Show Notes for the Brian Evans Story
Rick Sizemore is the Director of the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Rick’s Contact info: email@example.com @rickwwrc 540-332-7214
Anne Hudlow is the Director of the WWRC Foundation. Anne’s Contact info: firstname.lastname@example.org WWRCF.org
Scott Dunnell, Director of Marketing and Strategic Alliances at CRCC: 847-944-1304; e-mail at sdunnell@CRCcertification.com.
Special thanks for Sally Murphy (vocals) and Richard Adams (recording and production) of the VR Workforce Jingle, composed by Rick Sizemore. Other music used with permission from Audio Hero.
Transcribed by Evelina Mack, reviewed by Sarah Donkers – Business and Information Technology.
Transcript of the podcast follows:
This is the VR workforce studio, inspiration, education and affirmation “AT WORK”. The workforce and disability employment podcast from the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center, a Division of the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services. The VR Workforce Studio is published by our Foundation at wwrcf.org and is available in iTunes and at vrworkforcestudio.com. You are listening to the VR Workforce Studio.
Brian: And so to anybody with a disability, you’re exceptional. So when you look at these – these obstacles that come in your life, don’t look at them like, “Oh my gosh, this is too much to overcome.” Look at yourself and say that, “I can overcome this because I am a human.” You know, that, “I’m an exceptional species, that I’m able to overcome an unmovable object. When I do do this, I can look back at myself and say that I am amazing.” And that the way you know you’re amazing is over only by what you overcome, not by the things that go your way.
People singing: VR Workforce Studio.
Rick: On today’s episode of the VR workforce studio: I hate it when people say I’m only Human: The Brian Evans Story. Hi I’m Rick Sizemore, director of the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center.
Anne: And I’m Anne Hudlow, director of the WWRC Foundation and together we are bringing you the inspiring and sometimes unbelievable success stories of vocational rehabilitation.
Rick: We’re celebrating the journeys of those brave and unstoppable individuals with disabilities, who show us all that they are willing to do whatever it takes to overcome the obstacles to independence and employment. And taking a closer look at how vocational rehabilitation provides the supports and assistance needed for success in disability employment.
Anne: And Rick no disability employment story can be complete without the champions of business and industry that hire individuals with disabilities …
Rick: … or the professional rehabilitation counselors who have dedicated their lives and careers to helping individuals with disabilities to lead more productive and fulfilling lives while building up the workforce. Tracy Topolosky is a certified rehabilitation counselor, and joins us as part of the inspiration showcase today to discuss her important work with Brian.
Tracy: Thank you, Rick. Good to be here.
Anne: And later on today’s show, we have a special guest from the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification. Or as, uh, Tracy might say, the CRCC. Scott Dunnell is here to talk about the national organization that certifies rehabilitation counselors to do this great work. Welcome Scott.
Scott: Thank you. It’s a real pleasure to be here and I’m really looking forward to hearing Brian’s story.
Rick: Brian is standing by what an amazing story of his near death motorcycle accident and the road to recovery, vocational rehabilitation and his new perspective on life, not only an individual with a disability but as the “human who defines success by moving immovable objects.” Simply unbelievable. All of this on today’s episode – I hate it when people say I’m only Human: The Brian Evans Story.
Anne: Here in the VR Workforce Studio.
Rick: Brian Evans is currently employed at the Bank of America as an Business Consultant, and spends much of his time talking with business owners who bank at Bank of America. He was bound for the Olympics as a star athlete in younger life, until unanticipated medical complications prevented his pursuits, and he became focused on the banking industry. With a beautiful family, good job and a prosperous path to the future, tragedy struck unexpectedly, and Brian became one of the almost 60 million people in America to have a disability. Brian, welcome to the podcast.
Brian: Thank you for having me.
Rick: Brian, let’s get started with a discussion about your- your disability. What’s your story?
