Singers: VR Workforce Studio
Vicki Varner: It allows me to get up every day and continue to not only live, but to thrive. Wheelchair users are some of the most resilient people that I know.
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.
Rose Hilderbrand: I have a position at Masco Cabinetry.
Veteran: 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 93 of the VR Workforce Studio Podcast, mad gaming skills and brain injury at the clubhouse. Later in today’s show, we’ll talk with Sheri, who’s a former tax representative from Jackson Hewitt and mother of two. She survived a car accident back in 2015, now as a brain injury, she tells us what it’s like to be part of a clubhouse. And Jason Young, the Executive Director of Community Brain Injury Services also joins us to talk about a new study focusing on clubhouses for people with brain injuries. And we’re really excited to bring you a story about gaming and technology, one of the hottest new careers on the horizon. And George Mason University just finished up a gaming and technology virtual job shadowing event last week. Here to tell us what that was like, is Grayson Myers. Welcome to the podcast Grayson.
Grayson Myers: Thanks for having me.
Rick Sizemore: This was a really cool event. Tell us about what happened. Walk us through the day.
Grayson Myers: I got an invite to a Zoom meeting. I joined it and in the meeting I learned about what the jobs are like in the tech field and what you need, what skills they are and the high demand for them, which really, really was shocking for me.
Rick Sizemore: Now you work with the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehab Services. How did you and your counselor decide this would be a good option for you?
Grayson Myers: A while back when I first met her, I told her I want to have a job in the tech field. She was like, “Okay.” She sent me that. She’s been really helpful.
Rick Sizemore: So I’m told you have some pretty clear career goals. What is it you want to do? What do you see yourself doing after you get out of high school?
Grayson Myers: I’d like a job in the technology field, most likely in cyber security or programming.
Rick Sizemore: What kind of things did you learn throughout the day?
Grayson Myers: The thing I was really shocked is that there’s a high demand for cyber security and the government. And I remember hearing about how the government gives you good contracts for pay and stuff and insures you, and that’s awesome. So that added an incentive to the cybersecurity job.
Rick Sizemore: You were online with a lot of different people. What was it like interacting with the panel out at George Mason and some of the other participants? How’d you do that?
Grayson Myers: Most people had their cameras on, but we could unmute or raise the hand or there’s a button to raise your hand, which lets people know that you want to say something or you could just type stuff in the chat for everybody to see.
Rick Sizemore: So you were engaged in dialogue. But did you do some activities as well online?
Grayson Myers: Yeah, they did a award thing. They did a raffle. They gave out awards to people and it was really fun and they told us all about the jobs and what they need, even told us about the IT jobs, which is pretty cool.
Rick Sizemore: A lot of people who have disabilities see the IT field as really a good opportunity for them. Could you tell us about your disability?
Grayson Myers: I have PANDAS, which stands for pediatric autoimmune disorder associated with strep. Not many kids have it, but one out of 200. So it’s not really a lot. But it looks different in many people. But for me it causes flare ups due to the antibodies being created due to an infection. Problem with the antibodies though is that they don’t go away after the infection is gone. So that causes those flare ups.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. So how does the disability affect you?
Grayson Myers: Well, I’m in regular high school classes, but I need the study hall for things like that. I have accommodations and frequent breaks and extended time to work on things when I am in a flare up.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. So you see a really clear career path into the IT field and that working well with your disability?
Grayson Myers: Yeah. It really made me want to get a job. It inspired me. I’m hoping to start college at Germanna Community College after high school and hopefully get a tech job. But maybe I finish or do a four year degree at Mason because the tech stuff they have there is pretty good as well.
Rick Sizemore: Grayson, you seem to be more into IT security. But one of the other participants online that day was focused on gaming. Let’s take a listen to Zachary Tingen’s comments on the event.
Zachary Tingen: It was great. We talked about gaming, how many lines of program go into it? Well, I asked what kind of system they use for the gaming. It makes people more confident tells me what I need. I guess, talking to these people who have been on work, they were interesting and they told me stuff about the gaming industry, about how the different lines of codes contributes to different kinds of games.
