The Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services

Job Seekers - Success Stories

Damon Anderson

Damon AndersonDamon Anderson’s interest in physics and computer science had him reaching for the stars in pursuing postsecondary education and a related career.

When he is determined, he works hard and “doesn’t mess around,” he says. As Damon, who has muscular dystrophy, transitioned from high school to college, he worked with DARS to explore his options for higher education. After considering Virginia Tech, University of Virginia and University of Richmond, he decided to attend the University of Mary Washington. At UMW, he majored in computer science and physics and made the Dean’s List for two semesters.

The University of Mary Washington was very accommodating and responsive to his wheelchair accessibility and mobility needs, Damon says. The school refurbished the bathroom in his dorm and made sure entry into classrooms, elevators and other buildings were suitable.

Through the ACCESS program (Achieving Competence in Computing, Engineering, and Space Science) conducted by NASA in partnership with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Damon completed an internship at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in August 2007 and received a Certificate of Achievement.

During the program he worked on an X-ray polarimeter, using the results to study the internal structure of astronomical objects such as black holes. Damon enhanced a simulator for the instrument, to be used with the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope.

After graduating in 2010 in a tough economy, Damon worked with a job coach through DARS and widened his job pursuit to include information technology jobs. “For many years, my counselor and DARS have been there for me as I’ve tried to become more independent,” Damon remarks.

His grandmother, a teacher, put him in contact with a computer specialist whose company, Manus Dei, provides IT work for many Catholic schools and churches. Damon interviewed and was hired as a technology specialist at Manus Dei, working on computer servers and developing web pages. He telecommutes from home, where he lives with his grandmother.

In September, Damon took the driver evaluation at Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center and was recommended for adaptive driver training. He says he is determined to obtain his driver’s license and buy an accessible van so he can pursue greater opportunities in his career and life.

Matt Shelor

Matt Shelor“If it hadn’t been for the help of DARS, I wouldn’t have been able to go to college,” proclaims Matt Shelor. Matt first met with a rehabilitation counselor at DARS while in high school. She suggested he attend Patrick Henry Community College to “get his feet wet” in a more challenging environment. He then applied to Radford University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s in counseling and human development.

As an undergraduate student, Matt was active in student government and was elected student body president in 2008. “That experience taught me the value of human service and gave me the drive and motivation to pursue my master’s degree.

”As a graduate student, Matt had two graduate assistantships—one in the Office of the Dean of Students and the other in the Disability Resource Office. He was required to complete 600 hours of internships. After graduate school, Matt worked with his vocational counselor to update his resume and participated in mock job interviews to prepare to enter the workforce.

He gives much of the credit for his educational success to his rehabilitation counselor. “She played a big role in helping me get my goals in line.”

He originally sought a job involving student affairs or administration in higher education. He responded to a posting for a position as an independent living coordinator at the Blue Ridge Independent Living Center and was hired in January 2012.

Now he works with others who face similar challenges. Matt often hears clients say, “I don’t know if I can do this.” He tells them that when he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth, the doctor told his parents he would be lucky to walk and talk. He says, “Don’t let your circumstances dictate what you do in life.”

Matt’s job is to make the New River region accessible for people with disabilities. He may make house calls to see what home modifications are needed, get approval and schedule contractors.

He also serves as a work incentive specialist to help individuals who are ready to work, but need to learn how it will impact their disability benefits. He shows them how their situation will improve when they go to work.

Elizabeth Alcazar-Zepeda

Elizabeth Alcazar-ZepedaElizabeth Alcazar-Zepeda did not let her deafness stop her from achieving her goals of attending college and securing a successful career in accounting.

While a student at the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind in Staunton, Elizabeth worked with DARS for transition planning and services. The agency provided Elizabeth and her family with guidance and counseling for college admissions and assisted her in applying for financial aid, scholarships and grants. In fall 2005, Elizabeth entered Gallaudet University in Washington, majoring in accounting.

“There were very great people at DARS who helped support my attendance at Gallaudet University,” says Elizabeth.

