Podcasts

The Business Side of Things: Employment and Brain Injury

Please join us for a panel discussion from an employer perspective on challenges and successes in acquiring and maintaining employment. National labor market trends and practices will be shared as well as challenges that business faces in hiring and job retention. Recommendations for those who have sustained brain injuries related to seeking employment will be discussed, and a personal journey from injury to work will be shared.

Moderator

A color portrait of Maria Crowley. She has shoulder length wavy frosted hair and a colorful loose-fitting neckless. Maria Crowley is the Professional Development Director for the National Association of State Head Injury Administrators. She has worked in the disabilities field with state government for 30 years, and specifically in brain injury since 2000, helping individuals to successfully transition to home, community, and employment. Maria was the State TBI Program Director for the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services for 14 years. She has led numerous state initiatives, conducted training and provided technical assistance related to brain injury, employment and disability, concussion management, intimate partner violence, service coordination and trauma registries.

Panelists

Elizabeth Benton began working with Opelika Power Services in 2017 where she is a customer service representative. She has previous work experience in data collection field. Elizabeth is a brain injury survivor from the Opelika, Alabama area.

Jessica Samuel is Elizabeth’s supervisor and has been employed with Opelika Power Services in 2018 where she is a Customer Service Manager and supervisor of seven employees. Her previous work experience is in administration, customer service and the banking industry. Jessica and her family are from the Opelika, Alabama area.

Anna Taylor is the Business Relations Specialist at the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services. Mrs. Taylor earned her BS degree from Troy University in 1999 where she studied Rehabilitation and Psychology. After graduating from college, she worked at a private university providing admissions and career counseling services. In 2000, she was recruited into the staffing industry where she served as an Executive Recruiter and Headhunter providing talent acquisition for all lines of business throughout the Montgomery, Alabama River Region. Mrs. Taylor specialized in the placement of C-suite, insurance, banking, legal, manufacturing, accounting, insurance, and government contracting, later branching nationally to do Physician recruiting until 2010. Mrs. Taylor began her second career with the State of Alabama, Department of Rehabilitation Services, as a Business Relations Consultant in 2011. She completed her master’s in counseling in 2018 and moved into a business specialist role where she oversees new staff and provides national and state-wide training for business and industry. Mrs. Taylor helps employers identify hidden talent pipelines and promotes diversity and inclusion initiatives related to recruiting, hiring, and retaining individuals with disabilities, veterans with disabilities, and transitioning service members in the workforce. Mrs. Taylor serves on a variety of Alabama military and Veteran committees and is a passionate about helping services members with disabilities connect to employment.

April Turner is currently the State Head Injury Coordinator for the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services. She is also The Traumatic Brain Injury Program Director of the Federal Administration on Community Living TBI Partnership Grant, the State TBI Pre-Vocational Care Coordination Program and Statewide TBI/Spinal Cord Injury Registry Services for the Lead Agency on TBI. Her agency also carries the Alabama Head Injury Task Force and The Alabama Head and Spinal Cord Injury Trust Fund. Recently, she wrote and was awarded a 5-year Administration on Community Living Federal TBI Grant for systems change in the Behavioral Health area for individuals with TBI.

Mrs. Turner received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Rehabilitation from Troy University in 1999 and then went on to receive her Master of Science in Rehabilitation Counseling and Vocational Evaluation from Auburn University in 2001. During her master’s program, she completed a thesis on Characteristics of a Mentally Ill Population Associated with Employability. She began her work for Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services over 21 years ago. She has worked as a Vocational Evaluator, Welfare to Work Counselor and Transition/General Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor and a specialized hybrid Traumatic Brain Injury/Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor.

Mrs. Turner is a native of Alabama where she lives with her husband and two sons.

