Episode 92 VR Workforce Studio
Voc Rehab proved I could bust out 100 words per minute with no errors and “Shocker” I’m now employed.
The Brandon West story and diversity equity and inclusion in VR along with Alexis Duggan’s new videos.
Singers: VR Workforce Studio
Alexis Duggan: But then they saw Ms. Duggan washing dishes and they can’t get them to stop. They want to watch my videos all the time. They want to make recordings of themselves washing dishes.
Announcer: VR Workforce Studio, podcasting the sparks that ignite vocational rehabilitation through the inspiring stories of people with disabilities who have gone to work.
Rose Hilderbrand: I have a position at Masco Cabinetry.
Veteran: I’m a supervisor.
Announcer: As well as the professionals who have helped them.
James Hall: A job, and a career, you got to look at how life changing this is.
Announcer: And the businesses who have filled their talent pipelines with workers that happen to have disabilities.
Debby Hopkins: To help expand registered apprenticeship.
Announcer: These are their stories.
Megan Healy: Because there is such a great story to tell about people with disabilities.
Announcer: Now here’s the host of the VR workforce studio. Rick Sizemore.
Rick Sizemore: Welcome to episode 92, the VR Workforce Studio podcast. As we approach episode 100, we want to hear from you. You’re the listener. You’re the reason we do this podcast. And it would mean the world to us, if you drop us a quick email and let us know what you think of the podcast. What you like about it, any suggestions you might have or anything you’d like for us to explore as we move into the future.
Rick Sizemore: Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We truly love to have you involved in our podcast. On today’s episode, we’ll meet Alexis Duggan, who just released a series of new videos helping adults with daily living skills. And it’s Black History Month, the theme for 2021, the black family representation, identity and diversity explores the wide ranging diversity of black family life.
Rick Sizemore: This amid a national backdrop and discussion about race and equality. William Sutton Jr. with the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services joins us to talk about equity and vocational rehabilitation later on in today’s show. And of course the always entertaining and informative Cherie Takemoto with our national clearinghouse update.
Rick Sizemore: But let’s get started with Brandon West. His career pathway led him to a great job with Skookum, a company that in part provides support services to the military. His job placement counselor and VR team helped him account for and market some exceptional skills that had gone unrealized in the past. Here with the whole story is Brandon West. Welcome to the podcast, Brandon.
Brandon West: Hi. Thank you for having me.
Rick Sizemore: This guy is so important and so busy, we had to get this interview on his lunch break. So thank you for fitting us in.
Brandon West: That’s okay.
Rick Sizemore: So I mean, let’s get started. You are a data entry professional at Skookum. Tell what you do and what’s your average day’s like there.
Brandon West: The general idea over here at Skookum is that we’re the contracting company for base maintenance for government property. Everyone does various duties, like keeping the place clean and fixing up broken doors or locks, electricians, all that good stuff. And I’m the clerk here. So I put in all the right numbers to make sure that everyone gets paid.
Rick Sizemore: How did you get involved in vocational rehabilitation?
Brandon West: Let’s see, it was a little bit ago, but my brother was in it before me. I was looking for a better job because I was just working minimum wage at a fast food place. So I decided to give it a try.
Rick Sizemore: Well, there was a point in time when you connected with the vocational rehabilitation office and met a woman named Janet Mikesell, your counselor. I want to play you a little clip. I’d like for you to hear this. Here’s what she had to say about you and getting started.
Janet Mikesell: Nancy Santiago, our job placement counselor, did a typing test with him and realized that he typed over 101 words a minute. That was a motivator to, hey, let’s maybe look in this direction for doing data entry work. I even had him go through an IT academy in the summer at Thomas Nelson Community College. And he did very well with the academy, looking in all fields with programming, being a computer support specialist. And so, when Nancy found this job, it was just we were going to look probably at training for him. And when Nancy Santiago contacted Skookum and they even carved this, I mean, they carved this job for him. It wasn’t readily available. It wasn’t posted. But when Nancy told them about Brandon’s skills, that worked out and he’s been working there for over a year now and doing very well.
Rick Sizemore: So, you were thinking about a new career and it sounds like voc rehab helped you identify that you had some pretty impressive skills to do the job that you’re working in now.
Brandon West: Yes, that’s right. I kept trying to tell employers that I was decent with computers and such, but they didn’t really listen, goes, he’s just a little fast food, grunt and all that. So having somebody vouch for me, I guess, made a bit of a difference.