At Gallaudet, Elizabeth was involved in a student organization, Keeping the Promise of Educating Latino Students. While raising a daughter, she maintained high academic standards, earning recognition as a President’s Cum Laude Scholar, an honor reserved for undergraduate students whose cumulative degree grade point averages are 3.4 or above for the preceding semesters and who have earned at least 15 degree credits at Gallaudet, as well as Outstanding Academic Achievement for Summa Cum Laude. In 2011, she graduated at the top of her class.

Elizabeth credits much of her job search success to her collaborative efforts with her rehabilitation counselor. “She provided consistent support, direction and encouragement along the way. All of the experiences combined assisted in my effort to master the skills needed to ace my job interviews,” says Elizabeth.

Elizabeth obtained a paid internship in the Gallaudet Department of Business Interpreting Service, commuting every work day from home while continuing to meet with her counselor and other DARS staff to work toward securing a full time position with benefits. During this time, Elizabeth says, “I learned networking was my best friend.”

In June, she was interviewed and offered a job as an accounting assistant with Deaf-REACH (also known as the National Health Care Foundation for the Deaf), in Washington. “I love my job and I am enjoying the challenges involved. I am eager to learn more.”

Sylvia Melendez

Sylvia MelendezSylvia Melendez was referred to DARS for vocational rehabilitation services in 2009. The military veteran had multiple disabilities, including physical disabilities. Although she had been out of the workforce since 1997, she was studying business administration at Strayer University. She received her bachelor’s degree, graduating magna cum laude, in 2010. After her graduation, her DARS placement counselor, in collaboration with a veterans’ representative from the Virginia Employment Commission, worked with Sylvia to draft a federal resume and to improve her interviewing skills. Sylvia also received assistance with guidance and counseling services, a clothing allowance to help purchase job interviewing suits and transportation costs. 

Sylvia developed a very active job search plan. She participated in a national disability hiring fair conducted by the Office of Personnel Management, attended a federal job fair and met with hiring coordinators from the Veterans Employment Coordination Services, the VA’s lead office to attract, recruit, hire, and retain veterans, particularly severely injured veterans returning from the Global War on Terror. In June 2010, she was offered a position as a Program Specialist, GS Series 301, at a Grade 9, step 1, with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Shortly afterwards, she was offered career conditional status, thanks to her professionalism and positive attitude, and was recognized with an outstanding annual performance rating in her duties.

Sylvia continues to gain recognition for her efforts at her current position with the “VA for Vets” program. In September 2011, she was promoted to a Program Analyst position at a Grade 11. The following month, DARS CommissionerJim Rothrock presented her with the Virginia “Serving as a Model by Progressing through Career Achievement” award at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Collaborative’s Disability Workforce Consortium Federal Employment Champions Event, held in Washington, D.C. She has since graduated from the yearlong federal Aspiring Leadership Program.

“DARS made life much easier during my transition to federal employment, thank you all,” she says.

Kalyn Hutson

Kalyn HutsonKalyn Hutson had a bubbling personality and plenty of enthusiasm, but her quest for employment was hampered by autism spectrum disorder and speech impediment. Nevertheless, Kalyn had a dream: to one day work at Bon Secours St. Mary’s Hospital in Henrico County.

Kalyn, 20, was accepted into Project SEARCH, a national research study partially funded by the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services. During the 2010-11 school year, Kalyn rotated through three 10-week internships at St. Mary’s. Her first was in the Ambulatory Services division, where her duties included sorting and assembling surgery trays. After her third day of internship, she was left alone for an hour and to her supervisor’s amazement, Kalyn completed the work independently.

She also worked in the Main Operating Room where she stocked supplies, replenished equipment and turned over patient rooms. Her final internship was in Central Sterile, sorting, scanning, bagging and wrapping equipment.

When employment specialists at St. Mary’s spoke with Kalyn’s internship supervisors about the possibility of her being hired, the response was overwhelming. Two supervisors vied to have Kalyn assigned to their departments, and ultimately, she was hired in June 2011 as a PRN Surgical Care Technician in the Main Operating Room at St. Mary’s. She worked 30 hours a week, earning well above minimum wage.