Rick Sizemore: One of the people behind all this excitement, James Casey, who is the interim director of the Virginia Serious Game Institute and an assistant professor of computer games design at George Mason University. Welcome to the podcast, James.
James Casey: Well thank you for having me.
Rick Sizemore: Tell us what happened yesterday at this job shadowing event.
James Casey: So for a while now, just as kind of a background of what we do, we’ve had a game design program at George Mason University for over 11 years at this point. It’s an undergraduate degree in how to make games. That’s very unique and I won’t go into all that at the moment. But as part of that, we founded the Virginia Serious Game Institute roughly six years ago. And one of our prime functions, we have three of them. We do applied research, we have an incubator for people who want to start a company doing serious games, which is really just any game that’s designed for, not necessarily entertainment first. So it’s not Fortnite, it’s Among Us or anything that’s popular right now. It’s a game that might be used for education or training or simulation.
James Casey: And so part of what we do though, is we do outreach. We start to teach kids before they even come to college or even adults, how to make games. So in middle school and high school. So we have the Mason Game and Technology Academy. Through networking, which we encourage the kids to do at the event yesterday. Right? Always get to know people. Our folks at Mason Game and Technology Academy got together with the folks at the DARS and they knew that there was a lot of interest as we see across the country at this point because the industry has grown so much, in gaming with the children. And we’ve worked with Virginia to try to get it into schools, et cetera. And we offer classes at work, either after school or during the summer for kids who wants to take more and learn more about games before they go to college.
James Casey: And so we just thought it was a really great way to offer alternative job paths for folks, right? And what we see too, because we see this with kids from all over is everybody loves games. They’re fun, they’re engaging. Who would want to make one? But what’s really great about it is that technology and everything that’s going into it is used in so many different industries at this point that it’s not just making games, you can make commercials, you can make movie shows like the Mandalorian is all done with a game technology for its backdrops and the green screen. So we just thought it was a really interesting way to show some alternative job paths from jobs that you could get with no college degree to ones that if you go to college and get certain degrees, like our game design one, you can get some very unique and very rewarding jobs in the games industry.
Rick Sizemore: This really levels the playing field for so many people with disabilities and offers tremendous opportunities for them to, as you said, get engaged, understand the profession, the industry and find a career path without an extended academic experience. But there was tremendous buzz about this event yesterday. What was it like to be there and to see some of these young people with disabilities so excited about gaming and technology?
James Casey: It was great. We get a variety of folks that come into our program. It’s diverse in a number of ways. What was really rewarding about the event is as we went through it, you could tell that there was genuine interest in how to do this and the things that went in. So as we were going through, we spoke for a good portion of the time answering questions from a moderator, which is what usually happens at these events. But all the while we were getting tons of questions in the questions and answer section and the chat. And so as we were saying things, it was very rewarding because we were getting all sorts of questions in there from comments like, “Oh, that sounds like fun. I really want to do that,” to the really in-depth things like, “Well, how does the game industry deal with some of the things that go on like crunch or overtime?”
James Casey: And so there were kids here that had definitely done their homework and were very interested in this topic and it just shows how popular it was. And it was very rewarding too, to see that they really understood how this was a potential pathway for them and that there’s a lot of opportunities, regardless of whether you have a disability, whether you have accommodation. And each and every one of us in our own way has different things that we have to account for when we go into a job or a career. Like I told them, I can get up and I can talk to people and I can do a podcast with you or I can talk to them, but that’s not my normal mindset either. I’m typically introverted. But you get used to it because you have passion and engagement with the topic. And that helps people encounter a lot of different things in their life, which is really rewarding to see. We see that in our program as well.
Rick Sizemore: Well that is so absolutely true. And technology has such an impact on people with disabilities. And of course, assistive technology awareness has its own day on the 27th of March. That’s coming up. And it’s very exciting to see what you’re doing. This is a storytelling podcast and you can tell from the other guests, they have their various stories. Do you have a recollection about yesterday afternoon? Did one kid stand out, that did something really cool?
James Casey: We only get to see a little part of it because of the format of the way it’s done. But I think the part that struck me the most was the one or two people that, like I said, had done their homework and asked very in-depth questions, like the one I mentioned about how companies deal with some of the issues like crunch time and things like that. And they’re actively looking into it. That kind of interest is very heartening, like you said.
