Episode 105 VR Workforce Studio
National Rehabilitation Counselor Appreciation Day with reflections from the front lines plus Lou Adams, National Rehabilitation Association President
Alvin: I didn’t have a disability until two years ago. So, I was thinking maybe it’s not a good fit for me. That’s the first thing I thought. But once I got here, I realized that I could learn a lot.
Steve Sweeney: Four…three..two….one…. VR Workforce Studio, podcasting the sparks that ignite vocational rehabilitation through the inspiring stories of people with disabilities who have gone to work.
Jered Lem: Tech Support this is Jered speaking how may I help you?
Rose Hilderbrand: I have a position at Masco Cabinetry.
Alfred McMillan: I’m a supervisor at Sedexo.
Steve Sweeney: 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.
Steve Sweeney: And the businesses who have filled their talent pipelines with workers that happen to have disabilities.
Debby Hopkins: To help expand registered apprenticeship.
Steve Sweeney: These are their stories.
Megan Healy: Because there is such a great story to tell about people with disabilities.
Steve Sweeney: Now here is the host of the VR workforce studio. Rick Sizemore.
Rick Sizemore: Rick Sizemore, along with Betsy Civilette, inviting you to join us for episode 105 of the VR Workforce Studio podcast.
Betsy Civilette: And Rick, March 22nd, we celebrate National Rehabilitation Counselor Appreciation Day.
Rick Sizemore: And Betsy, according to the Bureau of Labor statistics, they’re over a 100,000 rehabilitation counselors that work in the field today, helping people with physical, mental, developmental or emotional disabilities to live independently. Now that’s going on as our VR, or Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors, which number in the thousands across America, focus on the employment of people with disabilities.
Betsy Civilette: Well happy Appreciation Day to all of the hard working rehabilitation counselors out there. And Rick, I’m excited later in the show, I will be talking with Lou Adams, President of the National Rehabilitation Association. But before we get to Lou, in the big inspiration showcase, you have a guest who can help us to truly understand what rehab counselors do.
Theme music: Inspiration, inspiration, inspiration. Big. (music)
Rick Sizemore: Alvin Jones, is our guest in today’s big inspiration showcase. Alvin was employed in workforce development when a medical event changed his life. He’s now reshaping his career pathway and working toward industry recognized credentials in the Business Training Program at Wilson Workforce a Rehabilitation Center. Welcome to the podcast, Alvin.
Alvin: Thank you.
Rick Sizemore: It’s a pleasure to have you here today. How did you wind up at Wilson Workforce? Tell us the story.
Alvin: Well, it happened in January of 2020. I was at work one day. And I was on a phone call, and I started to feel kind of dizzy. And I couldn’t answer the latest questions. And then all of a sudden my right side just went numb. Then come to kind of find out I had a stroke, so it affected my whole right side.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah, but to see you now you appear to have made a full recovery.
Alvin: I was in inpatient therapy for six weeks, then I was released. I did outpatient therapy. It helped a lot. While I was in therapy, I worked real hard on just learning to walk again and my whole movements and learning to re-talk because it was hard at first. My mouth, it wouldn’t place right with words. So, I had really had to think about placing my mouth with the words that I said.
Rick Sizemore: You sound great now. That’s wonderful. So, why business training? You’re reshaping your career. What do you expect to get out of Wilson Workforce in this Business Training Program?
Alvin: In college, I minored in business and also with jobs that I had, I was always given speeches. I was always working on a computer with clients. I figured this business class will help me to better my speech for once because in class we do skits, we have to give presentations, we have to do phone calls. So that will help me with my speech when I decide to get a job. I just think that everything that the business class offers, it will help me strengthen the things that are weak right now. Whether I go into business or I go still helping people in the workforce.
Rick Sizemore: Tell us about some of those things. You say the things we’re doing in class, what you’re working for, what are some of the credentials you hope to achieve or some of the skills that you want to leave that class with?
Alvin: Right now, I’m working on credentialing for Microsoft Office. I have the one for Word, I’m working on one for Excel and Access and Outlook. And still my hand has mobility issues. My fine motor skill are lacking. So the typing within programs, it helps me. It helps me improve. Also, I think those credentialing will help me get a job because I can add them to my resume. And also like I said, the speech portion of it really helps me with doing the interactive one on one skits.
Rick Sizemore: That is great. And this classroom, it’s brand new. Some of the smart boards and some of the technology you’re using is really exciting. Can you tell us about some of that?