Kathy West-Evans is a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) who is fluent in American Sign Language. She has her MA in Public Administration and a Bachelor of Science. Kathy started in the field of rehabilitation in 1978. She has worked in a community agency, for the Washington State Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, at the federal level with the Rehabilitation Services Administration and now leads the National Employment Team (NET) at CSAVR (Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation). The NET is a cross state team of VR business specialists working through a dual customer approach to develop strategies with business to employ and retain the talents of individuals with disabilities across the company or organization. Kathy was also part of the team that developed the Talent Acquisition Portal (TAP) in response to businesses who wanted to easily access the talent pool of candidates with disabilities and individuals who were interested in accessing career opportunities with companies across the country.

Kathy is a past member and Chair of the Veterans Advisory Council on Rehabilitation and a former Commissioner on the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification. In addition to impacting legislation focused on VR’s work with business, she is a frequent speaker and has co-authored articles focused on working with business to employ the talents of people with disabilities.

Transcript

Announcer: You are listening to the AOD Disability Employment Technical Assistance Center podcast, where we learn from people who are working to improve competitive, integrated employment and economic outcomes for people with disabilities. For today’s episode, Maria Crowley, the Director of Professional Development with the National Association of State Head Injury Administrators (NASHIA) has assembled a panel of rehabilitation and brain injury experts and practitioners to discuss employer engagement.

[music plays]

Maria Crowley: Hello, I’m Maria Crowley, the Director of Professional Development with the National Association of State Head Injury Administrators (NASHIA), and I’d like to welcome you to today’s podcast entitled “The Business Side of Things: Employment and Brain Injury”. We will provide listeners with a business perspective on the challenges and successes and acquiring and maintaining employment with brain injury. Skilled program staff and innovative employment approaches can and do help people with brain injury enter and remain in the workforce. Business is in the business of recruiting and retaining qualified and committed employees who can and will work. At the center of all of this are individuals impacted by sometimes some very complex challenges related to brain injury. We’re here today to talk about how employment looks right now and in future from a national and local lens, how staff can and do assist with helping individuals who sustain brain injury return to work that they loved, regardless of challenges that might be present, how you can build relationships in your state with business to increase employment options for those you serve and what success in the workplace looks like for one individual in particular, who’s been on a journey from injury to employment.

Thank you for being here with us today. Here with me are five special guests representing the larger picture of employment and brain injury, all with a very rich variety of expertise. I want to tell you a little bit about each one. As I introduce them before we get started.

Elizabeth Benton is a person living with brain injury. She currently works for Opelika Power Services and has done so since 2017 as a customer service representative. She has previous work experience in the data collection field and lives in the area.

Jessica Samuel is Elizabeth’s supervisor. She began working for Opelika Power Services in 2018 as a Customer Service Manager and supervisor of seven employees. Her previous work experience is in administration customer service in the banking industry.

Kathy West-Evans is the Director of Business Relations with the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR). That’s the national program of public vocational rehabilitation that partners with education, business and the workforce system to empower individuals with disabilities to go to work. Kathy’s been in the rehabilitation field since 1978 as a vocational consultant, a VR counselor, a regional administrator, and at the federal level for the Rehabilitation Services Administration.

April Turner is the State Head Injury Coordinator for the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services. She manages the federal Traumatic Brain Injury Grant, the state Traumatic Brain Injury Care Coordination Program and the Traumatic Brain Injury and Spinal Cord Injury Trauma Registry and Linkage System. She began her career in the disabilities field 21 years ago as a vocational evaluator and has worked as a counselor and a specialized brain injury specialist.

Anna Taylor is the Business Relations Specialist for the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services. She’s worked as an executive recruiter before stepping into state government and provides national and statewide training for business and industry. She focuses with business on diversity and inclusion initiatives related to recruiting, hiring, and retaining individuals and veterans with disabilities. Welcome to all of you.

various: Thank you. Thank you.

Maria Crowley: Okay. Let’s get started with asking some questions of you. So this question is directed towards Kathy and Jessica. What does the current labor market look like, nationally and locally?

