National Clearinghouse for Rehabilitation Training Materials Links from Cherie Takemoto
Cherie reviewed a couple of previous VR Workforce Studio Podcasts featuring successful wage earners with autism. Listen and Learn Series.
How Wilson Workforce Partners with Special Education to help Students with Disabilities Along with Updates from the National Rehabilitation Association: Jared Lem’s Story of Vocational Rehabilitation and His Job at the U.S. Geological Society. Jared Lem found his perfect job at USGS and Cherie shared autism resources during this April 2019 episode.
They are the Dreamers. We are the Doers. Meet Rose Hilderbrand as she discusses her new job in manufacturing and hear reflections from Vanessa Rastberger of the Manufacturing Skills Institute and the National Clearinghouse Update with Cherie Takemoto This episode features Rose and her Career Pathways grant experience with the Dream It Do It academy and her job at Masco Academy. She also shares resources for Labor Market Information in this July 2018 episode.
Success Story Videos in celebration of National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
The National Clearinghouse of Rehabilitation Training Materials (NCRTM) will share success story videos from their library in October in recognition of National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October. In this episode Cherie shared a couple featured success stories of people with autism.
The Pathway to Employment Video Series from Nebraska VR de-mystifies the many services provided to clients and businesses while highlighting the innovation that is the culture of Nebraska VR. “Job Immersion Training to Customized Employment” features Sam Nelson’s path to a job as an Environmental Services Associate is cleaning infant incubators in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
Idaho Division of Rehabilitation Information for Students Site describes their services for students (including pre-employment transition services) and provides links to success stories, videos, and tools and links specific to Idaho as well as other information relevant to stakeholders from other states. Check out the “DVR – Pre ETS Mari & Daniel Ramos Interview” as Daniel and his mother discuss his experience participating in a summer Voc. Rehab work program.
Speaker 1: VR Workforce Studio.
Speaker 2: VR Workforce Studio, inspiration, education, and affirmation at work. Welcome to another episode as we open up the VR Workforce Studio to champion the courageous stories of vocational rehabilitation from individuals with disabilities.
Speaker 3: Listen to our amazing stories.
Speaker 4: Feel the joy and share in our inspiration.
Speaker 2: We’ll also meet the champions of Business at Industry.
Speaker 5: I can say beyond the shadow of a doubt that some of our best employees have disabilities.
Speaker 2: And hear from the VR professionals who have dedicated their lives and careers to helping individuals with disabilities go to work. Now, here’s the host of the VR workforce studio. Rick Sizemore.
Speaker 6: Begin Countdown.
Rick Sizemore: Welcome to episode 73 of the VR Workforce Studio podcast, the Blue Man Group and vocational rehabilitation, creating access and opportunity as we celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness month. This year’s theme, ” The Right talent, Right Now,” comes from the Federal Department of Labor’s office of disability employment policy. Links with information in our show notes at vrworkforcestudio.com along with contact information for all of our guests. We have an all-star lineup of that right talent, right now on today’s show, Jason McLin of the Blue Man Group is here to talk about their autism friendly performances, and the new rehabilitation services administration commissioner, Mark Schultz, drops in later in the program to say hello. Richard Kriner and Vicki Lee Varner discuss autism. Cherie Takemoto joins us from the National Clearinghouse of Rehabilitation Training Materials with all the latest news and resources. In our big inspiration showcase today, it’s all about Andy Poole who just completed vocational rehabilitation training at the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center where he earned industry recognized workforce credentials and information technology and now works for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts as their information security officer. Welcome to the podcast, Andy.
Andy Poole: Hi, how are you doing?
Rick Sizemore: I’m wonderful. It’s great to talk to you this morning. Tell us about your new job.
Andy Poole: I just got a job as the information security officer working at the Department of Historic Resources in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Rick Sizemore: Congratulations. Tell us about your training at Wilson. What was that like? What did you get involved with in terms of learning the skills you needed for this job?