Rick Sizemore: Congratulations on the success of the gaming event.
James Casey: Thank you. Thank you so much.
Rick Sizemore: James Casey comes to us from George Mason University. Both Grayson and Zachary participated in the job shadowing event through Virginia DARS. March 1st is International Wheelchair Day. Here with today’s rehabilitation reflection, is Vicki Varner.
Vicki Varner: Hi and happy International Wheelchair Day. In 2015, I was in a car accident that not only left me a full-time wheelchair user, but also breathed life into me. I spent 18 years of my life walking. And in the last five that I’ve been in a wheelchair, I’ve packed so much more than those 18 years could even fathom. My wheelchair has brought me freedom and it has brought me independence. It allows me to get up every day and continue to not only live, but to thrive. Wheelchair users are some of the most resilient people that I know. But that doesn’t mean we don’t face our own unique set of struggles. There are still a lot of biases out there, accessibility issues and discrimination. That is why International Wheelchair Day is so important, so we can bring awareness to these issues. We must continue to educate and to advocate, to grow not only as people, but as a community. So go out there, pop some wheelies and celebrate the positive impact you have made and will continue to make in this world.
Rick Sizemore: Vicki Varner, formerly Miss Wheelchair Virginia, is a disability advocate and spokesperson. She currently works as a customer services associate for Virginia 529 and ABLEnow. Views expressed are her own. We’ve included her contact information in the show notes. On March 22nd, we joined others around the nation in celebrating National Rehabilitation Counselor Appreciation Day.
Chris Spoden: She’s very professional, and she knows her stuff. And I just found it pretty easy to work with her. She also helped me with my resume as well.
Rick Sizemore: Since 2007, we’ve set aside this special day to honor and acknowledge our rehabilitation counselors. In the words of the United States Congress, we commend the hard work and dedication that rehabilitation counselors provide to individuals in need, that the numerous efforts that the multiple professional organizations have made to assist those who require rehabilitation. Here at home, we simply know them as our heroes that help people with disabilities to develop the skills they need to be successful on the career pathway, as they help fill the talent pipelines for business and industry with qualified and talented people who happen to have disabilities. Thank you rehabilitation counselors.
Rick Sizemore: Well March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. And before we get to Sheri and her story, we’re fortunate to welcome a couple of key leaders from Virginia in the brain injury community. Chris Miller is the Director of the brain injury services coordination unit at the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services. Here now to talk about CNI and the work being done at clubhouses. Welcome Chris.
Chris Miller: Thanks so much, Rick.
Rick Sizemore: Tell us about CNI.
Chris Miller: CNI, which is Virginia’s Commonwealth Neurotrauma Initiative, was funded by the Virginia General Assembly in 1998 to fund research and services related to traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury.
Rick Sizemore: Chris, the CNI grant was involved in a nationwide study that looked at the effectiveness of clubhouse services for people with brain injuries. What can you tell us about that?
Chris Miller: Community Brain Injury Services led by Executive Director, Jason Young, received $448,000 over three years to evaluate the impact of brain injury clubhouses. DARS was really excited about this project, in part because Virginia has really been a leader in developing clubhouses for individuals with brain injury services. It really shows how important the services for folks with brain injury are in keeping them connected, keeping them healthy and building a community for folks.
Rick Sizemore: Chris, we have Jason on the line to talk about the study. Jason Young is the Executive Director of Community Brain Injury Services in Richmond. Jason, welcome to the podcast.
Jason Young: Hey Rick, thanks for having me. Pleasure to be here.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. So could you give us a brief overview of your services?
Jason Young: Community Brain Injury Services, we’re one of the nine state funded brain injury service providers in the Commonwealth of Virginia. We’re a nonprofit organization and we serve an 18 locality area here in Virginia that encompasses the Metro Richmond area all the way down to the Virginia Peninsula. We’ve been in operation since 1999. We operate two clubhouse services and an array of case management services all specifically geared to survivors of brain injury.
Rick Sizemore: So what is a clubhouse, and what’s the main goal in helping people with brain injury?