Brian: So, July First of 2015, uh, I was celebrating. I just got promoted at my job. Ah, I was becoming the V.P., um, business consultant. So excited, got all my – my friends together. We going out, was going to go celebrate. Um, I was like, “Everybody, let’s go to a restaurant. I’m treating.” Um, and I ride a motorcycles. So I was debating, “Do I want to take my motorcycle or do I want to drive my truck?” And so I chose my motorcycle. I called one of my motorcycle buddies, we went down there, and we had a ball. The problem was that one of my motorcycle friends was, ah, drinking, and we said we don’t do that. But he drunk so much to the point the police did told me, “Hey, did you ride up here with him?” And I was like, “Yeah.” And he was like, “Listen, if he gets on his motorcycle, we’re – we’re going to lock him up. So, um, if you can, can you make sure he doesn’t get on that bike?” So I go over there and I tell him. I was like, “Hey man, what are you doing? You can barely stand. Why you –why you, like, plastered like that?” He was just like, “Man, I’m okay. You know, the police said they’d give me a ride home.” I was like, “They gonna give you a ride, but it’s not going be home.” So I was just like, “Look, man. Let me take your bike home then, you know, you just ride with one of my friends, and that’d probably the safe thing to do.” And he was like, “Naw, man. I got it. You know how I do if I get – if I get, you know, on the bike and they chase me, I’m gonna run.” And I’m looking at him; he can’t stand up, he can barely keep his posture. I was like, “Okay, let me see your keys. Let me get something out your bike.” And I just took his bike, and I got him a ride home. And then we got to his house and he was like, “Man, I’m so sorry. You’re such a good big brother. Yeah, thank you so much.” And I was like, “Dude, you can’t do that because you might end up dead or paralyzed, man. Like, you gotta be careful and take care of yourself.” He’s like, “I’m so sorry.” And I was just like, “Eh; just – just watch yourself.” And then I got back to my bike. At his point it’s about 2:30 in the morning. Uh, just, the restaurant is closed and the police officer is out there like, “That’s a great job, what you did. Man, God bless you. You know, that’s such a good thing.” I was like, “I’d do that for a stranger, man. I’m not gonna let them ride home drunk like that. Like, thank you for letting me know.” And they were like, “Have a good night, man. God bless.” And I was like, “God bless you too.” I jumped on my bike by myself. I never ride by myself. And, um, on my way home, I’m jumping on Interstate 64. I did not get one mile away from the restaurant. And I woke up underneath a guardrail. Have no clue what happened. Don’t know if somebody hit me, don’t know if my tire blew, don’t know if a deer jumped. Have no idea what happened, and I look and I see my bike on the highway. And I’m like, “Huh. How’d that happen?” I was like, “Let me get up!” And I’m like looking in the guardrails over top of me and I couldn’t move. My legs wouldn’t move, my hands wouldn’t move, I just started crying. And, you know, I was like, “God, no!” Like, you know, “Why? I was trying to save someone else’s life! How is this happening?” And, you know, that was the start. That’s how it happened. That was the night that my life changed.
Rick: What happened in the days following your accident?
Brian: Alright. So, um, I make it to MCV, I was in MCV-ICU, um, MCV-VCU, um, depending on who you ask. Um, I was in ICU. They were, you know, reluctant on doing the surgery because there was so much swelling and things going on, it was like, “We cannot operate on him as soon as he comes in here. Let’s see if he survives and, you know, a day or two later, we’re going to do surgery.” So I have no idea I was out for, like, two to three days. Um, I was told that, like, the whole city of Richmond was up in MCV, like, praying for me and everybody was just hugging me and holding on to me and just, you know, just hoping that I get better. Um, I was blessed enough that MCV-VCU has amazing surgeons and I think it was, like, 34 people that were working on me doing the surgery. And they came and met my wife and held her hand told her, “We’re going to do everything we can to save his life.” And not to worry. Um, what happened was that, uh, I was, uh, I broke my neck. I was a C6-C7 spinal injury. Um, I broke my femur bone. Um, that was coming out my leg, protruding out my leg. And I broke my knee, um, and I got nerve damage all along the right side of my body because I slid on the right side of my body. Um, and they saved my life. Like I said, they – they were amazing surgeons, um, they put me back together, and, you know, I thank God for these guys and women that were working in MCV-VCU. And, like I said, once again, my life started brand new all over again.
Anne: So this was truly a near death experience?