Rick Sizemore: What process did they go through to help you identify that you had those skills in a way that they could communicate that with an employer?
Brandon West: Let’s see, at first we were brainstorming the things that I could be good at, but to me, typing and computer skills were just kind of second nature. So I didn’t really think much of it until through the brainstorming and the skill acquisition tests, they brought up typing and I was like, oh, I mean, I’m pretty good at it. So they handed me the keyboard and a typing test and I busted out 100 words a minute with no errors. And they said, “Why didn’t you tell us this sooner?”
Rick Sizemore: Well, that sounded like that was a turning point in your career of going to work at Skookum.
Brandon West: Yeah. It really was. So, once they saw that I could do that, like you said, they got me in to a little IT certification class and it felt kind of weird because everything that they did was kind of stuff that was also second nature to me. But it did give me proof that I knew what I was doing. And I think that certificate I got from that also helped get me this job here.
Rick Sizemore: So you sound like one of these guys that had some tremendous skill that really wasn’t documented and you were able then through these tests to show people what you could do and that opened up the gateway to employment.
Brandon West: That’s right.
Rick Sizemore: Could you tell us a little about your disability?
Brandon West: All right. It’s called generalized social anxiety disorder and long story short, I get really anxious around people, but the thing that makes it a disorder is that my mind kicks into fight or flight reaction much easier than it should. So being around a lot of people or just being overwhelmed with a lot of things can really get me agitated and anxious and it gets really hard to think and it’s easy to shut down.
Brandon West: So I’m very thankful for Skookum being a company that is here for people with disabilities, such as myself, so they can give me accommodations and reassurance and all this so I can do my best work.
Rick Sizemore: Well, tell us about the accommodations that you have on the job.
Brandon West: All right. Let’s see now, they ended up renovating a room in the back of the office instead of in the middle of it for me to do my work in. They helped me with my schedule a little bit because at first I wanted part-time but they said contract requires full-time. But long story short, I worked out a thing where I work four out of five days and someone else works one that works in both our benefit because she needed more work anyway. I usually have a little bit longer lunch breaks than usual because a little break in the middle of the day helps me get ready to finish everything up.
Rick Sizemore: So are you around many people at work or is your job set up so it plays to your strengths of needing to sort of be by yourself?
Brandon West: It really plays to my strengths. There are other people in the building that I’m at, but I am in a rather a secluded area. So while I could just walk around the corner and say hi to someone, sitting where I’m at, it looks like I’m alone. So it really helps with that. It also helps during this pandemic not to be surrounded by people.
Rick Sizemore: Oh, absolutely. So you were recognized by your employer and DARS for your exceptional work as a champion. What did it feel like to get an award for being so successful in moving through voc rehab and into the workforce?
Brandon West: I certainly had no idea that was going to happen. I’m just kind of here doing my best and getting support from people who want to help such as DARS and Skookum and such.
Rick Sizemore: What advice would you have for an employer, someone other than Skookum that was thinking about working with people with disabilities that maybe have not tried that before?
Brandon West: Let’s see, I would say that it’s important for the employer to take the needs of the employee into consideration because what seems like something that’s very trivial to an average Joe might mean the world to somebody who struggles with something like most people can handle being a catchier, no problem. But I would panic at the first sight of someone coming my way. So when someone says, hey, I’m really struggling with this, then if they can talk it out and have a little compromise or accommodations, it makes it a whole lot easier for the employee to give it their all and do their best. It makes a big difference.
Rick Sizemore: What would you say that Skookum has done right in terms of creating this opportunity for you to work and also from that getting a great employee?
Brandon West: They’ve done quite a bit actually, especially with how they’re so kind to me and they choose their word choices carefully because they know that I can mul over things and be very gosh, what’s the word, sensitive about certain topics. So they take their time with me. They listen to what I say and they do their best to make accommodations and brainstorm with me thinking, how can they make my job easier?
Rick Sizemore: What would you want people to know most about your vocational rehabilitation program and experience?
Brandon West: I’d say that they’re here to help you more than anything, that they will go out of their way to make things easier for you and to help find you places where you can work to your full potential and not feel overwhelmed and not much more to say other than that, they’re here to help you.
Rick Sizemore: The job placement counselor, Nancy Santiago, she worked with you. What was that like?
Brandon West: Oh gosh. Nancy was extremely helpful and kind, and she gives off such mom energy, like putting my tie on for me and all this stuff. It’s super easy to tell that she’s grown up with kids.