Jason Young: So clubhouses have been around for six, seven decades now, and it’s a predominant service model that developed as a client driven response to deinstitutionalization back in the fifties and sixties. So it’s a service model that’s been in wide use and continued in wide use, an international model for individuals with mental illness, and adapted to serve individuals with brain injury for about the last 20 years. And its primary purpose, I hate to gin it down to just one purpose because a clubhouse fills so many roles for persons that attend it, but I think its primary thing is to give members which we call our participants of the clubhouse, an opportunity to re-engage and re-participate, participate again as active members of their communities.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. Well Jason, we heard Chris Miller earlier talk about the CNI grant. What can you tell us about the study and what you learned about clubhouse services for people with brain injury?
Jason Young: Our organization received a CNI grant in 2017 to study essentially the efficacy of brain injury clubhouses. We have five clubhouses here in Virginia. They’re all well-developed, they’ve been in operation. Our Mill House program’s been in operation for 20 years and the other ones have all been in operation for 15 plus years. We’ve learned a lot of stuff, a lot of good stuff about what’s going on. So we had two university research partners, Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Massachusetts Medical School, who did the actual research on this. And we had eight clubhouse partners, the five here in Virginia, and then we had three outside Virginia clubhouses that participated.
Jason Young: We found first of all, a substantial reduction in hospitalization risk factors for our folks. So we had a substantial reduction in emergency room visits, acute hospitalization, a lot of reduction in things that cause folks to go in the hospital. So things like a reduction in falls and increased management of chronic conditions and management of the number of medications that they’re on as well. We also saw that they had showed reductions in depression scores, a reduction of the number of days mental and physical health are impairing, their ability to essentially live their life. And we also found that they had improvement in functional abilities, increased participation in home and community based activities as well.
Rick Sizemore: Absolutely awesome. The effect that these clubhouses are having in the lives of people with brain injury. We’re very fortunate and want to thank you for connecting us with Sheri from the Denbigh House who unfortunately had a car accident back in 2015. She’s a mother, a grandmother, formerly worked as a tax representative for Jackson Hewitt. She joins us now to give us her perspective on the clubhouses. And so we’d like to welcome Cherie to the podcast.
Sheri: Thank you so much. Looking forward to this.
Rick Sizemore: So could you tell us about your average day and what it’s like at the clubhouse? What kind of things do you do there?
Sheri: Okay. I guess pre-COVID was a little different. We have different sections. There’s a advocacy and outreach unit, a kitchen maintenance unit and then you have the communication unit, and each one has a separate function that kind of keeps things going. And we would go in and we would get tasks to do, whatever unit we were in. I was in advocacy and outreach. And we would do those tasks until about lunchtime. And then we would reconvene and do more things in the afternoon. And it was really great. Post-COVID, it’s been a lot different. We meet at 9:30 online virtually, a few people do go to the clubhouse, but I stay home. And it’s different now. I think for me, it’s been more engaging.
Rick Sizemore: So you’ve figured out how to navigate the pandemic and stay connected through the clubhouse virtually.
Sheri: Yes, absolutely. I think it’s the best thing they could have done for us that are at high risk.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. So you were engaged in a demanding career in the tax industry. You had this car accident, it changed your life and you’re involved in the clubhouse. What do you get out of the clubhouse on a daily basis? How does it make your life better?
Sheri: Oh, it’s incredible. When I first had my accident, I had kind of a medical snafu at the very beginning, so I didn’t get a lot of the traditional therapies. I got a minuscule amount and I was treading water. It was really bad. And someone suggested the clubhouse and I said, “Well, I’ll check it out.” And it changed my life. It gave me the tools I needed to go forward. I left early to go, I have a job and I had to go back to work. I need assistance on it now, I can’t by myself. But when that job ended, I came back to the clubhouse because it’s like just standing still. So it’s given me all the things that I’ve needed to explore new talents and try to move forward in a different world.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. You mentioned the clubhouse giving you a set of tools to work with. What are some of those things that have helped you the most?
