Episode 109 VR Workforce Studio
Up up and away for the drone industry and people with disabilities. Plus the 2022 Virginia Ability Forum
VR Workforce Singers: VR Workforce Studio.
George Dennehy: People see other people overcoming challenges, and it gives them inspiration, and it gives them encouragement, which then drives them to really do better work.
Jake Hart: VR Workforce Studio, podcasting the sparks that ignite vocational rehabilitation through the inspiring stories of people with disabilities who have gone to work.
Flora Frazier: Working in a field that I understand.
Jake Hart: 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.
Jake Hart: And the businesses who have filled their talent pipelines with workers that happen to have disabilities.
Debby Hopkins: To help expand registered apprenticeship.
Jake Hart: These are their stories.
Megan Healy: Because there’s such a great story to tell about people with disabilities.
Jake Hart: Now, here are the hosts of the VR Workforce Studio, Rick Sizemore and Betsy Civilette.
Rick Sizemore: Welcome to episode 109, Soaring to Success: How People with Disabilities are Taking to the Skies as Drone Pilots. We’ll talk with Rob Corbett and hear how vocational rehabilitation has helped him transition into a phenomenal career in the drone industry.
Betsy Civilette: Yes, it’s a hot industry, drones, and we have a special feature presentation on the 2022 Virginia Ability Forum scheduled for October 6th in Richmond, and one of their board members, Sean Smith, joins us to talk about this year’s forum, which includes their incredible keynote speaker and performer George Dennehy.
Rick Sizemore: Absolutely. We love George.
Betsy Civilette: We love George.
Rick Sizemore: Betsy, we start the show today with some amazing news from the National Rehabilitation Association with an announcement from Kim Nortz, who’s the chair of this year’s NRA awards committee. Kim alerted us that the VR Workforce Studio has been selected as this year’s winner of the Excellence in Media award.
Betsy Civilette: Woo-hoo, that’s awesome.
Rick Sizemore: That’s great.
Betsy Civilette: To us. Well, we are simply thrilled and delighted with this news.
Rick Sizemore: Absolutely.
Betsy Civilette: First of all, thank Bonnie Henn for the nomination, as well as all of our partners in podcasting that make these shows possible, and especially all those folks who supported the nomination. We love doing this show, and we truly appreciate each and every single listener. So, thank you again to the NRA for this acknowledgement.
Rick Sizemore: Absolutely.
Betsy Civilette: And our listeners may remember meeting Rob Corbett from podcast episode 90. We heard about Rob’s launching an exciting career with the Department of Defense after serving in the Air Force, when a snowboarding accident curtailed his career and caused a severe spinal cord injury.
Betsy Civilette: But now, Rick joins Rob to talk about some wonderful new developments in his career path. So, over the past few years, Rob has evolved as a highly skilled drone pilot. He not only flies drones, but teaches people all over the world the ins and outs, or should we say the ups and downs, of the drone industry. So, excuse me if I’m droning on about Rob.
Rick Sizemore: Oh, thank you, Betsy. Well, we’re delighted to welcome you, Rob.
Rob Corbett: Absolutely, Rick. Happy to be here and happy to be back. I Just recently started working with a company out of San Francisco called DroneDeploy. And DroneDeploy is the industry leader in reality capture for ground and aerial robotics.
Rob Corbett: So, what that means is, our software can create 3D models, 2D models, survey areas. We work in many industries, such as agriculture, construction, mining, oil and gas. You name it, the full gambit of big power-player industries. And what we do is leverage data collected from drones and ground robotics to help these businesses grow, help these farmers with their operations, help sustain these industries. And it’s been really rewarding.
Rob Corbett: Every day I work with someone from a different industry, and a lot of what I do is work directly with the customer to help set up their operations, provide any insight I can as a drone pilot, and to see how to maximize their ability to gather that data on site. And I can do this 100% remotely, and it’s been a game changer for my career, and being back in the workplace full time, and really contributing. And I’m doing something I love every day, so it’s been really rewarding.
Rick Sizemore: And let’s just get to the point here. You use a wheelchair, and so this is remote work that might be done by a person with a disability. You could be in your home in Virginia and fly a drone, or pilot a drone, in another state to accomplish this work?