Andy Poole: As far as the computer repair, there was a shop that people from the public, they bring their computers in and we fixed them. Just like any ordinary shop, except you don’t get paid obviously.
Rick Sizemore: That’s right.
Andy Poole: That’s a really big thing. Honestly, without that I probably wouldn’t have been able to get into IT. When you do apply for entry level position, typically they want one year of experience. How are you supposed to get that one year of experience if you can’t get a job? That’s really big to have. That really helped me out getting, getting a job in IT. I also got my A+ certification at Wilson Workforce, so that helped me as well.
Rick Sizemore: The vocational rehabilitation experience was good training ground to put you in a position to apply for these IT security jobs?
Andy Poole: Oh yeah, 100%. Wilson Workforce helped me get my foot in the door in it. When I left the program, I had almost a year of IT experience, about 10 months. I was able to put that on my resume. A lot of people can pass a test, but they can’t apply in the real world.
Rick Sizemore: That’s right.
Andy Poole: Yeah, so when a manager’s looking at a resume, they would rather see experience on the resume than a certification, because a lot of people can perhaps pass a certification but they can’t apply it.
Rick Sizemore: You have a disability. Could you tell us a little about the disability and how you got involved with vocational rehabilitation to go to work?
Andy Poole: Yeah, so I have a Asperger’s. I’m not as good socially, I guess you can say. I’m very high functioning Asperger’s. I could still have a conversation. I still have friends and still hang out with friends and stuff. It can make interviewing a little bit harder. Is that, I don’t know what else to say.
Rick Sizemore: What did vocational rehabilitation do and in addition to the skills training that helped you overcome the challenges that you were facing toward getting a job?
Andy Poole: Yeah, I had a mock interview. That was helpful to get prepared to obviously have real interviews. That’s my main struggle is interviewing. Obviously, if you’re not good at interviewing, it’s going to make it a lot harder to get a job, unfortunately.
Rick Sizemore: Do you have a favorite story about working in the IT class classroom here at Wilson and how that helped you develop the skills you need?
Andy Poole: Just fixing computers on a daily basis definitely just prepared me for the, for the real world. Obviously, I was able to put that on my resume.
Rick Sizemore: Tell us about your credential.
Andy Poole: We have a classroom session and then we have the computer repair shop section, so hands on experience and basically reading in a book. At the end of the program, once we’re prepared, once the instructor thinks we’re prepared as well, we have to take the A+ certification. If you pass that, then you become A+ certified. That’s a very well known certification in the IT world, so that looks very good on a resume.
Rick Sizemore: It’s not the easiest test to pass from what I understand.
Andy Poole: Oh no.
Rick Sizemore: It’s challenging.
Andy Poole: Oh yeah, it’s very challenging. There’s two parts to it. There’s a hardware part and a software part. You have to test two tests to become certified. It’s definitely not a hard certification. Now obviously there’s much harder certifications than the A+. It’s not the easiest. I worked with some people that don’t have the A+. I wouldn’t say that if you, if you don’t have it, you may still be able to get a job, but it may impact your salary. They would rather see someone with experience on the resume then just having the certification.
Rick Sizemore: Ideally, they’d really like to see both.
Andy Poole: Yes, exactly. If you have both, that’s the best of both worlds. Right now, I’m going to school. I’m actually going for a bachelor’s degree. In the future, I’m probably going to get a master’s. Having a degree on your resume is good, you know, if you have all three … The more you have on your resume, the better.
Rick Sizemore: Would you say that the vocational rehabilitation experience was a good precursor to the bachelor’s degree that you’re pursuing?
Andy Poole: Yes. Before I went to Wilson Workforce, I did not want to go to college. I did not have the motivation at all. It definitely prepared me to have the motivation to go to college.
Rick Sizemore: What would you say to someone with autism or Asperger’s syndrome who was thinking about getting into vocational rehabilitation? What would your encouragement to them be?
Andy Poole: I would tell them to not let it stop them from pursuing their goals. As you’re in the workforce, you learn how to accommodate for it basically, and you learn how to get better, and whatever your weakness is, you learn how to get better with it. Definitely don’t let it set you back basically.
