VR can change your life, the Laura Williams story

Episode 85 Special Guests

Rick Sizemorerick.sizemore@dars.virginia.gov
540-688-7552 @vrworkforce

WWRC Foundation Lynn Harris, Foundation Director, lharris@wwrcf.org
540-332-7542 540-430-4490.

National Clearinghouse for Rehabilitation Training Materials
Cherie Takemoto, PhD Project Director/Senior Research Analyst ctakemoto@neweditions.net 703-356-8035 ext. 107  @RSA_NCRTM

Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services

Rehabilitation Services Administration  

Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy

Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center  540-332-7000 or 800-345-9972

George Dennehy with the Goo Goo Dolls  George Dennehy

Lead On Lead On VR Music Video featuring George Dennehy and the Voices of Rehabilitation
Click Here for the Music Video

Lead On Lead On Karaoke – Free Download, now you can sing the VR National Anthem with a professional soundtrack from your phone.  Click Here for the Free Karaoke Video

Special thanks to CVS Health, The Hershey Company and CSAVR and the WWRC Foundation for this support of the VR National Anthem

Rothrock Reflections Podcast

This is where I belong, a video featuring Laura Williams 

Voice Talent by Steve Sweeney

NCRTM Resources to Celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Vocational Rehabilitation

  • VR100 Anniversary: Celebrating a Century of Success! June 2, 2020, marked the 100th anniversary of the VR program. RSA paid tribute to the 100th anniversary of VR by showcasing how the VR program helped change the lives of students and adults with disabilities. VR Workforce Studio Podcast host Rick Sizemore moderated this celebration with appearances by the Department of Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos and the Commissioner of RSA, Mark Schultz.
  • State VR Success Stories – links shared by CSAVR to VR success around the country.
  • Vocational Rehabilitation Anthem – Lead on VR The celebration closed with the released during the May VR Workforce Studio podcast.
  • RSA VR100 RSA will continue to celebrate VR’s 100th birthday in 2020.

NCRTM Resources to Celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act


Episode 85 Transcript

Speaker 1:  VR Workforce Studio (singing).

Laura Williams:         … gave me more confidence to be able to go to work every day and I would highly recommend anyone with a disability. It can really change your life.

Speaker 1:  4-3-2-1.

Announcer:  VR Workforce Studio, podcasting the sparks that ignite vocational rehabilitation through the inspiring stories of people with disabilities who have gone to work. As well as the professionals who have helped them.

Speaker 1:  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.

Speaker 2:  To help expand registered apprenticeship.

Announcer:  These are their stories.

Speaker 3:  Because there’s such a great story to tell about people with disabilities.

Announcer:  And now here is the host of the VR Workforce Studio, Rick Sizemore.

Rick Sizemore:  Welcome to episode 85 of the VR Workforce studio podcast. On today’s show, the woman who coined the phrase, VR gave me the spark I needed to ignite success in my life, Laura Williams, mechanical assembler at ComSonics in today’s big inspiration showcase. As we continue celebrating the 100th anniversary of vocational rehabilitation. We talk with Kathy Hayfield, the Commissioner of the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services. As it’s not only the 100th anniversary of VR, this year marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which we celebrate in July. Later in today’s show, we talk with Jim Rothrock about the Virginians with Disabilities Act, which actually preceded the ADA by about five years. Jim was involved in the grassroots effort to get the VDA, the Virginians with Disabilities Act, passed some three and a half decades ago. He takes us back to look at how the VDA came into being and eventually led to the emergence of the ADA.

Well, if you’ve not seen the YouTube video, A Century of Success, we’re including it in today’s show notes, produced by our friends out at the National Clearinghouse for Rehabilitation Training Materials, highlighting six stories of vocational rehabilitation. That was part of their 100th anniversary celebration in June. And one of those stories is about today’s guest, Laura Williams. She holds industry recognized credentials as a manufacturing specialist and a manufacturing technician one. She is a registered apprentice and now works as a mechanical assembler at ComSonics. Thank you so much for joining us.