Brian: Oh yeah, yeah. Um, I literally, they didn’t say how many times I – I – I came here and left and came here, but I think it was along the tunes of maybe twice, that I died and came back. They didn’t have to resuscitate me. It was just, like, even my heart was faint, it wasn’t there, it’d come back. You know, it was like I was fighting alone myself. Like it wasn’t the situation they’d come in there and defibrillate me, but, ah, they said I was leaving and coming back. You know what, I’ll be honest with you, my experience, you know, they say when you die you see lights, it gets bright. It wasn’t that. It was like – it was like a movie that kept on cutting to black and then it would come back and then, you know, cut to black again and then it’ll come back and then I was just like, “What’s going on?” The next thing I know, the last – the first thing I remember was the Fourth of July and I was looking out and all my family is around and I was on the top floor and I saw fireworks. You know, and it was just like, “Wow!” Like, “How many days was I gone?” I mean, it was like, “About two days. This is the second day. You just came out of surgery and, you know, they – they saved you.” And I’m – I’m telling you, like, trau – traumatic experiences like that change the way you look at life completely. Like, you know, um, not to be too long winded about it. You know, I was very successful at Bank of America. I was, like, a very good performer. Um, they flew me to Florida, flew me to Texas, um, you know, uh on – on the company car. You know, doing all of that. And I’m thinking, “Man, I’m moving up in there for 10 years and finally it’s starting to pay off. You know, all the hard work is really starting to manifest. “ And you know, I really thought I had it together. You know, it’s funny if you want to make God laugh, you tell him your plans. You know, because you have no clue what you’re in store for. So when this happened, and it was like I almost died, like, two times. I’m like, “What did I accomplish in life? Like, really?” You know, like, I have a nice house, a beautiful family. You know, but, you know God blessed me with so many other things and, you know, I used that to – to –to for – for, you know; physical, material things and it’s like, you know, life is so much more than material, physical things. It’s – it’s a lot deeper, and if you leave, and that was what you were focusing on, that’s just what you did. Nothing. You know, nobody remembers that. So, when I thought about how close I was to death, you know, I was just like, “Wow; I really wasted my life.” Like people say, “Yeah, you have a successful life, Brian! You did good!” But, when you almost die and you look back and you look at your body of work, the best thing I had was my family, my children, and how much time I invest in them. You know, I was working, you know, talking to clients, talking to business owners. I gave them more time than I gave the things God blessed me with. And so it made me really look at myself a lot. I had a lot of time.
Rick: So many people in your situation, Brian, can remember a psychological low. It seems like this experience was more of a psychological awakening?
Brian: It was. Now, I will agree with you. It was a low because, you know, if you’ve been living 35 years. At that time I was 35. Um, if you live for 35 years one way and then all of that changes, it’s – it’s – it does a lot to your physiological view of life, and it’s like, “Man, I can’t walk. I can’t even use my hands. I can’t feed myself.” And all that stuff starts feeding into your mind and you’re like, “What am I going to do? Like, who’s going to love me now? Like, is my wife going to stay by me?” Like, I’m thinking these things, I was blessed enough to have a wife to stand by me but you don’t know how shallow people may be in this world. And, you know, these things run through your mind and you’re looking in the hospital and, you know, people visit you and it’s like everybody is there and they’re like, “Oh what are you going to do, Brian? Oh my gosh! You know, I can’t believe this happened! You’re such a good guy!” And you start buying into that, like, “Why did this happen to me? I am a good guy.” And it’s like, that’s where the low comes from. But, you know, I’m – I’m – I’m – I’ve prayed a lot and I believe in God and um, you know, I thank God that God has been rooted in my soul. So it’s like when everybody is gone or when all of the people holding your hand are gone, it’s just you. And your head is just talking to God like, “What am I going to do next?” And I’ll be honest, this is – this is really a conversation I had with God and I’ll share it. I was talking to God, I was like, “God, you know, um – um – um I’m tall, dark, and handsome. That’s gone. I’m no longer tall, dark, and handsome. Ah- ah- ah I don’t know how I am gonna keep my job and, you know, I – I can’t walk any more. I coach baseball and football with all the kids. What will I do with these kids? They’re looking for me to help them and I can’t do any of that stuff.” And God said, “The most important thing that I gave you, you still have. You still have your voice, you still have your ability to articulate how you feel, you still have your heart, you can still see, can still hear. What’s your problem? Like, you don’t need any of that stuff to accomplish to accomplish what I have you here to do.” And when I heard that, I was like, “Wow! You know, that’s true. You know, if I lost my voice or if I lost my mind, that would’ve been one thing. But I didn’t lose that. Just lost legs and hands and, you know, those things you can compensate for.” So it’s just, like, when I realized that, it kind of sobered me, it kind of relaxed me when I was going through my depression, which everybody goes through. It’s – it’s human to do that. So that’s – that’s how I – that first started, the transition, you know, grasping this thing.
Rick: Let’s continue from here to the place where the road to recovery and physical as well as vocational rehabilitation started.