Alvin: Yeah. The smart board, that’s new to me because when I was in school, I didn’t use it, but I had some experience because out of college, I worked at elementary school for four years. So I got some experience using it, but I think that’ll help me in the workforce because I guess businesses now, they use technology. Those are things that I didn’t use before. So I’m learning a lot every day.
Rick Sizemore: So you’re evolving.
Rick Sizemore: In your business skills through voc rehab.
Rick Sizemore: Well, it’s National Rehabilitation Counselor Appreciation Day. March 22nd. We talk about rehabilitation counselors. Unless you’ve been in voc rehab, you may not even know about rehab counselors or what they do. We’d like to hear from you, as a person who’s on the front lines of voc rehab. What it was like working with your voc rehab counselor, Andrea Justice? What does she help you do? Tell us what she does.
Alvin: Yeah, it’s funny. Because I have some history with her because in my old jobs, I had to partner with her and we had the same clients. While I was in the hospital, she came to visit me. I did all the paperwork there. She made it a seamless process. So I didn’t have to worry about anything. She helped me get into Wilson, and once I leave, I’ll be working with her with helping get a job. So she works around all the process.
Rick Sizemore: So what are some of the specific things that she’s gotten you plugged into or ways that she’s helped you?
Alvin: Each time I finish a portion of the program, we have a team meeting with my teachers, my counselor here, and her. So she can suggest different things for me to do here that may improve my skills for the workforce.
Rick Sizemore: So she’s guiding this process from her office in Lynchburg. But staying in touch with the staff here about your progress toward goals?
Rick Sizemore: How did you set those goals with her? I mean, how did you get to a point you knew this was the right path?
Alvin: Because I’m familiar with Wilson a little bit, so I know some of the things that they offer, and I know that they can help me improve. If I stayed at home, I could do some things on my own, but here I know is interactive, face to face. I actually get to do it. So not only am I learning, I actually get to put those skills I learned into place in the classroom.
Rick Sizemore: Is there a point in this whole process of getting better where you said to Andrea, “I’m not sure I can do this.”
Alvin: I guess at the beginning I thought, “Well, maybe this is not for me. Maybe this is for people that never worked before or had a disability all their life.” Because I didn’t have a disability until two years ago. So I was thinking, “Maybe it’s not a good fit for me.” That’s the first thing I thought. But once I got here, I realized that I can learn a lot. This class, they meet you no matter where you at. Some people never had a job before, and some people like me was in the workforce and then had an unfortunate situation that caused them to have to learn everything again to try to get back into the workforce.
Rick Sizemore: It’s unique that you and Andrea knew each other before your stroke and that you’d worked in some of the same settings. What would you say about the way she integrates into the community to understand workforce and the network and people with disabilities and creating that pathway that you seek back into the workforce? What would you say about her understanding the community in the workforce?
Alvin: She understands because the main DARS office is in Lynchburg, but she deals with clients in Bedford county. Her office is in Bedford county, so she’s working with a community, she’s contacting employers to try to connect her clients with the employer. Just steady building a constant relationship with different businesses in that area. So when clients such as myself finish and we’re ready to get a job, she can have contacts to connect us to.
Rick Sizemore: If you were thinking about a year from now, when you finished voc rehab, and you’re back out there on the job, what do you see for yourself?
Alvin: Just getting back in the workforce and being able to use skills that I’ve learned. Because like I said, I come a long way, so just being proud of myself, being able to work again. Because it’s something about working and making your own income it just fulfills you as a person.
Rick Sizemore: We’re celebrating rehab counselors. What would you say the biggest influence she’s had on you would be?
Alvin: I would just say just believing in me. Because like I said, she met me in the hospital, and she was gung ho about getting me better and helping me get a job. So just the love that they have for the clients that want to see them succeed.
Rick Sizemore: Well that is excellent. What else would you say about Wilson Workforce and its ability to help someone who’s had a stroke or has some other disability to find their way into a real career?
Alvin: Like I said, the teachers here are great. Our whole classroom, you got people on different levels, people with different disabilities. And they’re able to take the same lesson and break it down for everyone’s learning capabilities and help us all learn the same thing but in a way that we learn best.
Rick Sizemore: Many of the people who listen to this podcast have not started voc rehab yet, or they may be a family member who’s listening to try to understand what all this is about. What would you say to someone who’s not been involved in voc rehab yet? What would you say to them out the potential of voc rehab to change someone’s life after disability and put them back to work?