Laura Williams:  You’re welcome.

Rick Sizemore:  How long have you worked at ComSonics?

Laura Williams:  It’ll be two years, June the fourth.

Rick Sizemore:  Wow, so you’re right at an anniversary. Now in the video, you say you’re a mechanical assembler, but you’ve advanced to become an electronics technician apprentice. Tell us about that.

Laura Williams:  I was interested in expanding my career. So, electronic technician apprentice sounded really great, so I was able to take electricity one and it’s helped a lot in kind of some of the stuff I do now.

Rick Sizemore:  So tell us about your routine day at work and how you’ve grown since starting the job there at ComSonics.

Laura Williams:  Right now, I’m building sensors. So, there’s these little plastic things you plug in the wall and inside is a circuit board with many parts on it that had been soldered. So I’ve been putting them in the cases and then closing the cases up, put labels on them and then putting them in the box ready for shipment out to the customers.

Rick Sizemore:  Now how did vocational rehabilitation and being at Wilson Workforce help you get ready for this job?

Laura Williams:  It prepared me to be ready for the workforce and what to expect, and especially the interviewing process. I got computer support specialist training, and then I got manufacturing technician training and obtained manufacturing specialist one, manufacturing technician one, and OSHA 10. I heard about the manufacturing program at WWRC and it interested me a lot and I love to build things.

Rick Sizemore:  So, where do you see your career going from here now that you’ve gotten established as an apprentice?

Laura Williams:  Just moving up. I like to do different things.

Rick Sizemore:  What would you want someone who’s never heard of this program to know most about the training and the help you got to get this job?

Laura Williams:  I would want them to know it’s worth it and that they’ll be fully capable of pursuing their career with the help that’s able to be provided. I mean, it helped a lot getting accommodations which helped tremendously and…

Rick Sizemore:  What kind of accommodations are provided as part of your job?

Laura Williams:  I would say, something’s be lowered so I can reach them better. I had a chair accommodated for me so I can have my feet on something, so better posture. I had a reacher to help me get some things down.

Rick Sizemore:  Well, having a different body size and type gives you certain challenges that you’ve obviously overcome and you’ve been very successful, but the folks that ComSonics talked about how you walked through the door on day one, really ready to do the job.

Laura Williams:  I think it’s great. It means a lot. I mean, I was really determined having a job. I really wanted a job.

Rick Sizemore:  How has that changed your life having this job?

Laura Williams:  It changes it in a way showing that having a disability is not necessarily going to stop you from actually having employment. You just have to find the right place and the right people and as long as you’re determined and confident and do well in your classes, anything’s possible if you put your mind to it.

Rick Sizemore:  Hmm. How does this success make you feel? Especially knowing you’re part of a program that’s been around a hundred years.

Laura Williams:  I think it’s great. I think it’s a wonderful thing for many people with many challenges, because in my experience and other people’s experience, there are a lot of times there’s people that will look at you or see you, but they won’t give you the chance to see what your capabilities are, and I think having this program really helps people to actually have a chance at what other people have a chance at, but helped me from day one, especially with driving. That’s huge because I’m more independent and I can take myself to and from work, and then it gave me more confidence to be able to go to work every day. And I would highly recommend anyone with a disability to go so it can really change a life.

Rick Sizemore: David Leon is the Deputy Director for Workforce Programs at the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services and leads the agency’s efforts to engage business.

David Leon:  Laura’s story reminds us that when we work with individuals to tap into their abilities and interests and work with business to find their needs, we can create matches that turn into long-term careers and success.

Laura Williams:  I’m Laura Williams and I’m a mechanical assembler at ComSonics celebrating the one hundredth anniversary of vocational rehab.

Rick Sizemore:  Later in today’s show, Jim Rothrock joins us to talk about what it was like to be part of the grassroots movement that helped pass the Virginians with Disabilities Act, some 35 years ago, and how it helped bring about the Americans with Disabilities Act, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year on July 26th. But now, we’re fortunate to welcome the Commissioner for the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, and a woman who has spent her entire career helping people with disabilities. Kathy Hayfield joins us now from her office in Richmond, Virginia. Welcome, Kathy.

