now it’s, I guess been four years that I’ve been driving and it’s just second nature, it’s not it’s, I don’t even think about it anymore.
Rick Sizemore: We have a great picture. We’ll include in the gallery that goes along with this Podcast of you in the vehicle and you look so at ease. And do you also travel to Northern Virginia? Is that right?
Evelyn Clark: Yeah, yeah. So, I am currently living in Maryland and my parents are in Southern Virginia. So, I take five hour road trips, pretty regularly throughout the year. And it’s, not, not a big deal at all.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. Well, that’s incredible a great story. Tell us about any other ways that DARS helped you through that college experience and on the career pathway to becoming an attorney?
Evelyn Clark: Yeah, I think it was really hard to figure out how to go to school in a chair and carry, carrying books. Law, law casebooks are pretty heavy. They’re, notoriously several pounds. So, I wouldn’t be able to carry that in my book bag and, and, wheel around school. So helping me figure out how to get books online and how the school can assist me, I think it’s really difficult to ask for help and, from anybody I think especially living life with a disability, it’s hard to not feel like a burden because you need extra, but you’re not, you have to think of it in a way of you’re not getting extra you’re, you’re leveling the playing field, you’re making it so that you’re able to do things like everyone else. And so, having someone on my side say, helping me advocate for myself, and saying, “you can’t advocate for yourself, and this is what you need, and don’t be afraid to speak up,” and helping with how to get those resources in school was really instrumental to building my confidence. And I think helping me to advocate for myself, cause I think that’s really important too, so that, helping me to, giving me the tools that I needed to be able to be successful.
Rick Sizemore: So how did going through this experience that midpoint in your college career shape the type of lawyer that you are today?
Evelyn Clark: I’ve thought about it a lot and I’ve had conversations with people of, if you could do it again, would you be injured again? And I, I don’t think I would necessarily say that, but I, I’ve got an entirely different perspective on life. I think it’s made me a lot more empathetic and able to relate to all different kinds of people. And I think that’s important in the legal profession and is not something that I think has a lot of emphasis put on it, but the legal profession as a human profession. And that’s a big part of it is working with people and understanding people.
Evelyn Clark: In law school, I was fortunate that I was on a journal, the journal of civil rights and social justice. And so my note that I wrote was about litigation under the Americans with Disabilities Act and being able to have both perspectives as a person with a disability and becoming a lawyer. It was a really great experience to talk to a significant legal problem, but also have the experience of being personally affected. So I really enjoyed that. I am not necessarily practicing, disability law, but I, I carry that with me and knowing that whatever I’m working on and whatever I’m doing, it’s, it’s affecting people. And keeping that in mind, I think is important for all lawyers.
Rick Sizemore: Many guests on the show talk about what advice they would have to someone with a disability who is trying to overcome a challenge. I really want to come at this a little bit of a different way because you have such a unique position in life being an attorney and person with a disability. So, I have to ask you, what, what would your advice be to all those folks who listen to this show who have disabilities, who are up against different challenges from, from an attorney and a person who’s using a wheelchair? What, what kind of encouragement or advice do you have for people?
Evelyn Clark: I would say don’t be afraid to ask for help. I think that, like I mentioned before, I will say that I would not be where I am today if I didn’t have my family and my support system. I think that’s something else that’s positive that’s come out of my injury as I’m, I’m much closer with my family than I was before and really learning to rely on them and allow them to help me when I needed it. And I think that’s, that’s hard for anyone, but especially post-injury and feeling like a burden and really hating all of the stress that I put on them.
Evelyn Clark: And, so I would say, don’t be afraid to ask for help and lean on your support system and these people are there and, and they love you, but also know that, you can do anything that anyone else can do and work through it and find, find these resources that help you. There are a lot of people out there who want to help you and want to see you succeed and who value diversity and different perspectives in their company and in their firms. And you bring an added perspective anywhere you go, and I think people really value that and I think they should value that. And you should value yourself for that as well.
Rick Sizemore: What a powerful, what a powerful perspective. Do you have a favorite story about the legal profession and being a practicing attorney with a disability?
Evelyn Clark: It’s only been a year. I graduated from law school last year. And so I do a lot of different federal regulatory work, as a new associate, I’m working with all different practice groups. And so I, I love that and it’s very interesting law school was great. Law school was interesting.
Rick Sizemore: Do you have a favorite story about being in law school as a person with a disability?
Evelyn Clark: I think that it was, it was really hard socially. I have, I have friends now that I remember, I was a little, I wouldn’t say aggressive, but I was a little bit toughened I think, because it was the first time that I was interacting with people my own age and I was that girl in a wheelchair, and I had never had that experience before. So I think I was a little bit defensive and I wanted to constantly tell people, “oh, this just happened to me.” I think a lot of it was my own internalized ableism of trying to say, “no, I’m just like you, it’s fine. I, this just happened, and this could happen to you at any time.” And so, I look back now being so much more comfortable and confident with myself and not needing to prove myself, I was always joking about stuff. I would, I have like one of my best friends from law school. Now we were at a bar and in Lexington, one of the servers went by, I was like, “oh, there’s another one upstairs.” And she was standing in front of me and she was like, “oh no, it’s fine. I’ll wait.” And I turned to her and I was like, “well, I would love to go to the bathroom upstairs.”