Rick Sizemore: Well, when you’re around, say a new group of people who may not know you have Asperger’s syndrome, what kind of things are going through your mind as you’re interacting with people?
Andy Poole: I really don’t even think about it. I just do my job, and they do their job. I do know other people that do have Asperger’s that are in IT and they’re very smart. Yeah, I would say if someone has autism, they could still do the job just as good as someone that doesn’t, someone that doesn’t have autism. I’ve seen people that don’t have autism, as far as I know, at least, and they can’t do the job nearly as good as someone that does. They’re both human beings. They both have the capabilities to do the job. People with, especially with people with Asperger’s, a lot of them are very intelligent, like Einstein, he had Asperger’s. There’s a whole bunch of famous entrepreneurs that have Asperger’s, and they’re very intelligent people.
Rick Sizemore: Also, we are always concerned about where you’re going to be financially once you go to work. In this new job, do you think you’ll be able to make what some people call a family sustaining wage?
Andy Poole: Yeah, I mean, I could definitely say that I make more than the average salary in the United States. I could definitely, I definitely do have make enough to have a family. I live by myself. I have a brand new car, so I’m making car payments. I actually just got recently got a two bedroom apartment, so I definitely do make enough to make a living and have a family if I wanted to have a family.
Rick Sizemore: You’re out there paying your own way, fully engaged in the workforce on a career path moving into the future.
Andy Poole: Yes.
Rick Sizemore: How does that feel?
Andy Poole: It feels good. I didn’t know that I was going to be at this this early in my life. I thought I was going to have to go to college, get a four year degree. I’m doing it.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. Andy, how old are you?
Andy Poole: I’m 24. I just turned 24
Rick Sizemore: Well, it’s national disability employment awareness month in October. Andrew Pool, IT professional and graduate from vocational rehabilitation, all this success to you, my friend. We appreciate you being on the VR Workforce Studio podcast.
Andy Poole: Awesome. Thank you. Glad to be here.
Rick Sizemore: Vicki, we’re so fortunate to also welcome today, Richard Kriner who is the program manager for Customized Employment and Autism Services with the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services. Welcome Richard.
Richard Kriner: Thank you for having me join.
Rick Sizemore: We’re excited about this story on autism. We’d like to hear from you about DARS and their approach to providing services to people with autism.
Richard Kriner: One of the things that we’re seeing is folks with autism have a lot to contribute to the workforce just like anybody else, but sometimes it’s a matter of being able to really recognize those differences as assets and value add to the workforce and things that can contribute to the business’ bottom line. There’s actually a good bit of research now out there from those early adopter businesses that have started to really invest in their diversity hiring practices. I had the opportunity to go out and speak to Workforce partners a lot, to speak with business partners about neurodiversity hiring and working with folks with autism. One of the things I talk about is framing the message for Workforce and why is this stuff important. We talk about the evolving demographic, right? We know the numbers are growing. Think of it this way, one in 10 job applicants, workers and customers are likely to be neurodivergent. So as a business who’s thinking about investing in this kind of stuff, you’re already doing it. You’re already supporting customers that represent individuals in the autism community. You likely already have members of your workforce that may not have disclosed that have autism. You for sure have an opportunity to address some of your workforce challenges, if you’re able to tap into that pipeline of neurodiverse talent.
Vicki: Yeah, and I would just like to thank you personally for being such a advocate and ally for us. It seems like you’re really passionate towards this.
Richard Kriner: My son was diagnosed with autism. I always frame it this way. There’s something about laying awake in bed at night and wondering what’s going to happen to your son.
Vicki: I was the one who was injured, but I know my family laid awake many nights wondering how society would accept me or all of the different challenges I would now face with accessibility and just different people’s outlooks on life. I think it’s really amazing that you’ve stepped up and you’re not only a voice for your son, but you’re a voice for so many people as well.
Richard Kriner: This is really more than a job.
Rick Sizemore: Richard Kriner is the program manager for Customized Employment and Autism Services at the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services. Thank you for being on the podcast, Richard.