After just a few months on the job, Kalyn achieved her dream: she accepted the offer of a full-time job in the Bon Secours St. Mary?s Main Operating Room.

Duraun Druitt

Duraun DruittDuRaun Druitt, a young man with a learning disability, began a Project SEARCH internship at Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center in September 2010. He first worked as an outpatient rehab technician, assisting therapists with patients. His duties included helping patients with their exercises in the rehab room and pool, and checking and cleaning equipment.

At first, DuRaun was very shy, but became more outgoing and assertive, even getting in the pool to help patients though he could not swim. After a rotation as a floor technician in the Environmental Services department, DuRaun was hired as a full-time employee, making well over minimum wage and earning full benefits. He requested to work night shift and now works on the emergency room floor. His supervisor said of DuRaun, “I wish I had 100 more employees just like him.”

An administrator at the hospital acknowledged that staff was initially hesitant about working with the Project SEARCH interns. But after the first semester, he said, there was a waiting list of managers who wanted to work with these special students. Students in Project SEARCH like DuRaun have proven that people with disabilities can be productive and valuable employees.

Max Holk

Max HolkMax Holk was, in many ways, an enigma. His school records show that he had various educational labels placed on him, including learning disabled. Max had difficulties with social adjustment and academic progress within a traditional school setting. Max held a special education diploma from an alternative school, and at age 19, entered the Project SEARCH program because he desired to continue his education and obtain work skills.

He began an internship at the Carilion Clinic’s New River Valley Medical Center in Christiansburg, where he worked in the maintenance department. Despite his shyness, Max formed strong bonds with co-workers and he volunteered at the hospital on weekends and snow days when Project SEARCH was not in session.

Max next worked in the environmental services department, where his responsibilities included floor care and trash removal. After only three weeks, he was offered a job as a floor care specialist and at his first review, received a pay increase. He recently accepted a full-time job there. His new-found confidence also enabled Max to begin learning to drive, further assuring his independence.

The Roanoke Times featured Max in an article about the success of Project SEARCH. Carilion Clinic Human Resources Consultants credits participants for teaching Carilion?s employees who mentor the young adults in the program.

Carolyn Gates-Terry

Carolyn Gates-Terry Carolyn had 20 years experience working as a case manager, but when she came to DARS, she had not worked for almost a year and was about to lose her unemployment benefits. Health-related issues including diabetes, asthma, arthritis, high blood pressure and depression, as well as limitations in her mobility and stamina to work a full 8-hour day, made it difficult for her to find and keep a job. Despite these challenges and her doctor’s advice to apply for disability benefits, Carolyn remained determined to work.

Following a needs assessment and vocational guidance from her counselor, Carolyn decided she wanted to return to work as a case manager. She received assistance with revising her resume as well as job placement and other supportive services. Carolyn found full-time work as a case manager with Families in Transition, a community-based program that provides support to families affected by domestic violence. A DARS rehabilitation engineer assessed Carolyn’s new workplace and recommended an ergonomic chair, fan, footrest and a small air filter for her office. A new computer allows her to telecommute when needed. Today Carolyn works 40 hours a week and her benefits include medical and life insurance and paid leave.

Carolyn writes of her experience with DARS: “Thank you for all of the support you have given to help me achieve my goal of remaining in the workforce … I am honored to have had such great support and respect throughout this entire effort.”

Dr. Bertram Spetzler

Dr. Bertram SpetzlerAs a successful orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Bertram Spetzler was a world traveler and a community volunteer who loved dancing and bicycling. But in October 2008, his world suddenly changed when he sustained a spinal cord injury during a serious bicycling accident. After three months of physical therapy at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, he returned home determined to move forward and regain a professional career. He met with DARS to identify goals for employment, transportation, physical rehabilitation and independence. He was referred to a benefits specialist for consultation on employment, Social Security Disability Insurance and Medicare.