Evelyn Clark: And I think, I was always joking and I, I have a very like different sense of humor. I remember the first time I went out to eat from the hospital, with my, my sister and her husband. And we went and it was like, oh, a party of three. And I was, but just two chairs. I brought my own and my sister was just, you are just going to be a pill. And so we, I look back on those interactions and laugh because, we weren’t really friends at that time and she didn’t really know if I was kidding. And, I, I think, if you don’t know people with a disability and someone in a wheelchair, it’s just like, well, I wish I could go upstairs. You’re kind of taking them back. But, I, those are some of my favorite memories. And I’m like great friends with all these people now and softened myself as I’ve become more, more comfortable and confident in my abilities and my status as someone with a disability and knowing that, that’s okay. And I don’t have to explain myself to people and prove that I am, normal because I am normal. And I don’t, I don’t need to, to prove anything to anybody.
Rick Sizemore: Well, we’ll conclude the interview by saying Evelyn Clark is an attorney who happens to have a disability and is doing great things in the world, spreading a very positive message for all who will listen and hopefully all who are reached through this podcast. Thank you so much for taking your valuable time to share it with us and best of luck to you in the future.
Evelyn Clark: Thank you so much. It was great talking with you.
Rick Sizemore: Here’s Chip Stratton on emergency preparedness for individuals with disabilities.
Chip Stratton: How would this look if I were completely alone for three days, think about the disasters that can impact our area, where you live, where you work, where you visit, knowing the best response for your personal circumstance and who better to advocate than you. Make a plan. If you use para transit touch base with them and make sure they are going to run during an emergency, or did they know that you’re on the top of a list, the local emergency management office, same thing, let them know who you are, where you are, what your unique circumstances are. Final things a kit, food, water, medications, supplies, again being very specific to what you need. You know what a normal day looks like. So now think of what that would look like on an abnormal day. Fema.gov is an excellent site full of resources and information ready Virginia. And you can get apps for all those gathering as much information as possible.
Rick Sizemore: For more information, visit V-A-D-A-R-S.org.
Rick Sizemore: There’s so many cool new Podcasts that are beginning to emerge in the VR community, as we’ve been promoting the abilities, opportunities, and the future of work Podcast with co-host Nacsha Ealy and Sriram Narayanan.
Betsy Civilette: Nacsha is a business relations consultant with Michigan rehabilitation services. And Sriram is a professor from Michigan State University. Welcome to the podcast. Nacsha, tell us the story of starting the abilities opportunities and the future of work Podcasts.
Nacsha Ealy: I think it’s definitely making a difference because with the larger platform, we’re able to share information and have conversations that the general public and businesses and customers can benefit from, that, and these are conversations that don’t typically take place. So we’re able to highlight individuals who are successful in working and have disabilities and also highlight specific programs that benefit individuals with disabilities as they seek employment and highlight those employers and businesses that do have good initiatives and, and things that most people don’t know about because they aren’t in those organizations. So I think the platform has been really, really beneficial in, in hitting all those targets.
Betsy Civilette: Oh, great. And what is the most important lesson you’ve learned from using a Podcast versus other communication vehicles in your business relations outreach?
Sriram Narayanan: So I, I think I just wanted to add one thing to what Nacsha said and perhaps, jump into that question, is this okay? Is that okay?
Betsy Civilette: Absolutely.
Sriram Narayanan: No, I, I, the one thing I wanted to add was that the, the Podcast itself, the, the goal for us was to bring all the stakeholders in one place and talk about the issues, because it sounded like from all the discussions that we’ve had with the Southeast Michigan ERG Council, where MRS is also a big part of it. And in attending those meetings, one thing that kind of emerged is that we needed a platform where people could voice their ideas. It was not including the employers. Also, the individuals, all these not-for-profits that are serving the community in so many different ways. So we needed what we originally thought was we would bring each one of them to that Podcast and, and have, and discuss different issues and aspects of those issues. And in some cases you could make it collaborative because the first episode of our Podcast actually has three individuals, all of them, of different types and sort of showcase the idea that you need to capture the diversity in the space, and that needs different minds to come together in different occupations to come together. That was sort of the, another aspect of what Nacsha was just saying.
Betsy Civilette: Okay, well, why a Podcast, as I said, for versus other communication vehicles, just the straight interview at presentation webinar, why did you guys think the Podcast venue was, was best for, for this approach? And what have you learned most from using a Podcast format?