Kathy West-Evans: Well, thank you for having me here today. It’s great to be part of this conversation with everyone. So, I’m sure it’s no surprise to people that at the national, state and local level, we have a labor shortage, which is increasing opportunities for a lot of individuals, including those with disabilities. What’s interesting with the current labor market is for the first time we’re seeing more opportunities in remote and hybrid types of jobs, as well as on-site. And we’re seeing more flexibilities with business, which has allowed us to really open the dialogue with them about how we look at talent and really leading with that discussion around talent and building a relationship with the business that includes building that trust, which is the hallmark of the work we do because disability, including traumatic brain injury – there’s a lot of questions and particularly with business and what that means.

And we really don’t want our business customers to get caught in any assumptions because we’re working with people that have a lot of talent. So when you’re listening to Anna and I, you’re going to hear “lead with talent” and that’s really what we’re working with. But with the current market, there’s a lot of opportunities. I think the other piece that’s a huge opportunity here in terms of not just the way we work, but the focus on diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, which includes people with disabilities – a large discussion in the employment field around looking at all of our diverse communities and how we bring the strength of those communities to our workplace. And that includes intersectionality. I’m excited about this because this is the first time in my career that I’ve seen disability be part of that dialogue right from the beginning. But there’s a lot of focus around intersectionality and the understanding that disability can occur at any time during that employment life cycle. And with COVID, we are seeing cases of long COVID, which include that foggy brain syndrome, as well as other impacts, which mirror a lot of what we see with traumatic brain injury and how we support people to be successful in the workplace.

So, you know, I think that that whole focus is going to bring us all into a dialogue that includes a range of disabilities, as well as that mental health component and understanding that brain injury again, is one of those conditions that can occur at any time. So how do we support people in their adjustment and the changes in their life, which includes our veterans. So I just see a big opportunity here, but the key is really building those relationships with business and they’re right at the table listening because they need the workforce. I hope I covered it, Maria. I’m excited about where we’re at. There’s a lot of opportunity.

Maria Crowley: Great points, Kathy. Jessica or Anna, did you want to add to that?

Anna Taylor: Shure, Maria. Thank y’all for having us here. Kathy, that was a really good national overview. You know, I’m gonna start off with saying that my background is recruiting before I came over to the state of Alabama. I help people find jobs. You know, they call us head hunters, recruiters, executive recruiters, the whole nine yards. So, you know, the workforce and everything going on with it is something I’ve been paying attention to for over 20 years. And it’s exciting to see all of the changes. And Kathy touched on a lot of that. And in Alabama, you know, more than one in ten Alabamians between the ages of 16 and 64 have, you know, have some type of disability. And that was according to the census in 2019, but employers around here and our state are really feeling the crunch because there was the data released in late June – well actually it was July. We have the lowest unemployment rate. It’s at 2.7%. And in June, our governor, Governor Kay Ivey, talked to us about how wages have increased. They’ve gone up 20% since 2019. So employers are, I think, getting the idea that they need to start paying more. And in our state we’ve seen major shifts in our labor market – to the largest city in Alabama has changed. You know, it’s now Huntsville, Alabama. That’s in the north part of our state. It’s also called rocket city – if y’all have heard of that. And that’s where we have huge employers like NASA, Marshall Space Center and Redstone and Boeing. And those huge employers up there – the market up there, they’ve got a 1.9% unemployment rate. And so the talent shortage up there – there’s a war for that talent.

And the FBI is relocating their offices from Birmingham up there, and they’re gonna be hiring 4,000 people. And so, you know, when you think about our state, I would say that things have definitely changed. In the past couple years since COVID, you know, there’s parts of our state that are growing. But more importantly, to some of the points that Kathy made, you know, employers are working at becoming more creative. Inclusion is important now more than it ever has been. And so I think some of the things that employers are doing are are exciting and this is a good time to start having these conversations about disabilities.

Maria Crowley: Great. Thank you, Anna. Great points. And much like COVID, which created a hardship that people are having to be flexible and innovative about, I think employment sounds like it’s really mirroring that as well. And for some, it’s been a bit of a great equalizer. As Kathy mentioned, you know, with more remote and hybrid jobs that could be a boost for small, medium or large business. I appreciate that.