Alvin: This program is great because it helps you see the things that you’re strong in. It helps you grow and know strengths, but also lets you know what some of your weakness are to help you work on that too. Being in that class, the first six weeks or so is an assessment. They may help you do that assessment. They’ll help you figure out if a career pathway is a good choice or perhaps is there a better career path for you. Some career path that you may not have thought about. They’ll help you figure that out.
Rick Sizemore: Alvin Jones is in the Wilson Workforce Rehabilitation Center Business Training School, planning his career back into the Central Virginia area in business. It’s been a pleasure to have you on our podcast today, Alvin.
Alvin: All right, thank you. Glad to be here.
Rick Sizemore: Meet Heather Servais. The new director of RSA National Clearinghouse for Rehabilitation Training Materials.
Heather Servais: Going back to work can feel intimidating. I’m getting to work with many, many, many, many people and share these amazing resources with folks who are out there doing this important work.
Rick Sizemore: And Sean lands his dream job of teaching information technology.
Sean: I’ve always wanted to teach. So it’s definitely a big dream.
Rick Sizemore: I hear an accomplishment in the background.
Sean: Yeah, that’s my son.
Rick Sizemore: Hear the complete story at vrworkforcestudio.com or on your favorite app.
Rick Sizemore: You’ve heard George Dennehy on this podcast before, the armless guitarist. He’s releasing a new song and music video called Work Makes the World Go Round.
Song: Work makes the world go round.
Rick Sizemore: Premier during CSAVRs upcoming spring conference and on this podcast next month.
Betsy Civilette: Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing Lou Adams, who is the new president of the National Rehabilitation Association. Lou, you have a very diverse background in VR with 30 years of experience, including serving as bureau director and deputy director for Michigan’s Rehab Services Agency, national training director for the Consortia of Administrators for Native American Rehabilitation, Training, and Technical Assistance Manager for the National Disability Institute, and a social sector consultant working with independent living, higher education in South Korea. I want to hear more about that, but first I’d like to welcome you, Lou, to the VR Workforce Studio Podcast.
Lou Adams: Thank you, Betsy. It’s pleasure to be here.
Betsy Civilette: Great. You have recently taken over the role of president of the National Rehabilitation Association, which I understand will be turning 100 in 2023. How long have you been involved in the association, and what roles have you held?
Lou Adams: I’ve been a member of the associations I don’t know how many years, probably too many to remember. I haven’t been involved in the National Association very much, but I was involved and was on the board of the Michigan Rehabilitation Association. The last year I spent as president elect, which was a learning period for me under then president Dr. Rebecca Sametz, and that was a great learning opportunity to get right into it and to begin to understand all the nuances of the National Rehabilitation Association.
Betsy Civilette: Well, great. Well tell us a little bit more about the NRAs Mission, it’s organizational structure and functions.
Lou Adams: Sure. The National Rehab Association is the oldest professional member organization in the United States that advocates for the rights of individuals with disabilities. We actually go back to the founding of the Public Vocational Rehabilitation Act, known as a Smith Fess Act, also known as a Civilian Vocational Rehabilitation Act, going back to 1920. We’ve been around for a long time, having influence early on, even before we were in association. Some of our early members had influence on the act. And as you mentioned, we’re going to be celebrating our 100th anniversary.
Lou Adams: So National Rehab Association’s different from some of the other membership associations that are out there in that we don’t specialize in one particular occupation, I guess I’d say. We are a diverse group of counselors, administrators, job developers, vocational evaluators, educators, researchers, and a diverse group that others that are working with community integration and employment for people with disabilities.
Lou Adams: In terms of our structure, we have the National Rehabilitation Association Board. We have an executive committee as well. We have a number of different committees, but basically the structure is made up between divisions, regions, and chapters. And our divisions are kind of the specialty areas, the communities of interest. We have, for example, the Rehab Counselor and Education Association, which is the largest division within NRA. We have NAMRC, the National Association Multicultural Rehab Concerns, which addresses issues related to diversity both in terms of all aspects of the intersectionality of diversity, including of course disability. The job placement division that works on those specialists that are helping people with disabilities getting employment. Just goes on and on, 12 of them. I could through the list, but you can probably see those on our website, but something for everybody.