Rob Corbett: So, the legislation is getting there. It is getting to the point… Right now, there’s a lot of talk with regulation and policy on beyond visual line-of-sight in drone operations. And eventually, we will get to that point to where, essentially, someone can have a base station, or be able to operate a base station from their home, and control a drone across the United States.
Rob Corbett: Right now, it’s in that legislation, policy development. Dominion Energy just actually got one of the first approvals to conduct beyond visual line-of-sight operations. So, as we’re seeing the industry grow, and we see the policy change, and it’s all very positive. And in my opinion, it’s going to open up a lot of doors for anyone, any individual with a disability, to be able to work remotely, and like you said, be able to go out and conduct a site survey with a drone from a remote location.
Rob Corbett: And that’s something that we’ve really lobbied for within policy and FAA and a lot of the big players that make these decisions, is the advocacy of what are the medical requirements, and where is the inclusion for drone operations, for drone piloting, and how can we expand that? And how can we preserve that for individuals with disabilities to have a sustainable vocation within the industry?
Rick Sizemore: That’s so amazing. The 2022 Virginia Ability Forum is going on in October this year, and one of the goals of that conference is to look at how people like yourself are being trailblazers, how they are impacting an industry from disability. What, again, and I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but what do you hope to accomplish for people with disabilities who want to work in the drone industry?
Rob Corbett: My main goal since I set out on this journey, and working with establishing inclusion within the space, and looking at disability as a whole and what’s available for drone piloting, my goal was just to create representation and reach out and be a mentor or a helper to anyone within the space, regardless of who they are or what their disability is or whatever hurdles they got to go to get over.
Rob Corbett: My goal is to create some type of representation that says, “If he can do it, then I can do it as well.” And that’s really just been something that I’ve tried to just set an example, and open doors for others as I go. And part of me jumping into the industry and working in the industry directly was to create that representation, and to say that individuals with disabilities, full-time wheelchair users, quadriplegics, whatever it may be, can work in these industries and thrive in these industries.
Rob Corbett: And I think just by leading by example, and trying to show others that these things are possible, that has really been my main goal.
Rick Sizemore: That’s amazing. And you’ve stepped forward. You’ve had that impact. Have you encountered, met, run into, engaged other drone pilots or people within the industry that have a disability?
Rob Corbett: Absolutely, and that’s been the most rewarding part. I’ve worked with a nonprofit organization called Drone Forward Inc. for the last two years, and we established an initiative at the end of 2021, where we wanted to look at, what were the testing requirements to become a drone pilot through the FAA and to get a licensure? And we wanted to look at that testing process to see if we could incorporate any type of reasonable accommodations to become a drone pilot in taking the test.
Rob Corbett: So, we worked really close with the FAA and a few other organizations, and worked with the FAA’s college training initiative, and really looked at the curriculum and looked at the testing. And in doing that, we found people reaching out, saying, “I have a disability, and I’ve tried to take the part 107 test before, and I’ve just missed it. Because I get accommodations through the university I attend, or I’ve had accommodations for other types of testing, but there was never really any accommodations for part 107 testing.”
Rob Corbett: So, we took this and ran with it, and the FAA was extremely receptive, and we were successful. By the beginning kind of January, February, of 2022, now anyone who wants to become a drone pilot and take the part 107 test at their local FAA testing facility can request reasonable accommodations for testing.
Rob Corbett: And this has opened up a lot of doors for a ton of people. We had one individual in particular who worked in the industry for six years, I think, at the time, and never could obtain a part 107 drone pilot’s license. But they had developed and worked alongside developing technology for years, graduated from a very well-known university, under utilizing accommodations for their disability. And finally, they reached out and said, “Hey, I’ve missed passing this test numerous times. If there was just an accommodation like more time, or I could have the test read out loud, or I could have a private room that I’m testing in, this would help me immensely.” And now this person has went on, passed the part 107 test, and they’re now a certified drone pilot, which helps them boost their career. And that we-
Rick Sizemore: Their income, and their own ability to make it in the world on their own, their independence. It’s amazing.