Kathy Hayfield:  Well, thank you, Rick.

Rick Sizemore:  Well, Kathy vocational rehabilitation has been around now a hundred years and of course, the backdrop for all of this is the program that started out serving people with mostly physical disabilities has evolved through the years, with an ever increasing emphasis on the value that people with disabilities bring to the workforce. And today, vocational rehabilitation is integrated into the workforce system and working more closely with education through the Workforce, Innovation and Opportunities Act. So, what are some of the things you consider most important in how VR has evolved through the years as we celebrate this century of service?

Kathy Hayfield:  Well, there are so many, and I’ve been involved in the vocational rehabilitation program, and before that, the title one workforce programs for a good 40 years, and what I’ve really seen is a greater focus on giving people the tools they need to be successfully employed. So for example, today we’re focusing on the quality of employment that people attain. In order to have good quality employment, you have to be educated. You have to have a credential and it’s fabulous if you have a plan, that’s a career pathway in order to build on your skills, just like you and I have, Rick. So that’s been a really wonderful change. Also over the years, supported employment has grown to serve people with intellectual disabilities in a way that we never seen possible. Today, we’re customizing jobs so that people who in the past wouldn’t have been able to work are working. Also today, we’re seeing that every single person can work, if they want to work. So we’re working harder and harder to build a plan around an individual’s needs, not trying to just fit them into a system. It’s really been a wonderful change over the years.

Rick Sizemore:  And as employers need to fill jobs, they’re learning that, that pool of talent is right in front of them.

Kathy Hayfield:  Well, I really see that there is competitive integrated employment opportunity for all people who want it. We, the vocational rehabilitation system, we’re challenged to provide the tools, the resources that people need so that they can achieve full employment. The onus is on us to help move people out of poverty, to provide the support systems so that everyone can work. We have to be creative and positive, and we really have to value people for themselves and provide a good solid person centered plan. Person centered is a term you’re hearing in the healthcare system for elderly folks. Instead of providing a system of services and plugging people into it, now what we do is we provide a system of services around a person’s needs and we’re working with all different kinds of partners. Things are not one size fits all anymore.

Rick Sizemore:  So Kathy, as we look to the future and think about vocational rehabilitation, what do you think is ahead?

Kathy Hayfield:  In the future, I see that we’ll be more and more engaged with the business sector. We’ll know what the labor market is, and that will help us improve the outcomes for people. We’ll be looking at the value of people with disabilities in the workforce. The business sector has been telling us that for years. So, there’s going to be a lot more focus on equity and inclusion of people with disabilities in the workforce.

Rick Sizemore: Your vision at the macro level, because you lead the agency and more than just vocational rehabilitation, but you’re very focused on helping Virginia’s older adults and people with disabilities to escape poverty so they can live safer, be more independent, live more productive lives, but how does VR fit into that vision?

Kathy Hayfield:  So, people with disabilities live in poverty more than any other population of people. It’s disproportionate. The onus is on us to bring all the partners together, to serve a person where they need to be served, and in their community. We’re hearing terms like integrated resource teams, braided funding. It’s so critical that we work as a village and we use all of the resources that are available for people to help them live more fulfilling lives, help people reach independence, interdependence, so that we’re all working together, so that they can have good solid homes to live in, strong nutrition, so that all of the services are pulled together so that people can be pulled out of poverty and live full lives.

Rick Sizemore:  So, Kathy, what do you value most about VR?

Kathy Hayfield:  Well, first of all, I would say that all people can work, if they want to work. That’s a value. I also believe that services should be person centered, that the skills that are needed to be successful in employment, that we provide the tools and the resources. That’s on us. We also should think from a lens of equity and inclusion and that’s in all of the services we provide at DARS. We need to value people for themselves, for their abilities. We need to think about people as whole people and offer them opportunities to meet their dreams.

Rick Sizemore:   Kathy Hayfield is the Commissioner for the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, celebrates her 40th year of service to people with disabilities this year.