Brian: ICU, I was in ICU. They were getting ready to, um, you know, release me from there. I was there for, like, 11 days, I think. If I’m not mistaken, I was there for 11 days. So, like, “Brian, what’re you going to do next? Um, you know, you need to do some rehab immediately. Um, you know, there’s these places you can go. You got, you know, Sheppard’s Center in Atlanta, and then you got us downstairs. It’s, like, Sheppard’s Center , they got a long waiting list and you really don’t want to go without, you know, rehab right after. You want to go straight into it. So what do you want to do?” So I was like, “I guess I got to go to MCV Rehab.” So they took me downstairs. Um, you know, they wanted to make sure that my mind was sound because I had a lot of trauma to the head. But like I said, God blessed me, saved me the things that I needed the most. So the – the vocational part, this is the funniest part about it all. I cleared that the fastest. Like, I had to do speech; I had to do, um, you know, occupational, and I had to do physical therapy. And the speech, I did that in, like, two days. You know, the first day they were down there, they were concerned because I was on so many pain meds and I was under so much medication it was like, “Is he okay?” But it was just that they caught me when I was tired and I was on a lot of medication. I wasn’t used to all that medication, but I past speech and that was the thing that kind of confirmed that, “Yeah, you did preserve the most important part of me.” You know, what I love the most to do is talk, which you’ll realize as we go on. Um, the – the physical therapy part and the occupational therapy part, was rough. I was super weak. I was – if you lay down on your back for 14 days and don’t do anything, it’s amazing how quickly your body deteriorates. It’s– it’s amazing. I lived in a gym, I worked out all the time, and I could literally not hold my head up longer than, like, 20 seconds without, you know, my neck hurting. It was like, “What’s going on?” It couldn’t have been the neck trauma but still how weak my body was it – it was, once again it took me to some lows, because it kind of shocked me. Like, it showed me how defenseless I was. I felt vulnerable, I felt weak, I felt like I couldn’t protect myself. You know, and before the accident I was a guy that, you know, I saw any type of injustice I felt the need to step in there and do something, you know, emotionally, physically, something. I just felt like I was a protector, and I felt like I needed to be protected. So, you know, going through that part, the physical therapy, the occupational therapy feels really, like, hard at the beginning because I didn’t have a lot to work with. You know, um, OT I did not know how to use my hands. Um, so literally everything I had to do from scratch, starting over. Um, I needed a lot of adaptive equipment. Um, I needed a lot of, um, like, nurse assistance. You know, I wasn’t used to that. So having a stranger in your face, like, all the time was kind of like, you know, it –it humbled me number one, but it also got a – got in the way of a lot of my pride and, like, a lot of my ego. You know, you – you feel very, you know, independent and when that’s taken away from you, you know, you kind of don’t really have a lot of pride inside of you anymore. You know, you got a person undressing you, you got a person dressing you, you know, all of these things happen and you’re like, you know, um, “I feel like a grown baby!” You know, I felt like an adult baby and, you know, it took a lot to get over that. You know, so the occupational, vocational part. The vocational the- the speech part was quick, the physical and occupational therapy part was a journey. It started really rough at the beginning.
Anne: And that journey brought you to the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center, sometimes called WWRC, and by our former name Woodrow Wilson.
Brian: Thank God. I’m not going to lie, I heard about you guys and it was, like, they – they said, “Woodrow Wilson.” and I was like, “Oh; what’s that?” They was like, “Well that’s a place in Virginia, out in the mountains, that they do amazing work.” And I was like, “Oh; wow! Out in the mountains?” I was like, “Well, let’s do that then!” They were like, “Well you go through DARS and, you know, there’s a waiting list, there’s a lot of people that want to go there and stuff.” And it was just a whole lot. I felt like this Sheppard’s Center situation. Like, you’re not going to get there right now. Plus you have to heal. You can’t go there right now because you’re just way too bad off right now. But they – they did bring that up to me. But I’ll tell you – I’ll tell you how awesome God is. Um, I went to MCV, I was there for three months, and then I still wanted to do physical therapy and stuff, so they put me in a nursing home that, um, had physical therapy there. So I was there for 30 days, then I abruptly got kicked out of there because the insurance is like, “Oh; we can’t pay for this.” So they sent me home and I wasn’t ready for that. So, when I was home, we weren’t really set up for me to be there. My family wasn’t really trained good on how to take care of a quadriplegic. Um, it was rough. I started getting depressed. Ah, I mean, it was a toll on my family. My wife, she was, you know, thinking, “I don’t know if I can do this.” My kids, they were looking at me like, “Oh! What’s wrong with dad?” It was just – it was very hard, but here’s how God works. My mother-in-law found Tracy’s number. I don’t know how they got her number, um, but I called her and I was like, “Hey, I really want to go here.” And she grabbed that thing by the horns and reached out to my – my counselor in Richmond, who’s also – also a very amazing woman, Rebecca, and they worked together, and they got me here in, like, 30 days. Like, from me not knowing what I was going to do to coming to Woodrow Wilson in 30 days. And when I got here, oh my gosh. It – it was like – it was like a second chance at life. And the only reason I say that is because, um, everybody here is, you know, dealing with some type of, you know, disability, and when they see you they don’t look at you like you’re quadriplegic. They just look at you like another client, just another person here, and it feels normal here. I’m normal, I want to say I’m – I’m not saying because I’m not normal, but I didn’t want to go out in public, I didn’t like being around crowds, I was very, like, I’m a very outspoken person, I’m a very, you know, mix it up with everybody type of person. After the accident, I was none of that and it took me coming here to get back into being myself.