Rob Corbett: Exactly. And I have plenty of examples, and I could probably spend every day talking about these amazing people. But it is. It’s opened up lot of doors.
Rick Sizemore: Give us your favorite example.
Rob Corbett: I have a developing favorite right now. I’ve been working with a young individual who lives in Arizona. He is a full-time wheelchair user, and he is an aviation fanatic. And he and I have been going over some different career paths. He’s about to graduate high school, and he wants to pursue a career in drones, and he wants to be inside the industry and be a player in the drone industry. So, I’ve been working with him. He’s now doing his senior project, and getting ready to go into the workforce here in a few months. And we’ve just been working on different ways, different resources, different certifications he can get, to really set himself up for success in the next stages of his life.
Rob Corbett: And it’s been really unique and fun for me, because I’ve worked with a lot of individuals with disabilities. It’s very rare that I do get to work with someone who’s also a full-time wheelchair user. His teachers reached out to me last year, and we’ve been in contact, and been working on some stuff. So, I have more to come on that.
Rick Sizemore: That’s amazing.
Rob Corbett: But we’ve set up some internships and things within the industry for him to be working. So, that’s a developing one. They’re all really special. And I’ve worked with people around the globe. I’ve worked with people in South Africa, Germany, and really just been trying to advocate for individuals with disabilities in the drone space.
Rob Corbett: And actually, the team I worked with in South Africa, they’re now conducting a full-blown study within individuals with various disabilities within South Africa, to see how they can cater their drone-piloting credentials and licensure to include more people in their operations.
Rob Corbett: So, every day, it’s so great to just see the industry be so receptive, and people wanting to share knowledge. I think it’s just an amazing thing.
Rick Sizemore: You are an incredible spokesperson and advocate, and a source of inspiration for so many. You went through that traumatic life-changing event, and you’ve moved along a career pathway. You’ve had to sustain your motivation, your drive, your self-development, your improvement. What have you learned from voc rehab, and what is your personal message to someone maybe coming just out of that traumatic life-changing experience, about the potential that life holds, and particularly if they have an interest in being a drone pilot?
Rob Corbett: I think the biggest thing is staying persistent in what you want to do, and looking at things from different angles, right? Because when you go through these changes, and these drastic changes, and you’re have to relearn your way of life and how to do different things, it takes a little bit to understand that we don’t have to necessarily look at everything straight forward. We need to look at things from a different perspective. And really just test yourself and say, “If there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Rob Corbett: I never thought I would be in the position I am, and being able to fly drones the way I am, with limited hand mobility and my disability. But I was very adamant on just trying it, and just seeing. And don’t let the small setbacks of the failures prevent you from moving forward.
Rob Corbett: So, I say, just be persistent in what you’re doing. If you’re passionate about something, you’ll find a way to do it, and just put yourself out there and keep moving forward. Because at the end of the day, you just got to stand up for yourself and just keep going, keep going until something happens.
Rick Sizemore: Thanks for being on our podcast. An incredible spokesperson for voc rehab and our disability community. We appreciate what you’re doing.
Rob Corbett: Yeah, no, absolutely, Rick. Thank you so much.
Rick Sizemore: The 2022 Virginia Ability Forum is coming up in October. This year’s forum, Imagine the Poss-Abilities… and that’s with a capital A in abilities… In a Changeable World, is focusing on an investment in the future for people with disabilities, with a gathering of business and community leaders who recognize the vital role people with disabilities play in redefining the environments in which they work and play.
Rick Sizemore: Among other featured guests at this year’s forum, George Dennehy, a rockstar known to our audience, will tell his story of determination and how every individual has a purpose and the ability to change the world around them. George joins us, along with a Virginia Ability board member, Shawn Smith. Welcome to the podcast, George and Shawn.
Shawn Smith: Thank you so much.
George Dennehy: Yeah. Thanks, Rick.
Rick Sizemore: George, we’ll get started with you. You’re just coming off the launch of a great new music video, Work Makes the World Go Round. Congratulations on the success of that. You have captured the attention of a national audience with your message of ability. Tell us what you have in store for those fortunate enough to attend the Ability Forum this year.