Staff from Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center (WWRC) worked with him to address his assistive technology needs and aided him through the process to obtain modifications to his van. WWRC also provided training on how to use the equipment and operate the vehicle safely. When a job as a medical consultant opened at DARS’ Disability Determination Services (DDS) division, Dr. Spetzler applied for and won the position, bringing to DDS the invaluable resource of his medical experience. DARS identified his work site needs and created an accommodating workstation for him.

Dr. Spetzler now earns $60 an hour and generally works between 20 to 25 hours a week. His physical rehabilitation has progressed so that he drives himself to and from work and can perform many of his independent living needs. He remains committed to helping others and continues to volunteer by mentoring students in Roanoke College’s athletic training program.

Rhonda Muldrow

Rhonda Muldrow Rhonda was referred to DARS as an applicant for the first Project SEARCH program at Sentara Careplex Hospital in Hampton. Project SEARCH provides high school seniors with disabilities the opportunity to gain skills and work experience in a real-world workplace environment. During her first semester in the program, Rhonda completed an internship in the hospital’s hematology/oncology department, where she removed and refreshed laundry bags, replenished stock of department materials and answered patient phone calls. During her internship, however, Rhonda often lacked motivation and failed to participate in class discussions. She also had problems with attendance and punctuality.

Her VR counselor provided guidance and career advice to help improve her job skills and realize her vocational potential. Although she entered the program without a specific vocational goal, Rhonda became interested in food service and chose to spend her second internship as a line server in the hospital cafeteria. Her duties involved food preparation and serving and kitchen cleaning. Within weeks of beginning her food service internship, Rhonda’s teacher, job coach and VR counselor noticed a vast improvement in her attitude and confidence. Her interpersonal and work skills improved and she clearly took pride in her work. Through supported employment services, Rhonda got a job as a line server at Piccadilly before the end of her school year. She began a part-time job that offered the potential for advancement to a full-time job in food preparation. On her days off, she attended the Project SEARCH program to continue building her job skills. In June, Rhonda returned to Sentara Hospital and proudly received her Project SEARCH completion certificate.

When asked what she gained from her experience, she said, “Project SEARCH was good … I learned about having good manners and being kind to customers and managers. I was able to be more comfortable talking to customers because I did that when I worked in the cafeteria in the hospital.”

Htay Lwin

Htay Lwin When Htay Lwin moved with his family to Charlottesville last year, he had a cognitive disability and limited hearing in both ears. As a Burmese immigrant, he also spoke very little English. Htay was referred to DARS by the Inter-national Rescue Committee, an organization that assists refugees in getting settled and employed once they relocate to a new area. Through interpreter services, DARS worked with Htay to address his disability-related needs to help him find employment. DARS purchased a hearing aid to improve his communication and awareness of environmental sounds.

DARS also assisted with medical expenses to treat an ear infection that prevented him from using the hearing aid. Through job placement and training services, Htay was hired in April as a stock handler at K-Mart. DARS provided a button that Htay wears to alert customers that that he is hard of hearing and speaks limited English but can find a colleague to assist the customer if needed. Htay works 24-36 hours a week at K-Mart, earning $7.25 per hour. He will be eligible for health benefits after one year of employment. Long-term follow-along services will focus on maintaining his position. His supervisors remain supportive of his needs and describe him as a hard worker who is well-liked by K-Mart’s staff and customers.

When the VR counselor told Htay that she was ready to close his case, Htay said: "Thank you for the job … I like it and it keeps me busy. [It’s] good."

Falguni Chitalia

Falguni Chitalia Falguni and her parents moved to the United States from India, where she sought assistance from DARS to become employed and as independent as possible so her parents could return to India, reassured of their daughter’s well-being. Diagnosed with mild cerebral palsy, which affected the use of her left hand as well as her speech, Falguni not only had to face obstacles posed by her disability, but also contend with cultural differences and pressures to obtain professional job. In spite of these challenges, Falguni appeared to be a very intelligent, sociable, and highly motivated woman. A graduate of Rutgers University, she speaks three languages and is quite computer-savvy. Capitalizing on these strengths, DARS Counselor Scott Miller provided Falguni vocational counseling and job search assistance. Falguni also received speech therapy through the Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center, as well as assistance in the purchase of assistive devices to help her with independent living.