Rick Sizemore:   Jim Rothrock has spent his entire life in vocational rehabilitation, and is certainly no stranger to our podcast. Welcome back, Jim.

Jim Rothrock:  It’s always a pleasure, Rick.

Rick Sizemore:  Jim, we just heard from Commissioner Hayfield out at the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Service, talking about the 100th anniversary of vocational rehabilitation. We were having a conversation about the ADAs 30th anniversary, and she said, “You know the first time I saw Jim Rothrock, he was an advocate working on the Virginians with Disabilities Act.” So I’m wondering if you could take us back about three and a half decades and tell us what was going on, how you were involved, in what I’m going to call, a wheels on the ground effort, to get VDA passed.

Jim Rothrock: This question brought back some really fond memories that I’d almost forgotten. The history of the Virginia’s Disabilities Act, which is a precursor to the Americans with Disabilities Act, in fact, began during the John Dalton administration. Governor Dalton removed Virginia from the Developmental Disabilities Act because he felt that the feds were requiring the state to provide something that he did not necessarily support, which was an advocacy organization that could pursue legal remedies. So, he removed us from that and in so doing, gave up a small amount of money, probably I think it was around $100,000, but replaced it with state funds so that there was no money lost, but the presence of the agency was diminished some. It was a very teeny agency in state government, and the agency for advocacy was diminished.

Some individuals, some advocates predominantly from the Tidewater area represented Centers for Independent Living, an organization that I had the good fortune to be aligned with. Handicaps Unlimited of Virginia approached Chuck Robb in his run for governor to replace governor Dalton and said, “This should be an issue to one, get Virginia back into that federal program providing advocacy and two, looking at the opportunity to expand civil rights for individuals with disabilities, if and when the governor won. Well, Governor Rob thought that was a noble add to his campaign and the fact that the federal government changed its policy and made the monies that we got from the advocacy program, you had to have that advocacy program in order to leverage out voc rehab dollars and other federal dollars, so although Dalton made a very low level decision to get out of the program, staying out of the program would have cost multimillions of dollars.

So, Robb had an issue that not only made good social sense, but made very, very good dollar sense. So, he went about getting some individuals, led largely by Carolyn Hodgins, to look at what the bill would be, and Virginians with Disabilities Act was crafted and introduced in 1984 to the general assembly. And it was kind of a soft sell in the first run by saying, this was just a small housekeeping bill, and it had a wonderful patron, a gentleman by the name of Warren Stambaugh, a Democrat from Northern Virginia, who worked with Jordan Goldman from the Governor’s office to push this Robb priority through. And sure enough, it went through the house with no problem whatsoever, but after passing the house, somebody at the chamber of commerce leaked a memo that the chamber was providing to its members, noting that this bill would just lead to putting large numbers of individuals or Virginians with disabilities on the dole quote unquote.

And that got the attention of the state papers, and all of a sudden, the Senate woke up when the bill came over from the house and read it, and low and behold, they saw that it was a fairly sweeping case of civil rights legislation. And it was one of the first state actions that were following the federal rehabilitation act of 1973. So what went through the house without a problem, came to a screeching halt in the Senate. And it went from being a small item on page six in the papers, to being above the fold on the front page of the papers, and really got a great deal of attention across the state from Republicans and Democrats, people for it and against it. And it became a good discussion that lasted the year. The Senate chose to not act on the bill that passed the house, but to carry it over, quote unquote and scheduled a bunch of hearings around the state, which although many of the advocates including myself thought was just awful news really turned out to be a very good move for a number of methods were allowed to occur.

We had hearings all around the state and people saw that this bill, which impacted employment and transportation and education and voting rights, and was positive to ensure that a Virginian with a disability had equal rights as anybody else in the Commonwealth to engage in remunerative employment and the things that every other Virginian does, it had been denied to many of those individuals. Throughout those hearings, we heard individuals with disabilities talk about their lack of education in some regards, their inability to access jobs and restaurants and movie theaters and museums. And the members of the legislation, the legislators in the Senate, who were led by Joe Gartlan, Northern Virginia Democrat, Clancy Holland, a wonderful legislator from Tidewater, Charlie Waddell from Northern Virginia, Onico Barker, a funeral director from Danville, Frank Nolen from the Valley. These gentlemen heard stories that demonstrated this was just not an academic idea. It was a real life problem.