George Dennehy: Yeah. Well, I’m so excited to be a part of this Ability Forum this year, and play Work Makes the World Go Round as one of my songs that I’ll share with everybody there. And yeah, I think just the central message that everybody has something to offer, wherever they are in life, and in their workplace, including people with disabilities. And everyone can change the world around them, and inspire the world around them, despite their challenges, and even by overcoming those challenges. And sometimes all it takes is a helping hand, or two in my case, and sometimes it takes just thinking outside the box to help those reach their full potential, which everyone is able to reach. Sometimes it just takes that push, and that belief in themselves.
Rick Sizemore: For those of you who may be joining us for the first time, let me clarify. George refers to himself as an armless guitarist. He does play the guitar with his feet, and so he has an amazing story, which you’ll want to check out at the Ability Form or hear on the podcast. Just visit VR Workforce Studio, check out our library, and look for George Dennehy. But we’re very excited for you, George. I know people have this unique connection with you because of your message, and the way you deliver it. So, they’re in for a treat, and we’re excited for you.
George Dennehy: I’m excited, too. And it’s really an honor for me to be able to share, and hopefully inspire, equip, and really most importantly challenge the attendees to not hold back when they’re looking into how to advocate and accommodate their employees with differences.
Rick Sizemore: We’ll get back with you in just a minute. Shawn, this year’s forum hopes to help people better understand how changes can be made in the environments in which they work and play in. Tell us more about some of the speakers and what’s planned to help accomplish that worthy goal this year.
Shawn Smith: So yeah, of course we have George coming in. We are very excited about both his story and his message, and we feel like having seen him deliver that message in many places, that he’s definitely going to be a great voice.
Shawn Smith: We have a couple other speakers we haven’t confirmed yet that are lining up, but definitely with the same message of helping people to realize that our objective here is not to change people, but really to change our environment. We have such great technology nowadays, that we have the ability to give everyone an opportunity to do great things, and the only thing stopping them is, like you said earlier, our creativity and our ability to really think outside of the box, and how we can adjust the world around us rather than try to adjust people with differences.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. I want to get into this a little deeper. Shawn, the forum has been very clear, saying they hope to empower participants to change environments, so they accommodate people living with impairments, rather than changing people with impairments. Do you have some practical examples of that, and what’s actually planned at the conference?
Shawn Smith: Sure. So, a practical example would be simple things that we do nowaday with sometimes assistive technology. Changing people’s worlds could be as simple as changing the keyboard they use, or changing the computer screen, even though the standard screen that we buy in a particular company is what everybody gets. But if someone needs one larger, bigger, different, then it’s as simple as making that change for an individual so that they can work better in their environment. Rather than saying, “No, you don’t have an opportunity here.”
Shawn Smith: And so, stories like that are the stories that we want to bring out to spark some attention in people’s minds, so that they’re thinking differently about the problem, and understanding that the problem that we have is something that’s fixable, rather than looking at the person and discarding the person as not usable or resourceful.
Rick Sizemore: This is amazing perspective. I did see this massive list of people who will be involved, and certainly it looks like assistive technology will really be well represented by the attendees at this year’s event. So, it’s exciting. I mean, it’s a wonderful time to be alive in terms of AT.
Shawn Smith: For sure. Definitely. Definitely. And again, the more people that are thinking creatively, if you look at the technology that we have in the world today, we can do just about anything. And so, why not use that to help people pursue their purpose and make their lives, and the lives around them, better?
Rick Sizemore: Yeah, absolutely. Well put. We interviewed the president of the National Rehabilitation Association earlier this year, a fellow named Lou Adams. And one of his favorite phrases, although the phrase has been around for quite some time in the disability community is, “Nothing about us without us.” So, it was exciting to see the forum promoting the idea of including people with disabilities and thinking, as you put it, practically, about removing environmental barriers.
Rick Sizemore: We’re all headed, or maybe just one fall away from disability, but at some point in our lives, we’ll all experience disability. So, the extent to which we can all work together toward universal design, meaning if it’s good for a human, it’s good for everyone. If it’s good for a human with a disability, it’s probably going to benefit everyone. That really helps us all. How’s the conference going to embrace universal design and the idea of including people with disabilities in how we move forward?