Sheri: Well they had, at first, the daily task sheet. You fill it out and it’s divided AM, PM, morning and afternoon, and it has a certain number of little squares where you can put the job or the tasks that you were doing at the clubhouse. And what I did is I took one and made copies and brought it home and used it for the things I needed to do at home. They had things labeled at the clubhouse and I said, “Oh, well, good. That’s a good idea.” So I made signs so I could stay on routines because everything at the clubhouse is very routine and routine is better for, I guess, remembering what you need to do. And for a long time, I had signs hung everywhere.
Sheri: There’s also the social aspect. When a person gets a brain injury, there’s such a change. Some of it’s positive, some of it’s not. And for me, I had a personality change. My friends just vanished.
Rick Sizemore: Wow.
Sheri: And it’s been a big strain on my marriage. It is a life changer, it’s a game changer. And the clubhouse gives me that social interaction and positive reinforcement I need to be able to go out here in the world because when I had the accident, I basically had three jobs. The tax thing had just ended, so I was down to two jobs. And when I went back to work after the accident, one of the jobs I had people make fun of me and I was shocked. I’ve never experienced that.
Rick Sizemore: Jason, what else would you want people to know most about clubhouses in this study?
Jason Young: There is a tremendous need for community-based services for persons with brain injury. It’s the second largest disability population in the United States. But there’s just not a lot of dedicated services out there for them. And what we’ve found through this study is that the development of a quality ABI clubhouse in local communities can be a huge resource and a huge asset. Not just for persons that attend them, but also for their caregivers and for the community at large, to have one of these programs in operation to serve persons with brain injury in our communities.
Rick Sizemore: Jason Young is the Executive Director for Community Brain Injury Services in Richmond, Virginia. Thank you for being on the podcast today, Jason.
Jason Young: You’re welcome, Rick. It was my pleasure.
Rick Sizemore: March is the time to celebrate the great profession of social work during Social Worker Month. The theme for Social Worker Month 2021 is social workers are essential. Check the link in our show notes for more information from the National Association of Social Workers and socialworkers.org. It’s time for our national clearinghouse report with the always informative and entertaining Cherie Takemoto. Welcome to the podcast, Cherie.
Cherie Takemoto: Hey Rick. Thank you. And have you noticed that this is one year since the COVID-19 pandemic when everything shut down.
Rick Sizemore: One year. And we’re still keeping on
Cherie Takemoto: And life is as complicated as ever. And I thought this would be a good time for folks to revisit what choices they made when they had to suddenly pivot to online and think about what else is out there.
Rick Sizemore: What lessons have we learned?
Cherie Takemoto: I’ve provided several resources on providing remote services during the pandemic, including teleconferencing, remote delivery of services, and really some of those ethical considerations that we may not have paid close attention to at the beginning of all this.
Rick Sizemore: Those are very timely topics and it’s brain injury month.
Cherie Takemoto: Yes. And so for a change of pace, I’ve added info comic series on TBI and chronic pain so folks can look at that in a different way of seeing traumatic brain injury. And it’s also Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. So we’d like to encourage folks who work with people with developmental disabilities to help them make great decisions with motivational interviewing, to plan for their futures and think about college.
Rick Sizemore: And of course we can’t forget that it’s Rehabilitation Counselor Appreciation Month as well.
Cherie Takemoto: Yes. And every day is Rehabilitation Counselor Appreciation Month, at the NCRTM. And so we appreciate you and we send you all kinds of resources that are in our NCRTM library, that’s linked in the show notes. And, bonus topic.
Rick Sizemore: Bonus topic.
Cherie Takemoto: Bonus topic, next month is tax time. And this year it might be good news for people with disabilities who did not get their stimulus checks. So we’d share some taxes and tax preparation tips for people with disabilities, as well as remind folks that there are tax incentives for employers who hire people with disabilities.
Rick Sizemore: Cherie Takemoto leads the Rehabilitation Services Administration’s National Clearinghouse for rehabilitation training materials and has been podcasting with VR Workforce Studio since January, 2018. Thank you, Cherie.
Cherie Takemoto: Yay.
Rick Sizemore: Here’s Lynn Harris, Director of the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation.
Lynn Harris: 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, Daikin Applied, the Hershey Company, 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.
Announcer: The VR Workforce Studio podcast is owned and operated by the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation. The foundation publishes 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.