And fortunately the advocates led by people like Marianne Cashatt, from the Valley, WB Scott, John Chapel, Ralph Shellman, Ed Turner, these advocates were able to show that the problems presented had solutions that could fairly easily be obtained. And after the hearings became successful, you saw the opposition shrink and there was significant opposition, the merchants, the Retail Merchants Association, the Manufacturers Association, the Chamber of Commerce, local governments, all saw that their jobs would be made more difficult because they had to look at everything they did and ascertain where barriers came up. And in most cases, were forced to remove those barriers and although that was the good business move to do, if they didn’t do that, there were possible legal remedies provided in the state circuit courts that got their attention and it showed that this was a serious bill.

A good friend of mine back in the day, was the clerk of the Senate, and he often commented about the large number of people with disabilities that showed up for these hearings. I didn’t tell him that it wasn’t that many people necessarily, but when you get three or four electric wheelchairs in a room and four or five people with white canes and seeing eye dogs and a couple of sign language interpreters, it fills up a room pretty quick and demonstrates that there are people around the Commonwealth that are for this bill or for this issue. So, we saw the opposition wane. We saw the governor Robb continue to offer his unwavering support. And in the spring, saw that we would get the bill passed and enacted in July the 1st, when those bills are brought into effectiveness. And it really was an opportunity for the Commonwealth of Virginia to lead in civil rights legislation, which unfortunately, the state has not always been in that perspective as a leader, but in this case, what we did in Virginia was a model for most of the other states to follow in the subsequent years.

Rick Sizemore:  You’re an absolute encyclopedia of valuable, valuable reflections, and information about this evolution of the VDA, which became the ADA.

Jim Rothrock: Right.

Rick Sizemore:  It’s been an amazing evolution. And so, having spent your whole life in vocational rehabilitation and advocacy and helping people with disabilities, how does it make you feel to look back on those early days when it was such a struggle and to see how much things have changed over the past several decades?

Jim Rothrock: Well, I’ll never forget, I did a lot of training after the bill was put into effect, and I’ll never forget speaking to a bankers association. And one of the bankers from somewhere in the state commented that he didn’t see this as a problem because he had never seen a person with a disability in his bank. And your laughter is exactly what the room fills up with because this poor guy just didn’t get it, but eventually, he did get it. And I think that’s the type of response that does give one a sense of accomplishment and seeing things change. And now, in the Commonwealth, we have a very active disability rights movement that routinely addresses very difficult issues and becomes very engaged with our state’s general assembly to make sure that individuals who here to forth, been pretty much silent, their voices are heard and the slogan that’s often used is, nothing about us without us.

Rick Sizemore:  Oh, absolutely.

Jim Rothrock:  And that’s becoming the routine that fortunately, started back in the seventies and eighties. There was one great lady by the name of Peggy Bendrick, who had a spinal cord injury, had done some rehabilitation at Wilson rehab center. And she was an advocate in the late sixties and entire seventies who got everybody’s attention and was very in your face about important issues. And her spirit continues on when you see thousands of individuals with disabilities going through the Capitol during the sessions in current times, and making sure that again, nothing about us without us.

Rick Sizemore:  Well, Jim you’ve lived an amazing life and made enormous contributions to our state and to people with disabilities. You talked about the numbers of people with disabilities and how things have changed. What we’re seeing today in the midst of this coronavirus and the pandemic is that many of the jobs, the crucial jobs, that keep our society moving forward are being staffed by people with disabilities, in manufacturing, driving trucks, in transportation logistics, in grocery workers. So it has to feel affirming that you’ve been part of something that’s brought that about.