Anne: And you’re back.
Brian: I’m back, I am. I’m Brian five point O, actually, because, you know, when you go do stuff like that, you learn how to deal with, um, you know; rejection, stress, abandonment. You know, these things you didn’t know how to deal with when everything was – when you had the world, you know, in your hands. Like, you know, I’m in the prime of my life. Everything was working for me and then we had to relearn all that stuff, you really see how life can be. How cold it can be. You know, overcoming that makes you way – a much better person. I’m a much better person.
Rick: Let’s talk about your job and what were you doing before the accident and what about employment after disability.
Brian: Um, I’m a business consultant for Bank of America. I started out as a small business consultant, which mean my, um, my – my business owners would do anything 50 thousand in processing a year to about I think it was three million. That was my max that I could deal with as far as your processing value. When I say processing value, I’m a business consultant with merchant services. Anything that you do with a business that requires a credit card payment, somebody has to set you up so you can accept Visa, Master Card, Discovery, American Express, um, and it’s normally through banks or through, ah, vendor’s that also offer, like, card services. So what I did was very important for Bank of America. Um, I started out with that, um, came in there. I was always working in mortgages. I’ve been a realtor for – since 2002. Um, did a lot of real estate with Bank of America, Wachovia. Um, I worked for the City of Richmond once upon a time. Uh, a lot of real estate …type of work. Somebody saw me doing this like, “You’re a real good talker. You should come over here and – and do merchant services because, you know, it’s about relationship building and when a person trusts you, they normally bring their money over to Bank of America. Like, yeah we can use you.” So they talked me into doing it and I turned out to be one of the best. Like, I was the rookie of the year. Everybody is like, “Oh my gosh! Who is this guy?” You know, and it was just once again what I said before. God gave me an ability to –to –to talk to people and really get personable with people. You didn’t feel like you were talking to the bank, you felt like you were talking to, you know, somebody that you’ve known all your life, even if I talk to you for five minutes. So that’s what made me excel at being a –a business consultant. Um, speed it up about two years later, you know, I – I did so good that they wanted to promote me to, ah, like, the upper tier, which is three million above. It’s very demanding; it’s very, you know, goal driven; but that’s how that job works and that’s something that I pride myself at being successful at and, ah, actually excelling at. Um, after the accident happened, my job loves me so much, I’ve been there for 10 years, I know literally everybody at Bank of America Corporate. Um, they were only supposed to hold my job for only three months so I’m FMLA. They didn’t want me to lose my job so they put me on leave of absence for a year and people were working, you know, hours so that I can keep my benefits. You know, they were working so that I can keep getting commissions, they were giving deals to me while I was in the hospital, people were donating money, you know, to Bank of America. We had a bake sale. Um, people were buying cupcakes for $500. Yeah, seriously, it was – I –I – I got so blessed and they held my job for a year and ironically, I’m coming back on the first of July ready. Thanks to Woodrow Wilson, I’m totally ready and I’m not able to do what I did because they filled that position unfortunately. So I’m no longer a Vice-President –I’m an Assistant Vice-President. Um, which is just a title. You know, I can work my way back up, but I got a chip on my shoulder. So it’s like now I got to come back and show them how you do it, you know, Assistant Vice President. I’m still a business consultant. I don’t know exactly where my threshold of clients is going to be. They’re probably going to be fifty thousand back to three million again. Um, but who knows? I might be able to talk to more, um, higher value, um, processing clients. I just want to come up in there. Um, I made so many new improvements with my own self, spiritually and – and within myself, that I’m ready for whatever, you know, comes my way know and I think that when I come up in there, not only because of my circumstances I’ll inspire other people to be better, but I’ll show myself perseverance and –and a positive atta – attitude.