Lou Adams: If you’re a private rehab provider, if you’re a rehab technician or specialist, if you’re a leader within rehab, if you’re a vocational evaluator or a vocational rehabilitation program evaluator, there’s a place for you at NRA. And of course our transition division working with youth. So those are our divisions, and within the country we have seven regions. So we have the divisions that are kind of specialty areas. We have the regions of the country, and then within each of the seven regions, there are state chapters that perform similar kind of work and follow the mission of National Rehabilitation Association in their state and local areas.
Betsy Civilette: Great. Well, what is in store in 2022 for NRA members under your leadership? How are you going to provide value to your membership?
Lou Adams: Well, that’s a great question. And the board’s working hard on that. We’ve had a number of things. We have a strategic plan that we’ve been working on and maybe in some ways more of an operational plan because it’s kind of cleaning some things up, getting ready to move into our hundredth year. So for example, we’re doing a lot of work behind the scenes on our website to get it so that it’s more up to date and pleasing and able to help us meet the needs of our members. We’re having some restructuring of some of our fiscal operations. We used to have a national office, we’re more virtual now with people from across the country that are working with us and serving on the board and providing supports to National Rehabilitation Association.
Lou Adams: But really there’s two reasons people join a membership organization. They join for the professional development networking part, and they also join for having an impact on the field. And those are the things that we’re emphasizing. How can we create more value by meeting those two important needs for people? So we’re looking at additional training options for our staff, sorry for our members. And we’re looking at new engagement methods for them, both in terms of public policy with our public policy committee, our social media committee, and also in terms of mentoring and leadership and those kinds of things. So that people who join National Rehabilitation Association are not just members, but their advocates, and their people that are making a difference. That’s the kinds of things that we’re focusing on in this next year.
Lou Adams: The other areas is in collaboration. There’s a ton of the diverse group of people out there that have mutual interests. And we believe that collaborating together, we can have mutual benefit. We can all help parts of our missions. There may be areas where we’re not quite aligned, but in those areas we’re aligned. We want to make sure that we’re doing that together and having a larger impact by joining our forces, getting our members out there, making contacts with legislators and advocating in states for people with disabilities, being involved. We can get a lot more done if we work together. That’s part of the focus for us.
Betsy Civilette: Well, absolutely. That was actually my next question. What are some of the other disability focused organizations and associations that you partner with?
Lou Adams: We do a lot of partnering with CSAVR the Counselor State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation the American Native, and some of the other organizations that have kind of dual missions of working with people with disabilities and LGBT groups, and those kinds of things with our NAMRC group. We’re working with the VR Rehabilitation Counselor Coalition, which is a group of different organizations that work with people, work support, vocational rehabilitation. Working with CRCC or the credentialing organization, the rehab leadership forum, a group of leaders in Vocational Rehabilitation that are looking at the future and the kind changes we need to have. And we will partner with anyone that wants to partner with us to make things better for people with disabilities.
Betsy Civilette: Well, that’s wonderful to hear. Lastly, as a seasoned VR professional, what are your thoughts on the future of VR in general?
Lou Adams: I was thinking about this in anticipation of the podcast. And I remember my first day on the job fresh out of graduate school, and a person that has remained a friend to this day, some 35, 40 years later, a person I didn’t know at the time saying, “Which kind of person are you, Lou?” And I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “If people come into this job for one of two reasons: to serve people or to serve the system. Which are you going to do? Are you going to serve people? Are you going to serve the system?” I said, “I’m going to serve people first, but I’m going to serve the system as well because that’s where funding comes from. And that’s what the kinds of things we need to do.” And I think we’re at a crossroads with that.
Lou Adams: I talk to rehab counselors, and I talk to administrators across the country. I talk with federal policy makers and with the Rehab Services Administration. And there’s a real sense now that Vocational Rehabilitation, private and public, are being bogged down by all of the demands for data and all of the demands for documentation that’s required, which is needed. But it’s gotten to the point where the scales need to be tipped back a little bit towards serving individuals, actual people that are struggling and want to do better and want to have jobs and want to have access to their community. We need to focus more on that and find a way of changing policy so that we’re only kind of reporting and recording what we need or helping states and organizations, leadership, so that they can figure out new ways of staffing so that the people that do the evaluations and the people that do the placement and the people that do the vocational rehabilitation counseling are able to do what their expertise is and what their training is rather than doing some of the documentation and the recording of things that happened.