After a short stint working in Wal-Mart’s shoe department just to make ends meet, Falguni finally found a break in her job search when DARS Marketing Representative William Seaton secured an opportunity through Bender Consultants to interview at Anthem Wellpoint – the chance she needed to build a career in accounting/economics. Ultimately, Falguni was hired full-time with benefits and today works as a Project Manager at Anthem. She was recently featured in their
newsletter as an excellent, model employee.

Stephen Garcia

Stephen GarciaStephen first applied for services from DARS in July 2005, exactly one year after sustaining an incomplete spinal cord injury and above-the-knee amputation. The injury left him with upper extremity nerve damage and chronic pain, and his hopes of returning to work started to fade when he developed a series of illnesses that landed him back in the hospital repeatedly over the next year. By August of 2006, Stephen returned to DARS once again to work towards employment and independence. He was a well-educated man with a good work history, but was still unable to face the full demands of work. Following months of intensive rehabilitative services and support at the Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center, Stephen was able to return to Northern Virginia with increased physical functioning, new-found independence, and the strength to begin his job search.

He also utilized DARS’ Job Club program to enhance his job seeking skills and received assistance from WWRC and Rehab Engineer staff for adaptive equipment. Five months later, Stephen landed an interview and was ultimately hired by the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in Washington, DC, working full-time with benefits as a Transportation Specialist. Since starting this job, he’s been able to purchase a modified van and is now looking forward to moving into an apartment of his own.

Mark Seidell

Mark SeidellMark became paralyzed in 2006 from the chest down as a result of spinal tumors. Determined to regain his independence and employment, he worked hard on his rehabilitation. Through the Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS), Mark received support through an entire team of staff consisting of a Vocational Counselor, Placement Counselor, Program Support Technician, Rehabilitation Engineers, and others to help him accomplish his goals. He was referred to the Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center for 10 weeks where he received physical and occupational therapy, including a wheelchair evaluation, driver assessment, and training. Assistance from DARS’ Consumer Services Fund enabled him to purchase a van and driver modifications.

Moreover, DARS completed yard modifications to allow egress at home. At this time, Mark enrolled at Virginia Western Community College to obtain a certificate to become an architectural and civil engineering aid. He worked as a Master Electrician prior to his paralysis, and felt that this would give him new marketable skills that would increase his opportunities for employment. By May of 2008, Mark interviewed and was ultimately hired as an Electrical Drafter for Hurd and Obenchain in Roanoke, Virginia. DARS purchased the appropriate computer system for his training and installed a proper work station to meet his ergonomic needs.
“Mark is a consummate professional who is well respected and well liked by his coworkers,” says DARS Business Development Manager Rochelle Betsch. “He is a great asset to our community.”

Kimball Bosma

Kimball BosmaKimball Bosma had been a resident at Western State Hospital for twenty-seven years when DARS Counselor Sherry DeMoss first met with him. Despite his medical condition – which included hypertension, chronic respiratory problems, coronary artery disease, lupus and other disabilities – he was successfully employed at Vector Industries for several years. Unfortunately, he wasn’t earning minimum wage or working competitively. Furthermore, he had lived at Western State for so long that he became complacent to the structure and safety of that environment.

Through continuous support and encouragement by DARS and hospital staff, Kimball finally began to consider transitioning back into the community. He eventually agreed to an assessment at Goodwill Industries and was offered a job earning above minimum wage. This experience, however, posed substantial anxiety for Kimball and he accepted a part-time position at Goodwill in order to continue working at Vector. Consequently, he grew to love his new job and after a couple of months, he was ready to completely transition to Goodwill where he has been working successfully for the last four years performing several duties including stocking and general cleaning. Goodwill staff describe him as a friendly, dependable, and hard-working employee. Kimball has also taken Driver’s Education classes through the Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center (WWRC) to obtain his Driver’s License. He has since purchased a vehicle and is able to transport himself to and from work, as well as around the community. Most importantly, Kimball finally moved out of Western State Hospital and into an apartment in Staunton. He lives on his own and says he fully enjoys his new independence.