Anne: Brian, what kinds of vocational rehabilitation, assistive technology, or accommodations did you need to get back to work?
Brian: Okay, you guys figured out for me that Dragon Dictate would be huge for me because, um, because my hands, I’m not able to write and, um, you do need to write down what you’re talking to the clients about, um, and – and do it pretty fast. So I’ve been using Dragon Dictate, um, which is like a dictate software. Um, you speak into it, it types down, you know, what you’re saying. Um, I’m also using, um, well, DARS came with me to do a worksite evaluation and he looked at the offices. He said they require me to have an office that has a door because my office didn’t have a door, but for background noises to- to drown it out. I needed it to be isolated and quiet so the Dictate can learn my voice. So I’m going to get an office with a door, which don’t have a problem with that. Um, they’re going to give me a desk that raises and lowers. Uh, we’re going to work on the doors having an automatic opener, like the chute you hit and it’ll open up on its own. Um, the bathroom door is a little bit different just because the building is, um, a corporate building. So it’s kind of hard to, um, manipulate the bathrooms because they’re all, um, they’re all – they’re all pretty much the same layout. So it’s kind of hard to change that but, um, what’re you going to do is the buddy system, which is, “Hey, Brian got to use the bathroom! Somebody open the door for him.” Whatever, you know. Look, I have no problem with that, um, and lastly but not least, um, DARS is also going to help me get a vehicle so I can get back and forth to work with adaptive equipment on it. Um, the hand controls, um, the tripod for the steering wheel, um, lowered floors; and, um, I – I – I’m really – I’m excited because once again, those are all I need. I don’t need a whole lot, you know, because I really – I was taught by another quadriplegic that less assistance that you can use, the better you’re going to be because sometimes you’re not going to have these things. You don’t want to be too dependent on a lot of adaptive equipment if you can help it. So, the stuff that they offered me is going to change my quality of life tremendously. Um, but I also make sure I can use, you know, try to be as normal or not normal. I want to try to make sure I can use the things out there that – that aren’t adaptive for me and –and get good at that just in case anything happens, I’m still independent.
Rick: Brian this is question I ask most guests on this show. What advice would you have for an employer who was thinking of hiring someone with a disability?
Brian: Alright. For the employers, I would say, “Don’t look at a person with a disability look at the qualified applicant.” You know, my disability doesn’t change the fact that I’m good at what I do. Um, and if you really want to be, like, technical with it, a disability means you’re not able to do something. So it’s not the fact that I can’t walk and I’m not able to do something. So you can look at the employer, they might not be able to, you know, cater towards this particular client, that makes them disabled in some shape, form, or fashion. You know, so when I talk about a disability, you know, I don’t want you to look at a – an associate as, “He can’t walk so, you know, that’s going to be a problem.” Am I qualified? Yes. Am I able to do the job? Yes. That’s all that matters. You want to – want to, uh, an abled employee. You don’t really look at the disability part because that has nothing to do with what I’m able to bring to the company and that’s what I would say to them and then lastly what I would say is, you know, “I consider myself an exception.” I say to anyone with a disability, “You’re an exceptional human being.” Like, the human being is very amazing. It’s so many facets of life. Like, when people say, “I’m only human.” I hate when they say that because that means you’re talking about the lesser of what a human is, but a human can do anything. We can fly to the moon, we can make airplanes, we can make cars; we can, you know, break down what an atom is. We’re very – we’re a very unique species. So we’re exceptional and in order for you to be an exceptional person, you can only measure that by overcoming immovable objects. So it’s like with me, I think I am exceptional. But how do I know that if I’ve never been challenged in life? And so this is a challenge, that I’m overcoming it because I’m exceptional and this is how I measure how I am, how God made me. And so to anybody with a disability, you’re exceptional. So when you look at these – these obstacles that come in your life, don’t look at them like, “Oh my gosh; this is too much to overcome!” Look at yourself and say that, “I can overcome this because I’m a human. You know, that I’m an exceptional species, that I’m able to overcome an immovable object and when I do do this, I can look back at myself and say that I am amazing.” And that’s the way you know you know you’re amazing is over – only by what you overcome, not by the things that go your way.
Anne: Brian, we’re going to wrap this up. Let me say you’re one of the most amazing guests I’ve ever had the honor of interviewing. Give us your final thoughts, if you would, on vocational rehabilitation and your return to work.