Rick Sizemore: So you see her role as critical in helping you get this job.
Brandon West: Yes, absolutely. I’m real thankful for her. I’d say that I’d like to give a little tip to people who struggle with feeling like it’s just really tough out there. And I know this seems very simple. It’s important to remember that you’ll always have a minute to just breathe and tell yourself everything’s going to be all right, because a minute from now nothing’s going to be any different. So you might as well just take a minute, take a deep breath, help calm yourself a little bit recenter yourself. Don’t let the anxiety or other stress get to you too much. You’ll be all right.
Rick Sizemore: Well, Brandon West is a champion award holder is a data entry professional with Skookum and a highly successful young man with a disability who is in the workforce and living his best life. Brandon West, it’s been a pleasure to have you on the podcast.
Brandon West: Thank you so much for having me.
Rick Sizemore: Janet Mikesell and Nancy Santiago work in the Division of Rehabilitation Services in the HamptonNewport News Office of the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services.
Announcer: VR Workforce Studio Inspiration, Education and Affirmation at WORK!
Rick Sizemore: Alexis Duggan is a student disability case manager at Texas A&M Commerce and holds advanced degrees in counselor education with a focus in vocational rehabilitation and mental health. She has a wide variety of professional experiences in helping others. But we met through the National Rehabilitation Association where she’s the chairperson of NRA Social Media Committee. Alexis says her goal is to help adults and adolescents with disabilities to gain independent living resources and reach their career aspirations. It’s a pleasure to welcome you to the podcast, Alexis.
Alexis Duggan: Thank you. Thank you for having me today, Rick. I greatly appreciate this.
Rick Sizemore: Well, let’s get started with something I read about you. It says Alexis has passion to serve individuals with disabilities and assist them in living their best life. And you’re certainly becoming known at least on LinkedIn as a person with an amazing array of videos to do just that. So, if you would tell us about the videos you’ve developed and what you’re trying to accomplish.
Alexis Duggan: So I currently have a YouTube channel where I’ve been making adult daily living skills videos for anyone who has a disability who wants to increase their independent living skills. So you could be in middle school, high school, college, post-secondary anyone meets that criteria who just wants to know how to live independently on their own.
Alexis Duggan: I have various videos on grocery shopping, even online grocery shopping, which right now is a huge thing due to the pandemic. I have a laundry video where I’m actually in the laundry mat showing you how to do your own laundry, as well as cleaning around your home because I actually love to clean. It’s very therapeutic for me. And that is an independent living skill. You need to know how to clean up. Nobody wants a messy place to live. And my main goal with these videos is just to provide hands-on instruction for anyone with a disability who wants to live on their own.
Rick Sizemore: Well, what I love about the videos is they are real life. You’ve said, I believe that the disability population is often overlooked and left out of mainstream society, which is why you’re such an advocate for individuals with disabilities. What do you think people will get out of these videos and how do you believe they’ll reach those who are overlooked?
Alexis Duggan: So right now, we are still in a pandemic with coronavirus and a lot of our day programs are programs where individuals with disabilities go to learn about independent living skills have been closed down because of various restrictions. So I hope that my videos will be able to reach throughout the 50 states, everywhere. You don’t have to be with me in person to see them. And it’s not during a set time.
Alexis Duggan: You can log into my channel and just kind of peruse and see what best fits your needs wherever you are, whether you’re in the car or whether you’re home, whether you’re at school. I just want my videos to be able to reach anyone who needs them wherever they are during this moment.
Rick Sizemore: What story do you have for us that really helps us understand that someone watched one of these videos and it had a great impact in their life?
Alexis Duggan: So previously I was a special education teacher and I worked with students who had autism down in Miami Dade County. And I had a lot of students who needed to learn these hands-on skills, something as simple as washing dishes. And I was contacted by a parent who let me know that they logged into my channel and previously, of course, they tried to show their student how to wash dishes.
Alexis Duggan: But sometimes when parents tell you something, it doesn’t go over quite as well, but then they saw Ms. Duggan washing dishes and they can’t get them to stop. They want to watch my videos all the time. They want to make recordings of themselves washing dishes. So, that let me know that I’m on the right track. I’m onto something. I’m helping someone.
Rick Sizemore: Absolutely. I’m to go home and have my daughter watch your video this afternoon. But no, they really are. They’re down-home, they’re hard hitting. These are great videos. Tell us where folks can find them.