Bill Crawford

Bill CrawfordBill, a farmer from Buena Vista, Virginia, was referred to DARS in November 2005, by the state’s AgrAbility program for assistance in maintaining his farming operation. Due to a progressive neurological disease that affects his mobility, range of motion and strength, it became increasingly difficult for Bill to perform simple activities of daily living, let alone maintain the physical demands of the farm. Through DARS and WWRC, Bill received multiple services including occupational/physical therapy, assistive technology, and rehab engineering. Initially, the plan was to make adaptations to his farming equipment. But given the nature of his disability, it became necessary to shift more of his work responsibilities to the "business side" of the farming operation (management, accounting, customer relations, etc.), while leaving the physical aspects of the business to his wife.

Home and vehicle assessments and consultation from DARS rehab engineers and occupational therapists led to Bill receiving vehicle accommodations, computer work station adaptations, and equipment fabrication. Changes to his home office were also recommended to enable him to function at maximum work capacity. His desk was modified and raised with wooden blocks; the existing ergonomic arm pads and microphone were repositioned to better meet his needs; and the center drawer and supports were cut and removed to allow his wheelchair to roll under the desk. Additionally, brackets for a new arm sling were installed on Bill’s wheelchair to allow him to feed himself. Bill says he has been very pleased with the multitude of services and assistance that has allowed him to remain in self-employment. Bill continues to receive agency support with his employment plan and his outlook for maintaining his farming operation is positive.

Branden Milbourne

Branden MilbourneBranden attended the Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center (WWRC). After having enrolled in a plumbing class at Valley Vocational and Technical Center, he was referred to WWRC’s Assistive Computer Technology (ACT) team for an assistive technology (AT) evaluation to aid him in his class and his vocational pursuits.
Prior to the evaluation, Branden was provided an audio version of his text book as an accommodation. The ACT team determined, however, that this was not the best AT approach for him, as the textbook also contained pictures of tools, pipes, joint connections, and diagrams that were vital for his passing the class.

Due to Branden’s reading disability, he was unable to follow the text from and correlate the pictorial references with the audio recording. The ACT team recommended the Kurzweil 3000 screen reading software, which utilizes a multi-sensory approach to learning. The software allowed Branden to see the referenced pictures and charts, while having the text and subtext in the graphics read out loud and highlighted one at a time on the computer screen. In order for this to work, however, the text book needed to be in electronic (PDF) format to retain the page formatting. The WWRC ACT team located a company in Roanoke with a high speed scanner to create the PDF and put the file on a CD, along with rebinding the text book. The ACT Team also coordinated the scanning of the book, provided Branden with a loaner computer with the Kurzweil 3000 software, and trained him in the use of the software, and provided follow-up and support. Ultimately, Branden passed his plumbing class, stating the Kurzweil really helped him. Additionally, Branden worked as an intern with WWRC Master Plumber Dan Rocco, and he continues attain his plumber's assistant training. He is currently working in WWRC’s cafeteria to save money to purchase a truck.

Juan Carlos Gascon

Juan Carlos GasconJuan Carlos was involved in a car accident On March 13, 2008 that left him paralyzed from the neck down. Through assistance from the Department of Rehabilitative Services (DARS), he was able to maintain his employment and reach a new level of independence. At the time of the accident, Juan Carlos was employed as a minister for Hispanic families in the community of Blackstone, Virginia. Once Juan began receiving Social Security benefits, however, his employer placed him on volunteer status, thinking that Juan could not receive any income while receiving Social Security. Juan’s DARS counselor spoke to the employer and confirmed that Juan could still be paid for the work he performed, as well as receive housing.