Shawn Smith: Yeah. So, again, the speakers that we are lining up are going to be individuals that have had great experience in dealing with this particular topic that we’re talking about, meaning great experience in their own lives and sharing their own stories about how they’ve tackled problems when they found themselves in a situation where they have either had a difference or disability, and had to work with individuals in the mainstream, who either were challenged by helping them figure out the problem, or were very open to helping them figure out the problem, and working together to make something that would benefit everybody in the space, so that they could accomplish the goals that they had, especially in the workforce.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah.
Shawn Smith: The forum this year is going to be at the Cultural Arts Center in Henrico, on October the 6th. The format is from 4:00 PM until about 7:00 PM we’ll do some registration. We will have the speakers and George, of course, there perform. And then afterwards, there’s going to be a cocktail hour where we’ll have some hors d’oeuvres where people can talk and share ideas with all the guests, as well as some of the speakers, as well.
Shawn Smith: And so, again, that’s October the 6th. You can register email@example.com and find the registration there. Or you can find us on LinkedIn at Virginia Ability.
Rick Sizemore: Well, George Dennehy, the armless guitarist/motivational speaker, and with this new video, Work Makes the World Go Round. Thanks for joining us. Shawn Smith, board member with Virginia ability. We appreciate you both being here, and wish you the very, very best with this year’s 2022 Virginia Ability Forum.
Shawn Smith: Thank you for having us. We appreciate it.
George Dennehy: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Thanks, Rick, for having us on, and for the opportunity.
Rick Sizemore: Well, it’s time for our National Clearinghouse Report with the always entertaining and informative Heather Servais. Welcome, Heather.
Heather Servais: I have one resource to share with you today. It’s called a framework for community engagement, a pathway to competitive integrated employment. And this resource was developed in partnership with the US Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, the US Department of Labor’s Office of Employment policy, and the US Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Community Living, and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Heather Servais: So, there were a lot of many important agencies that were involved in the development of this paper and resource. So, what this resource does is, it’s really targeted towards policy makers and service providers, and presents a federal vision for community engagement. So, this really looks at maximizing the coordination of services for individuals with disability, and the importance of community engagement. So, really check that out if you have some time, because we’re really hoping that it’ll help expand the opportunities for youth and individuals with disabilities to achieve competitive integrated employment.
Rick Sizemore: That’s awesome. In October, Heather will be with us to talk about some important developments at the clearinghouse.
Heather Servais: Yeah. We’ve got a lot of new, exciting things happening at the clearinghouse. I’ll give you a little teaser for our NCRTM users and fans. There is a new version of the NCRTM website that will be launching in October, so we’ll be here with Rick talking to you a little bit about more. But to give you a little bit of a teaser, there’s going to be a new web space that provides information to help people with disabilities learn about the VR program, to navigate education, training and employment services and options, as well as to connect to support services. We’re going to be able to talk a lot more about our library of VR and employment-related materials, we’re going to talk a lot about the upcoming events and employment-related trainings, and a lot of ways that we’re going to be able to show new tutorials and tips and new resources that’ll be featured on the website.
Rick Sizemore: And, of course, you can always find the links that are provided on this podcast in the show notes at vrworkforcestudio.com. Thank you, Heather.
Heather Servais: Thanks, Rick.
Rick Sizemore: Well, thank you. We’re grateful to you, the listener, for getting involved in today’s show. If you or someone you know has a disability and wants to be in the workforce, vocational rehabilitation may just be what’s needed to kickstart that career. We have a new episode every month on your favorite podcast app, or you can always find us at vrworkforcestudio.com. Until next time, on behalf of my co-host Betsy Civilette, I’m Rick Sizemore inviting you to join us as we podcast the sparks that ignite vocational rehabilitation.
Jake Hart: The VR Workforce Studio Podcast is owned and operated by Vocational Rehabilitation’s Partners in Podcasting. Audio content for the podcast is provided to VR Partners in Podcasting by the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, in exchange for promotional considerations.