Richard Kriner: Thank you guys. Thank you for all the great work you’re doing. I love your podcast and I love the information y’all are putting out. Vicky, so nice to speak to you today.
Vicki: Ah, thank you. It’s nice talking to you too.
Speaker 11: Preemployment transition services providers across the country are turning to Next Up transition curriculum. Next Up offers accessible video based lessons to help your program fulfilled the required pre ETS activities. Developed by transition professionals, this curriculum is video based for the YouTube generation and can be accessed in the classroom or on the go. Help your state or program improve outcomes while improving the lives and future of your students. Learn more about Next Up and download a free lesson at transitioncurriculum.com that’s transitioncurriculum.com. Help your students prepare for what’s next with Next Up.
Rick Sizemore: The Blue Man Group from Boston has announced their fifth annual autism friendly show, which will be held in Boston at the Charles Playhouse on October 19th. These autism friendly performances are suitable for individuals and families affected by autism and other sensory related issues. I was fortunate enough to see the Blue Man Group this year with my son Derek, who hooked us up with some backstage passes. Luckily, we met and talked with today’s guest, Jason McLin. Jason is a veteran performer with the Blue Man Group and joins us now with more on their autism friendly shows. Welcome Jason.
Jason McLin: Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to be with you.
Rick Sizemore: Jason, how did these autism friendly shows come about?
Jason McLin: The original ideas started in the Chicago production. They shared a close working relationship but their Local Autism Speaks chapter and found the partnership could be really fulfilling. Based on that experience, they started to extend it to the other five Blue Man Group cities.
Rick Sizemore: Who offered it the suggestion that the typical blue man group performance be altered and why that should happen?
Jason McLin: I think that there was enough of a connection. I know that there was a resident general manager in Las Vegas and his brother was part of Autism Speaks, so there was enough familiarity with Blue Man Folk and folk that works with Autism Speaks where there was somewhat of a shared language of an understanding of how would this look, what would this be like, how can we make this accessible? And so really it started from that place if this is something we’d like to do jointly, Blue Man and Autism Speaks. Certainly from our end, it was really a question to them of saying “What can we do to, to make this possible for as many families to come and see the show.”
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. This show is so unique and so exciting and so energetic, one has to wonder what kinds of things did you consider when you got into that conversation about changing the typical Blue Man show, if any Blue Man show has ever been considered a typical?
Jason McLin: Well, I think the exciting thing is that I think one of the reasons the show is so appealing is that it’s operating, it touches people. For us, it became a question of what are the things that would be hindrances? We have plenty of headphones, so right there we can start to make this adaptable. I mean, even for people who come to see the show that, that are not impacted by autism, a lot of people will still request to wear some headphones or earplugs, so we knew we had that. Okay, but what if we just turn the volume down? I mean it becomes a question of, I guess if I were to cut to the chase, the question is if you are trying to make your art accessible, it becomes a question of what then wouldn’t impinge upon the art itself or what just makes it accessible. Right? Like that fine line. What extent are you going to say so-and-so can’t be a part of this production, because it impinges on the artistic integrity? From our vantage point in Blue Man, we were thinking that’s really not an option for us, because this is about connection and relationships, so we want to make it available to everyone if possible.
Rick Sizemore: Everyone should make it a point to see a Blue Man group show. Getting into a mode where you’re going to change. That had to be little scary.
Jason McLin: I don’t know if I’d use the word scary, but I would acknowledge that certainly from our perspective, we didn’t to get into a situation where people are going to be uncomfortable, unnerved. I think from that standpoint, that first show was certainly had some of that tension, some of that feeling of everyone’s on board to do this, Autism Speaks. It was practically a full house. A lot of families were excited. We the performers and the Blue Man crew, everyone involved on our end. There was that family of how is this going to go? Are we going to inadvertently create a circumstance where someone is unnerved. I think that opportunity and beginnings of that relationship far outweighed those concerns. On the autism speak, they are considerably learned and gave us a lot of what to expect and these kinds of things. Interestingly enough, the character, really the blue acts as a neutral mask. There’s an interiority there that the character has. It is acting as, it’s permeable. When you make eye contact with someone or connect with someone, it is this unique experience. When I have done those shows, that is still really there. I can’t necessarily explain why that is but a lot of the connections that had been really rich with not just the parents but the children themselves. I think while some would say it’s a little loud, it’s very stimulating to the senses at its core, that sort of relationality, that part was always going to be there.