To maximize his mobility, DARS helped obtain a wheelchair for Juan, and enabled him to hire an attendant to assist with his personal care needs and other daily activities. Use of his wheelchair also prompted modifications to be made to the home, as Juan was unable to roll his wheelchair into the bathroom or comfortably move around the living room and kitchen. DARS worked with Southside Baptist Association to gain permission to make accommodations to the home, arrange for bids, and ensure that the modifications met Juan’s needs. As a church minister, Juan would prepare for his presentations on his computer. Due to his injury, however, he required proper computer accommodations and software. DARS worked with Juan and ultimately recommended ‘Dragon Naturally Speaking Spanish’ software. Through on-going practice, Juan has become more efficient with the system.  Juan continues to acquire further gains in his self-care and overall independence. Prior to the receiving services through DARS, he was having a difficult time coping with his new challenges; but now sees the positives in the things he can do. He continues to be an important part of people’s lives in the Blackstone area.

Latrice King

Latrice KingLatrice was referred to DARS in 2005 and participated in the Post Education Rehabilitation Training (PERT) program at Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center (WWRC). Through career exploration activities in high school and WWRC, Latrice decided she wanted to work in the food service or cleaning industry. With assistance from the employment specialist at RSVP, Latrice secured a job as a dishwasher for a restaurant in Stafford County. As a person of very short stature, however, Latrice found difficulty in comfortably reaching the dishwashing machine & surrounding countertops.

DARS’ rehab engineers and fabricators worked to devise a platform that elevated Latrice high enough to reach and maneuver around the dishwasher. Initially they considered using treated or plastic wood as material, but determined that it was not light enough to handle, as it would need to be moved frequently for cleaning or placed out of the way when not in use. Ultimately, light gauge aluminum pallet/risers were used, as they were resistant to water, grease, and cleaning agents without rotting or rusting. The Richmond fabrication shop worked to reconfigure two pallets into a single platform, and the Northern Virginia rehab engineer added rubber matting to provide a slip resistant, cushioned surface. Latrice was thus able to work in the kitchen without interfering with other workers. Through continued support and job coach training services, Latrice has been able to learn her job duties and maintain employment. Both the employer and Latrice are very happy with her work.

Sasha Justine Duke

Sasha Justine DukeSasha sustained a spinal cord injury in 1998 and was referred to DARS and WWRC for physical rehabilitation, vocational counseling, and other support services. Over the years, Sasha worked hard to rebuild a life that included independent living, mobility, competitive employment, and raising a family. To enable pursuit of these goals, she worked with an Assistive Technology (AT) team of occupational/physical therapists and computer technology specialists to obtain a power wheelchair with customized seating to optimize mobility and function within her home, college, community, and work. Following completion of the WWRC driver’s education program, Sasha purchased a van with a power ramp, hand controls, and power lock down system, thereby making it possible to drive independently. Moreover, home accessibility consultations and adaptive equipment recommendations enabled her to progress from living with assistance in her parent's home, to living independently in her first rental apartment, to ultimately purchasing a new home.

Further support from DARS and WWRC’s AT team allowed Sasha to also enroll at Mary Baldwin College and address accessibility needs on campus. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Art Management (concentration in Marketing) and, following a work experience program, Sasha landed a full-time job at the Frontier Culture Museum. Work station modifications including changes to her desk configuration, phone headset, voice input for computer access and adaptive mouse computer accommodations allowed for optimal productivity. During her pregnancy in 2008, modifications to her power wheelchair seating and shower equipment provided a significant cost savings by deferring the purchase of new equipment for a short-term need; consultation from OT during Sasha’s pregnancy facilitated a positive outcome of pregnancy and birth. Techniques for handling a newborn, which involved a variety of adaptive parenting equipment and modifications to dressing/changing tables and crib, also allowed maximal involvement in caring for her infant daughter. In an effort to move forward financially and professionally, Sasha has since returned to graduate school to attain a master’s degree in mental health counseling; her goal to work with people with disabilities.