Lou Adams: I mean, quality management learned a long time ago that you can’t improve performance through compliance, through checking on things and going back and checking on things. You have to do it right the first time, you have to do it in a professional way the first time, and we need to let our professionals be professional. So that’s one of the things me, myself and others are looking at in terms of how we can if not influence policy or regulations in the law, then help administrators leaders to find innovative ways of making that happen.
Lou Adams: That’s one of the things I see in the future, one of the challenges that we have. We have dwindling funding as well. We have competition getting and retaining talented staff, but we are problem solvers at the base of it. Rehabilitation counselors and the evaluators, anybody works with disabilities and people with disabilities themselves are problem solvers. They find a way to get through it. They find a way of building coalitions. And that’s what we’re about at the National Rehabilitation Association.
Betsy Civilette: Right. Well, you have a lot of work ahead of you it sounds like, but it’s wonderful, impactful work. Thank you for sharing your insights with us today. And how can people find you. I’m sure you’re looking for volunteers certainly for the association.
Lou Adams: Absolutely. Well, they can contact me at presidentatnationalrehab.org, and they can go to our website, nationalrehab.org, and that’s a good place to get started. We have membership applications on there. We have a number of different kinds of membership. We have membership for students, retirees, and the whole gamut. You can take a look at the divisions we have and see which ones might be of interest to you. And if you’re a leader and you belong to another association, you can create linkages with us, and we can find ways of working together.
Betsy Civilette: Great. We’ll have that information in the show notes as well. So thank you, Lou Adams, for us. He is president of the National Rehabilitation Association.
Lou Adams: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Rick Sizemore: It’s time for our National Clearinghouse, with the always entertaining and informative Heather Servais. Welcome to the podcast, Heather.
Heather Servais: Rick, thanks for having me. It’s great to be back.
Rick Sizemore: We’re all celebrating here in the VR Workforce Studio, as it is National Rehabilitation Counselor Appreciation Day.
Heather Servais: Today we celebrate rehabilitation counselors and all of the amazing work you do in the field, changing lives and making a difference for people with disabilities every single day. We see you. We thank you. And we appreciate you.
Betsy Civilette: Very well said, Heather.
Rick Sizemore: You’ve got some great resources for us today. What’s up?
Heather Servais: I sure do. If you have never worked with a VR counselor before, or you’re not quite sure all of the amazing things a VR counselor could do to help you, there was a great video that was produced by the SPAN Parent Advocacy Network that shows families, young adults with disabilities, and professionals how to really understand and utilize the VR program and how a VR counselor can really impact the lives of people with disabilities through employment. So highly recommend you tune into that video, if you’re considering working with VR or with a VR rehabilitation counselor.
Heather Servais: I also have another video because we heard in the podcast a little bit more about assistive technology. And so Open Doors for Multicultural Families created a wonderful two video series on assistive technology. The first covers different types of assistive technologies. And the second part really focuses on alternative and augmentative communication, accessible apps and adapted computer inputs. So I highly recommend these two videos. If you’re just getting into the assistive technology world and want to learn a little bit more about options for you or a loved one.
Heather Servais: Then the last resource that I have, since it’s Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness month in March, there’s an information brief that was created by VR Tech for Quality Employment, or VRTAC-QE, that was recently released that shows their studies of 25 to 87% of inmates have experienced a head injury or TBI while they were incarcerated. So if you’re a VR counselor who works with people who have been involved in the criminal justice system, this information brief will give you a lot of information and resources to help you learn to screen for TBI and to learn how to work with these individuals when they’re on your caseload.
Rick Sizemore: Heather’s service leads our National Clearinghouse of Rehabilitation Training Materials joins us each month with a report. Thank you, Heather.
Heather Servais: My pleasure, Rick.
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. We thank all of our partners in podcasting who made this episode possible: Aladdin Foods Management, fueling students, community and culture; the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation, bringing talent to America’s workforce for 100 years; CVS Health, revolutionizing the consumer health experience; and the Hershey Company, named to CNBC’s list of America’s most just companies. You can find out more about becoming a sponsor at wwrcf.org, or find our contact information in the show notes at vrworkforcestudio.com.
Rick Sizemore: You can always find another exciting episode as we podcast the sparks that ignite vocational rehabilitation here at the VR workforce studio. Until next time, I’m Rick Sizemore.
Announcer: The VR Workforce Studio Podcast is owned and operated by the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation. The foundation publishes and distributes the VR Workforce Studio and manages all sponsor arrangements. Audio content for the podcast is provided to the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation by the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services in exchange for promotional considerations.