Rick Sizemore: How is the show different than the typical show you might see any other week?
Jason McLin: We have the noise reducing headphones. We have earplugs. The brightness of the lights are turned down a little bit. We also remove some of the strobe effects that happen. The other thing is that when we go into the audience, a lot of times we’ll literally walk, as you saw, walk into the audience via the seats with people in them. We have a tendency to not do that. We still come into the audience but we don’t go across the seats. We really leave that open to see what the sense is, the first third before we enter the audience. Everyone in real time is sort of gauging how is this being received, how does the audience seem, how are the families looking? I mean that certainly is a lifeline for us is to do the family seem … They’re so versed and they live this every day that they’re a great barometer of how this is going, the comfort level.
Rick Sizemore: Do you have a favorite story about someone in the audience and the impact that one of these autism friendly shows had on an audience participant?
Jason McLin: I do. I do. It didn’t actually happen to me, but I was able to witness it. At the end of the show you, I don’t know if you caught this part because of course we were meeting upstairs in the VIP area, but downstairs the other Blue Man goes as the audience leaves. There’s a lounge down there. We were all down there and taking pictures. There was another Blue Man across the room. The child was to probably been, Oh, maybe five or six, four or five or six. I looked over across the lounge and saw them. The Blue Man was knelt down. They were eye to eye. The child was still wearing the noise canceling headphones. They were probably less than a foot from one another and just staring at one another. It lasted for a long time. think that’s what I mean where I say, “Of course, that these differences are largely just addressing those sensory needs and making conducive.” Of course, as you know through all your work and all the families that are impacted by autism, that the connection, the relationality and whatever way it comes together is happening. As I looked across the room and watch that happen, it was amazing. You’re rarely ever going to get that with people that just come and go, right?
Rick Sizemore: Right.
Jason McLin: Oh yeah. Great, thanks a lot. See you later.
Rick Sizemore: But that connection is powerful.
Jason McLin: It was amazing. It was very powerful.
Rick Sizemore: Individuals with autism are so unique. Folks that work in the field often have a phrase. They say, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”
Jason McLin: Exactly, exactly.
Rick Sizemore: I’m curious how the process of engaging in these autism friendly shows may have changed you or your fellow Blue Men on stage as you see it unfolding.
Jason McLin: Over the years, for those of us that have done the show along time, you’re already mitigating this feeling of noticing how we as a culture consume entertainment has changed. And so for me, as someone that veers towards the Luddite end of things and has grave concerns about screens and everyone experiencing or consuming some kind of entertainment through a screen. Seeing that in live performances and wondering, “Are people acknowledging that this is happening in real time?” When I had started to do, when I had the opportunity to be in these shows, I started to see why I was reminded of that very power of seeing things live in real time in that palpable, moving you at the cellular level connection that happens and why it’s so crucial to see and experience art of any kind live and in person.
Rick Sizemore: Absolutely.
Jason McLin: I think that was it. And connecting with the families and being a part of something that says we’re working to this accessible. It was exciting, and so thinking again about who is this for, why are we, to what end are we doing this, those kinds of larger questions.
Rick Sizemore: It certainly says a lot about you and your fellow performers in the organization wanting to create that connectivity and provide that accessibility for people with autism. We certainly celebrate that with you. Now while BMG has regular performances are round the country and tours extensively, is the autism friendly show unique to Boston or are they going on in other places too?
Jason McLin: They do go on other places. There’s our Chicago show. Those will be on October 6th. Their Autism Speaks friendly show is October six. Las Vegas has already done theirs. Then ours of course will be on October 19th.