Brian: Ah, I would not wish this on my worst enemy, being a dis– ah, a quadriplegic. But now that I’m here, you know, I thank God for the resources that’re available to me. I thank God for coming to Woodrow Wilson and learning how to love life again. Like, to learn how to engage in life again. Um, overcoming, you know, the fear of going back to work, knowing that I am a regular person. That I am just like anybody else, that I am a human and I can overcome anything that comes my way just by having a positive outlook on it. So, from the beginning to the end, I am thankful because I had a positive attitude and this is something I also want to say to people with disabilities, “When you’re positive, you’re more likely to overcome an obstacle than when you’re not positive.” And the reason I say that is – is that because when you’re positive, you attract people that’re willing to help you. When you’re not positive, you kind of repel them away and you never know what’s around the corner to make your life better unless you engage with a – with a positive outlook and, so, you know, I – I notice it’s easier said than done for anybody with a disability. But try your hardest to stay positive and the reason I say that is because, you know, you attract more flies with honey than you do with vinegar and I – that’s what I live by and that’s why I’m here. That’s why I’m going back to work. That’s why I’m going to be successful and that’s why I’m speaking. I’m going to, uh, lift anybody that has an ear to listen to it and I encourage you to do the same thing.
Rick: Brian, thank you for being on the podcast today and best of luck to you and all you do in 2016 and beyond.
Brian: Thank you for having me.
Rick: Tracy Topolosky is a certified rehabilitation counselor who works for the Virginia Department for Ageing and Rehabilitative Services and leads efforts to work with consumers like Brian. Ah, Tracy, in Brian’s interview, he talked about connecting with you as a first step in coming to the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center. Tracy, what was it like working with Brian?
Tracy: Brian is probably one of the most motivated people I’ve ever met. Um, he – he has a really good direction in his life. He knows that he’s going to be successful and he actually is looking at his, um, medical crisis as, um, an opportunity, almost; because he realizes that he has a lot of strengths that, um, haven’t really been tapped into with his current job. Even though he really enjoys his current job and has been extremely successful. I think that he realizes that – that, um, he has additional strengths as well as that and is interested in being able to spread the word and kind of pay it forward possibly.
Rick: Tracy, as a certified rehabilitation counselor, you, of course, have a specialized skillset and often times you’re connecting with folks like Brian inside medical facilities. What does the CRC mean as you’re out working with other professionals?
Tracy: It gives you the – the respect that someone in the field, um, would need to be able to work beside physicians and nurses and social workers and the other folks.
Rick: Tracy, we have Scott Dunnell, uh, with us via Skype from his office in Illinois. I can see him in the monitor.
Tracy: Hi, Scott. It’s nice to see you.
Rick: Again, welcome, Scott.
Scott: Thank you for having me and – and hello to everybody out there.
Rick: Scott, we’ve just had a chance to hear from Brian. Do you have any reflections on, uh, Brian’s story?
Scott: I just thought it was so inspirational. I mean, you’ve got a gentleman here who had such a change, a drastic change, ah, forever, ah, changed his life and I think that to have somebody with that spirit, who’s able to, ah, talk so positively about what he can still do with his life is – is absolutely terrific and – and it also reflects, I think, on Tracy as well because, ah, the work that she has done with Brian and – and I respect, ah, rehabilitation counselors. You know, particularly those who’re CRCs, but rehabilitation counselors do remarkable jobs. They have such a unique skillset and I think she’s done great work with him.
Anne: Scott, what is the history and the main focus of CRCC?
Scott: Well, as many of our listeners probably know, ah, CRCC has been around for a long time. It’s the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification. It was founded in 1974; and it is, in fact, the world’s largest rehabilitation counseling organization, and it’s dedicated to improving the lives of people with disabilities, and we do this by certifying rehabilitation counselors at a master’s level and this is setting the standard for competent delivery of quality rehabilitation counseling services through the exam we give these people.
Rick: Scott, it seems to me our world and our profession and the way we communicate is changing so rapidly and has changed over the last few years. How is CRCC moving into the future to meet the needs of counselors and the rehabilitation community?