Jim Rothrock:  Well, I do get a sense of, I guess you could call it, pride or accomplishment. When I go pick up a subscription at my local pharmacy and drive through, and many times the pharm tech that I get is obviously a person with a disability, and it’s always real good for him to give me whatever I’m getting that day, and I just have a little smile thing. Hey, that’s good on you, buddy.

Rick Sizemore:  Well, we appreciate you and all that you’ve done through the years and for this reflection that helps us understand just how important the work you and others did in the early days, how important that was and the results leading to the passage of the ADA. As we continue pushing forward, filling the talent pipelines for business and industry and connecting people with disabilities to those waiting jobs and that eventual outcome of people with disabilities being employed. We thank you for joining us on the podcast today.

Jim Rothrock:  It’s always a pleasure. Rick, take care.

Rick Sizemore:  You can learn more about Jim Rothrock and hear other interviews with the man and known for the phrase, never confuse being awake with being alert, just check the show notes at vrworkforcestudio.com. It’s time for our national clearinghouse update with Cherie Takemoto. Welcome to the podcast, Cherie.

Cherie Takemoto:  Yes, and wasn’t that so much fun last month for the 100th anniversary of vocational rehabilitation?

Rick Sizemore:  Oh, it was absolutely awesome, talking to great consumers who are doing such great work in their lives.

Cherie Takemoto:  Yes, everyone was so impressive, but you’re always able to ask the right questions and weave their stories together in order to surprise us, raise our expectations and celebrate their success.

Rick Sizemore:  Well, thank you so much. It was easy to do because these are some great stories.

Cherie Takemoto:  And they’re wonderful, but not so rare. CSAVR collected links to many other success stories from state VR agencies that I’m sharing.

Rick Sizemore:  Awesome.

Cherie Takemoto:  And how about that Vocational Rehabilitation Anthem, Lead on VR?

Rick Sizemore:  Oh, the anthem, of course.

Cherie Takemoto:  Yes. George Dennehy makes us all want to sing along.

Rick Sizemore:  Yeah, that’s the one thing that I hear from listeners at this podcast is, I can’t get the song out of my head.

Cherie Takemoto:  And you have the music and the karaoke version.

Rick Sizemore: It’s so cool because people are downloading the karaoke version and tapping their local talent, so people are able to sing that song at their meetings and regional events, so that’s something we’re very excited about.

Cherie Takemoto:  Yes, and this month we have so much more to celebrate. We have the 30th anniversary of the ADA.

Rick Sizemore:  The 30th anniversary. That’s so cool.

Cherie Takemoto:  And so this month, I’m sharing a link to our NCRTM accessibility resource page. RSA grantees are really stepping up and making sure that what they’re posting is accessible, so everyone has access to their wonderful materials, and we have instructional videos that demystify how to make Word, PowerPoint and PDF documents accessible, as well as two brand spanking new Excel videos.

Rick Sizemore:  Well, these resources you provide really are essential in every rehabilitation professional’s toolbox, so keep up the great work.

Cherie Takemoto:  I have three other things to share. I also have something from EEOC on ADA and COVID-19, something from the Southwest ADA Center on inmates and visitors because the jail populations and prison populations are the next phase for ADA, especially with deaf inmates, and a list of resources from our friends at the workforce, GPS, on how to celebrate ADA.

Rick Sizemore:  Well, thank you, Cherie. It’s always a pleasure to hear from you, and again, congratulations to you and the team that put together the VR 100, A Century of Success, a video that everyone is downloading and watching. If you’ve not seen that, of course, there’s a link in the show notes, and you’ll want to check that out. Thank you, Cherie.

Cherie Takemoto: Thank you.

Rick Sizemore:  You can find contact information for today’s guests, as well as links and resources for the national clearinghouse. In our show notes at vrworkforcestudio.com. Here’s Lynn Harris, Director of the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation.

Lynn Harris:  The foundation is so pleased to bring you these exciting stories of how vocational rehabilitation is changing people’s lives by helping them 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, ABLEnow, Aladdin foods, the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation, CVS health, and the Hershey company. You can find out more by visiting us 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.