Rick Sizemore: Any final thoughts?
Jason McLin: Generally I like to operate under this notion that there’s this notion that nothing happens by accident. It was a pleasure meeting you and your son in that show and then to be able to sit down and talk a little bit. I think given that it doesn’t matter what your personal view on how things are going in our world in this day and age, I do think that most people are looking for a deeper connection in their life. This partnership and doing the show certainly is an opportunity for us in Blue Man too have a moment of just that, seeing what we do in a deeper way. It’s very exciting. This has been a real pleasure.
Rick Sizemore: Jason McLin, veteran performer with the Blue Man Group comes to us from his home in new England. We thank you so much.
Jason McLin: Thanks so much Rick.
Rick Sizemore: We’ve included links with more on Blue Man Group’s autism friendly performances as well as ticket and contact information in our show notes at vrworkforcestudio.com. The US Department of Education’s Rehabilitation Services Administration has a new commissioner. Mark Schultz has spent his career helping people with disabilities find employment and now leads the vocational rehabilitation program as well as other programs that help people with disabilities maximize their employment opportunities. Well, congratulations on your new appointment, Mark. Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to check in with us.
Mark Schultz: Thank you, Rick. It’s exciting to hear VR success stories like Andy’s and how VR helped him earn credentials and find his way into an it security officer position. On behalf of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, we wish Andy all the best and thank our partners in Virginia for their role in helping Andy reach his goals. Andy’s story is really what we’re focused on in VR. Across the entire country, truly engaging businesses understand their needs in connecting them with employees that happen to have disabilities. We are working hard to help people with disabilities gain relevant skills and industry recognized credentials that lead to careers, not just jobs.
The Blue Man Group, how great is that? Reaching out to people with autism, as an Andy story, and ensuring their show is more accessible. I’m excited about the VR Workforce Studio sharing the success stories and promoting vocational rehabilitation. Keep on podcast and best of luck.
Rick Sizemore: It’s time for our national clearing house update with Cherie Takemoto. Welcome Cherie.
Cherie Takemoto: Yes, and this is such a great show. I love it. Guess what I’m going to do today? I’m going to go into the way back machine and talk about some former VR Workforce Studio podcasts.
Rick Sizemore: Oh great. Here it goes, the way back machine sound effect.
Cherie Takemoto: I’m wondering whatever happened in Rose Hildebrand, who was your guest in July of 2018. She got the job working through the Career Pathway’s Dream it, Do it Academy.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah, we heard from Rose. She is doing exceptional working in her career at Masco Cabinetry.
Cherie Takemoto: Because October is National Disability Employment Awareness month, we’re going to feature on the NCRTM, some videos from success stories. One who, Sam Nelson who participated in Project Search at Nebraska Medicine in Omaha. The other is one from Idaho, a young man named Daniel Ramos and his mother who participated in their summer vocational rehabilitation work program.
Rick Sizemore: Cherie, always a pleasure to have you on the podcast.
Cherie Takemoto: Okay, take care.
Rick Sizemore: I’d like to thank all of today’s guests as well as Courtney Megliola with Lonestar Marketing for her help in coordinating the interview with Jason and the Blue Man Group. We hope you’ve enjoyed today’s show as much as we have. It means the world to us that you take time out of your busy schedule to listen to these podcasts. We also thank the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation for publishing and distributing the VR Workforce Studio podcast and for all they’re doing to support vocational rehabilitation. You can find out more about them at wwrcf.org I know they’d love to have you involved. Until next time, I’m Rick Sizemore inviting you to join me as we podcast the sparks that ignite vocational rehabilitation.
Speaker 2: We certainly thank all of our partners in podcasting who made this episode possible, Aladdin Foods, Career Pathways for Individuals with Disabilities, the Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge, the council of state administrators of vocational rehabilitation, CVS Health, Dominion Energy, the Hershey Company, the Jessie Ball duPont fund, United Bank, the Virginia Manufacturers Associations and Wells Fargo.