Alexis Duggan: So you can find me on YouTube at Ms. Duggan. My last name D as in dog, U-G-G-A, N as in Nancy, or you can check them out on my blog https://www.duggandigsdisability.org/. And in the description box on my YouTube channel, you will see my email. So I’m open to requests. If there’s something that I haven’t done or that will really help you out in your situation, shoot me an email and I’ll be willing to record that video for you.
Rick Sizemore: That’s awesome. We’ll include those links in the show notes to the podcast at vrworkforcestudio.com. Alexis Duggan is a student disability case manager at Texas A&M Commerce. Thanks for being on the podcast today.
Alexis Duggan: Thank you so much.
Rick Sizemore: It’s Black History Month, the theme for 2021, the black family representation, identity and diversity explores the wide ranging diversity of black family life. As discussions around equality have become an important part of the American agenda, we’re seeing the emergence of conversations within the VR community, focusing on diversity, equality and inclusion.
Rick Sizemore: Just recently, CSAVR released a statement committing themselves and I’m paraphrasing here, to assertively establish strategies and definable actions to foster equality and opportunity in the workplace. We’re fortunate to have recently heard Kathy Hayfield, our DARS commissioner, describe among other values, her vision for equality, diversity and inclusion. Let’s take a listen.
Kathy Hayfield: Equity, diversity and inclusion in the workplace are not just buzzwords. Embracing these principles as part of our agency values helps create a culture that reflects the communities we serve. This helps us better fulfill our mission. This doesn’t happen without purposeful effort and commitment by everyone. The DARS leadership team and I envision an agency that not only reflects differences, but one that welcomes and values all gifts and talents and ensures that everyone has the opportunity to contribute and grow.
Kathy Hayfield: In this workplace, everyone feels empowered to bring their full, authentic selves to work. In an inclusive workplace everyone is welcome and able to be fully engaged. A better culture starts with better conversations. We’ve recently pulled William Sutton into a new role that will help us change the conversation to create a sense of belonging and become more purposeful in how we treat each other. He will also lead the effort in assessing our current culture and work with a task force that represents all levels of the agency.
Rick Sizemore: Here to discuss how he will be working with DARS to support and move this vision forward is William Sutton Jr. Welcome to the podcast, William.
William Sutton Jr.: Good morning, Rick. Thank you so much for having me.
Rick Sizemore: What’s your reaction to commissioner Hayfield’s vision?
William Sutton Jr.: Rick, my reaction is, it’s game time. Let’s get to work. I couldn’t be more thrilled or excited about this opportunity. This means so much to the organization, but not only the organization to the communities that we serve here in the Virginia region. It’s awesome.
Rick Sizemore: Well, I’ve known you for many years, principally as a job placement counselor, but now in light of the agency’s focus on equity, you’ve moved into this new special assignment. Could you tell us about what you’re going to be doing?
William Sutton Jr.: A couple of the highlights, Rick, that I just wanted to touch on. We’re going to be evaluating how we measure up from an equity standpoint across all agency functions, in order to do this though, we first must seek to understand where we currently sit as it relates to equity. We are going to be pulling that curtain back to take a look at our processes, our systems, our hiring, everything in between to make sure that we are in fact, an agency that is walking the talk. We’re not going to just continue to sit by and just be okay with the status quo.
Rick Sizemore: So you seem to be giving life to the vision commissioner Hayfield described when she said, “These aren’t just buzzwords, this is real.”
William Sutton Jr.: Absolutely Rick. We want this to be a part of the culture of our organization. DEI is not something that’s new. It’s been around for years in the corporate space, in the private sector. This is a part of business as usual. It’s a little new to us, but we’re excited. This is an amazing journey that we all are about to embark on, but we’re going to embark on this journey together.
William Sutton Jr.: We’re going to lean into some difficult conversations. We’re going to lean into some difficult situations, but at the end of the day, what we want to hopefully begin to do is open up dialogue so that we can continue to allow folks in Kathy’s words, to bring their authentic selves to the workplace.
William Sutton Jr.: We have so many different groups that are represented, whether it be based on gender, age, race, religion, sexual preference, political affiliation, whatever the case may be, all of that is being brought to the workforce. And we want people to be authentic in who they are and be able to provide a space to allow them to bring their genuine selves to work each and every day.
Rick Sizemore: How do you think this work will affect our vocational rehabilitation consumers and the communities we serve?