Tyler Gross: I can speak a little bit to the advantages of the Podcast format. Hey, this is Tyler. So Podcast allows us to have long form conversations with subject experts in the field of disability and employment. We, as an agency, try to explore as many forms of communication as we can, not only to promote our own services, but to spread awareness of disability and employment and Podcasts is just another way we can do that. And it makes it unique because you can have extended conversations and then really dig deep into a particular issue or topic of conversation, as opposed to say, a newsletter or a pamphlet or an email or something like that. So those are the advantages I see at the Podcast. I’ll turn it over to a Nacsha though, in terms of what they’ve learned from the process.
Sriram Narayanan: And I think the distribution is also very easy. So, there are so many subscribers to Podcasts now on iTunes. So our Podcast is available on iTunes platform and certainly on SoundCloud. So, the distribution of these Podcasts is so easy. Like Tyler was saying, we could, we could divvy up longer conversations into shorter parts. There’s so many, so much flexibility. And we certainly have the, it’s a lot easier to write off as a platform. And there are a couple of other Podcasts too, that we sort of looked at that are all available on iTunes and other Podcast platforms, particularly focused on disability.
Tyler Gross: Yeah. And I would say too about the podcast platform and using this as a communication tool is that it’s really personable. There’s something about being able to listen to someone speak in their own voice, in their own words that is different than if it’s in writing or an information drop in other forms. So that is why personally, even outside of this project, I’m a fan of Podcasting as a genre.
Betsy Civilette: And are there any obstacles though that you’ve found in producing this and like again, any lessons learned for, for others and advice to others in the VR community who are thinking about starting a Podcast?
Nacsha Ealy: From, from the VR perspective of being formerly a counselor and now business relations consultant, I’m having so much fun. It’s exciting to have these conversations and to be involved in this project because it’s like my voice in thoughts, and Sriram voice, and all the guests and Tyler’s knowledge, we’re all putting it in one place and we can, one Podcast is shared or one person listens. And then someone, it’s like that planting a seed of, of, of whatever we’re discussing. And you can have so much impact, positive impact that you can’t have in, in four walls with 20 people in a group or in a newsletter. So I think just from my perspective it’s such a innovative way to do the work that we do, that I don’t think traditionally has been done. And I think it could just lead to so much more impact and change in disability and employment.
Betsy Civilette: Well Nacsha, I could listen to your voice all day long. You have a great voice for Podcast and thank you guys for joining us. Best of luck on your future episodes.
Nacsha Ealy: Thank you so much for having us. This has been an awesome opportunity.
Rick Sizemore: Well, it’s time for our national Clearinghouse for rehabilitation training materials report with Cherie Takemoto. Welcome to the Podcast Cherie.
Cherie Takemoto: Hi Rick.
Rick Sizemore: And it seems like self-advocacy is such a focus in the VR conversation these days.
Cherie Takemoto: Yes. And in fact, it’s one of the pre-employment transition services that those of you and VR call PRE-ETS. So, first I have a five part webinar series from the two RSA funded TA centers, the WINTAC and NTACT. The fifth PRE-ETS Service outlines the service is self-advocacy and that is the fifth webinar. And then I think that Colorado Office of Employment first does a great job of providing information on these services and a nice job on self-advocacy, both in English and in Spanish.
Rick Sizemore: Well, that’s exciting.
Cherie Takemoto: Next, I have a few online things like the self-advocacy online from the RRTC on community living and participation. I’m determined is a great site, hosting videos and tools from the Virginia Department of Education Supported Youth Leadership Initiative.
Rick Sizemore: Go Virginia.
Cherie Takemoto: Yes, of course, here in Virginia. And then we have a three-part series called, Clearing the Way for Empowerment from a RSA funded Peak Parent Center, as they share inspiring stories and practical advice to parents and youth with disabilities.
Rick Sizemore: That’s awesome Cherie.
Cherie Takemoto: So do, do you want to know what else I have?
Rick Sizemore: I do. What else is in the report this month Cherie?
Cherie Takemoto: Okay, well, everyone’s heard about Free Brittany, right?
Rick Sizemore: We’ve heard all about it.
Cherie Takemoto: Okay. Well, that’s brought increased attention to Guardianship and I have two other resources on alternatives to guardianship. The first is a supportive decision-making webinar series from two RSA for the Parent Centers. And the second is called Informed Decision-Making. It takes more than practice by members of Self-Advocates becoming empowered. And the Green Mountain Self-Advocates. Do you want something for nerds?
Rick Sizemore: We are all into nerds. Let us have it.
Cherie Takemoto: Okay. Finally, I have an Institute on Rehabilitation Issues, publication developed by VR professionals on promoting consumer empowerment through professional rehabilitation counseling. So it’s counselors telling other counselors how to do all this.
Rick Sizemore: Well. It’s super cool. Cherie, thank you so much for your report. And we always appreciate the resources and information you bring us from the Clearinghouse.
Cherie Takemoto: Thank you.
Rick Sizemore: 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. We thank all of our partners in podcasting who made this episode possible, the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation, CVS Health, Dominion Energy, Daikin Applied, Hollister Inc., and United Bank. 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.
Steve Sweeney: 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.