Scott: I think, ah, when – when you look at 2012, 2013, I think that, ah, CRCC realized that they had to make some changes, ah, beyond just the one product that they were offering. So, they brought me in in 2013 to, ah, develop a marketing program. At the same time, we also worked on products and services and we did a lot of research. Not only with our CRCs but also with the rehabilitation counselors in general to try to figure out, ah, what we need to do to expand our products and services in order to increase awareness of them and also the demand for certification. And what that had done in fact is all of that research has led to products and services which now include what we call the CRCC Community, and that is the first online community built exclusively to serve all rehabilitation counseling professionals, and it has three components to that and the first one is our online job warden which we call CRCC Aspire. And that helps connect employers who hire rehabilitation counselor professionals to our CRCs and also our CRC applicants. Ah, those people who are currently in the process of achieving certification so they have that exclusivity, ah, to put their resumes out there online, on that job board. And employers are able to go in and really find the – the – the best of the best. The second part is the online professional networking platform, and that is what we call CRCC Engage. And this was actually created to empower our subscribers; all of our, not just CRCs, but rehabilitation counselors in general; to create meaningful, engaging dialogue amongst themselves and what we’ve seen just in the first year, we have over three thousand participants currently on CRCC Engage. They’ve created over, you know, one thousand, um, discussion, ah, threads. They’ve, you know, just been actively involved in – in bringing more people into, ah, discussion on various topics on rehabilitation counseling and we’re- we’re seeing a lot of positive from that and – and seeing it, ah, kind of, you know, mushroom and grow. And then the third part of this, which is what I really wanted to, ah, talk a little about today is CRCC e-University. Which is an online learning community and it’s interactive – it’s interactive, it’s dynamic, it’s an engaging format and it is going to – we think be a game changer for continuing education for rehabilitation counseling.
Rick: So, Scott, what are some of the highlights we can look forward to?
Scott: You know, what – what’s exciting for us is we’re having the opportunity to really create content for continuing education that delivers real world application and I think this is what is going to set us apart in terms of the quality of what we’re offering. You know, it’s — not only is it affordable, but it’s also high quality in terms of, you know, rehabilitation counselors being able to take what they learn and apply it immediately to their work setting and then that – that’s – that’s a big game changer right there. Ah, but, you know, we are going to be offering a whole array of courses, ah, when we, ah, lead this off in the next couple of weeks and, you know, it’s going to cover everything from ethics to job placement to multicultural counseling, transition services; and we’re going to be adding courses, you know, on and on as we go along. So there’ll probably be about 10 courses that’ll be offered when – when we launch. Ah, the great part is that we have created a promotional plan, which allows for anyone to come into the University and take a course for free. A one hour course, they take it for free, there’s no risk; there’s no obligation, you don’t have to buy anything. You get one hour of CE credit and then if you really like, ah, what you’re seeing from CRCC e-University in terms of, ah, the quality and the content, you can sign up for an introductory subscription for one year. Ah, we give you a 20% discount on that. You also get two free CE credits, ah, in addition to that. That allows you to save 40% on all of your actual course purchases. So it kind of pays for itself within two or three courses when, ah, when you – when you kind of look at it and do the math, but I’m excited about being able to offer something that we feel is affordable, it’s quality, and it’s also very very convenient; particularly for CRCs because they get to upload all of their, ah, continued education directly to their account. Which means there’s no more paperwork involved, you know, there’s – usually you’re – you’re trying to do this and you’re trying to get your renewal done for certification. You’re running around trying to find your paperwork and whatever. Now you don’t have to do that anymore.
Rick: Ah, tell us where we can reach you, Scott.
Scott: Yeah; you can, ah, reach out to myself, Scott Dunnell, ah, Director of Marketing and Strategic Alliances at CRCC at: 847-944-1304; and you can contact me, ah, through my e-mail at sdunnell@CRCcertification.com.
Rick: Thanks, Scott. We wish you and the team at CRCC the very best and appreciate you being on today’s show.
Scott: Listen, thanks. I really appreciate it.
Scott: And it’s been a wonderful show. Thank you to The Foundation, the team of people behind you that are supporting us.
Anne: Rick, thank you. This has been a great show. It’s an honor to be a part of this and if you would like information on the WWRC Foundation, please visit us online at: wwrcf.org. I’m Anne Hudlow …
Rick: … and I’m Rick Sizemore! If you’d like to know more about WWRC, you can find us at: wwrc.virginia.gov. Until next time, won’t you join us in creating hope, and a path forward? And we’ll see you next time here in the VR Workforce Studio.
This is the VR workforce studio, inspiration, education and affirmation “AT WORK”. The workforce and disability employment podcast from the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center, a Division of the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services. The VR Workforce Studio is published by our Foundation at wwrcf.org and is available in iTunes and at vrworkforcestudio.com.