William Sutton Jr.: The work that we’re about to embark on will make the lives of those that we impact so much better for the good. This project brings me hope for a brighter future for marginalized and underrepresented groups all over the world. I don’t feel like we can progress if we’re not willing to put in the work. In this instance, putting in the work means opening up dialogue, understanding the needs and experience of others, and then making a conscious decision to make a change.
William Sutton Jr.: By leaning into some of these critical conversations we’re laying the foundation and building a brighter future brick by brick, each person within the range of my voice has the potential to be the agent of change. And so with that, I’m just so excited. I couldn’t be more thrilled.
Rick Sizemore: Well, you’re known around the state for your work as a placement counselor with the leadership you’ve provided in the Virginia Rehabilitation Association, you’re well-respected. I just want to end up by asking you, what do you want people to know most about this special assignment you’re involved in?
William Sutton Jr.: I want you to know that brighter days are on the horizon, change is coming. I want each and every one of our associates and teammates that are out there to know that we value your experience, we value your differences, we value your input and in the days and weeks and months to come, I’m going to be calling on each of you. I can’t do it alone. So don’t be afraid to raise your hand and step up because again, the work can’t be done by one person.
Rick Sizemore: William Sutton Jr. is working on a special assignment with the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services where he serves in the division of vocational rehabilitation. Thank you for being on the podcast today, William.
William Sutton Jr.: Thanks for having me, Rick.
Rick Sizemore: At the core of every great team is the drive and motivation that creates the bonds of commitment, dedication and performance, needed for every worthwhile achievement. At DARS this passion takes shape in our care for Virginia’s older adults as well as helping people who happen to have disabilities find meaningful careers. From the back office to the filed, to the front lines of customer care, we are driven forward by the needs of those we serve because the Heartbeat of DARS is Onward. (Heartbeat sound)
Rick Sizemore: Well, it’s time for our national clearinghouse update with the always entertaining and informative Cherie Takemoto. Welcome to the podcast, Cherie.
Cherie Takemoto: Hi, Rick.
Rick Sizemore: What’d you think of Brandon’s story?
Cherie Takemoto: I was so impressed with Brandon’s story and taken aback by how important it is that VR counselors really get to know their clients so that they can bring out the best and connect them with the best employers.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah, Janet really did that.
Cherie Takemoto: Yes. And so this week for those counselors who have trouble finding the best in their clients, I have a couple of really nice resource lists we’ve developed from the NCRTM.
Rick Sizemore: Cool. What else do you have for us this month?
Cherie Takemoto: Well, the NCRTM resource says to support culturally responsive and trauma informed practices, are a lot of resources that people can just do on their own or insert into their training, or learn a lot about things to think about when they’re listening to their clients, especially clients who’ve been through a lot like Brandon has.
Rick Sizemore: Well, we wanted to thank you for that nice piece you put in your newsletter on the podcast.
Cherie Takemoto: Yes. And I have a link to that newsletter. So you can find out about how famous and out there the VR Workforce Studio podcast is.
Rick Sizemore: You’re so kind. And it’s Black History Month.
Cherie Takemoto: Yes. And I have a link to an organization called the National Association of Multicultural Rehabilitation Concerns who are looking at rehab research, education, and practice, and the importance of understanding the barriers that impact outcomes of cultural insensitivity.
Rick Sizemore: Well, Cherie, you’re always spot on with resources, news and information from the national clearinghouse. Thanks for being on the show today.
Cherie Takemoto: And thank you. And we’ll talk to you next month.
Rick Sizemore: Cherie Takemoto joins us from the Rehabilitation Services Administration’s National Clearinghouse for rehabilitation training materials. It’s job shadowing month as Virginia DARS holds a series of job shadowing events around the state. We’ll bring you special coverage from the front lines of vocational rehabilitation on episode 93, at the VR Workforce Studio next month. Here’s Lynn Harris, director of the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation.
Lynn Harris: The foundation is pleased to bring you these exciting stories of how vocational rehabilitation is changing people’s lives. Your support helps students gain the skills and credentials they need to be successful in business and industry. We thank all of our partners in podcasting who made this episode possible.
Lynn Harris: The Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation, CVS Health, the Hershey Company, and United Bank. You can find out more about becoming a sponsor at wwrcf.org or find our contact information in the show notes at vrworkforcestudio.com.
Rick Sizemore: You can always find another exciting episode as we podcast the sparks that ignite vocational rehabilitation here at the VR Workforce Studio. Until next time, I’m Rick Sizemore.
Announcer: The VR Workforce Studio podcast is owned and operated by the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation. The foundation publishes 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.