What sorts of challenges are businesses going to face in the next five to ten years? Jessica, did you want to talk about that first?

Jessica Samuel: Sure, sure. I’m Jessica, Customer Service Manager here with Opelika Power Services. We’re fortunate: we haven’t had any job challenges here at Opelika Power, but in our community we have “Help Wanted” signs everywhere, of course. Local businesses are trying to just increase hourly wages and restructuring some job responsibilities just to accommodate employees. Hopefully Americans will just get back to work, you know, to avoid this higher inflation just by continuing to encourage flexible hours and negotiating salaries. You know, I think that will help.

Maria Crowley: Great. I agree. Kathy, anything you wanted to add to that?

Kathy West-Evans: No, I think with every challenge comes a great opportunity. So I think as we’re seeing this shift, as you mentioned, both Jessica and Anna, business is thinking about doing business differently. So with the opportunities, particularly for remote and hybrid work, I think the key there is helping businesses really look at what that may look like for an individual with a disability. And how do we support the success of both the business and the employee by looking at how we build in appropriate accommodations. But with the rise of technology at the same time and more of us working virtually, many accommodations that have been developed for individuals with disabilities are now mainstream. So there’s a lot of skill sets and a lot of experiences that our community can bring to this dialogue, you know, everywhere from captions, to visual description, to how you set up a workplace to be more accessible. There’s a wide range of things. I could go on and on, Maria, but I won’t. I think the time is now, and that our team brings great skill sets when we partner with businesses like Jessica’s and really looking at how we can make it work for both the business and the individual. We need to build for success on both sides.

Maria Crowley: Great. Great. Any specific shifts in hiring practices or challenges related to brain injury and employment that you wanted to talk about? Anna, Should we start with you there?

Anna Taylor: Absolutely. Thanks, Maria. You know, there’s been a lot of disruption in the workplace. You know, people are calling it the great resignation, you know, the great talent swap, the turnover tsunami, you know, the stakes are really high when you think about the cost to replace employees – like two times their salary. And there’s a lot of knowledge and skill gaps that are happening, but one of the major shifts that I’ve seen, or the hiring practices as it relates to hiring people with disabilities, because of the inequities that were seen during COVID, when we all had to start working from home, things became really apparent and accessibility issues, you know, became a lot more obvious to employers. In my opinion, this spurred a movement to become more inclusive. You know, last year, in 2021, the most popular job that was posted on Indeed was a diversity equity inclusion and belonging manager. It went up 104% from any other time, any year before. And so it, that shows me that employers realize that they had to change inaccessible systems and practices to become more inclusive of people with disabilities. Some of our local employers with the same main, you know, like a manufacturing employer that have had the same way of doing business for years and years, they realized that they had a pivot a little bit in order to keep their talent. They went to part-time work for instance, and they came to us needing training. They wanted their managers to understand best practices in hiring people with disabilities. They realized they had a change of, you know, they’re gonna get left behind. So all of these new conversations have been happening all over and it’s pretty incredible. Employers are starting to really realize that there is an untapped talent pool that they have not been accessing. And so, you know, they know that they need to tap into that before somebody else does. And there’s more interest in Alabama than I’ve ever seen: more job orders that we’ve gotten from business in the 11 years I’ve been here. So there’s been some major shifts taking place as far as it relates to inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace.

Maria Crowley: Would you say – I’m gonna throw you a curve ball here – would you say that small business, mid-size business, or large business has done – maybe had the most impact?

Anna Taylor: I would say it’s happening more with larger businesses first. Because they had the resources and means, but what’s happening is, you know, we’ve been in COVID for over two years now, isn’t that right? , uh, I keep losing track. But the small businesses, the ones that were always the same, doing the same things the same way, they’re the ones that are being extremely innovative right now. And so that is exciting to see a place that has done something the same way all of the time now experimenting with different ways of onboarding people and changing policies to a, you know, to understand neurodiversity a little bit better, attracting neurodivergent talent, getting people trained, you know, all of that stuff is small mom-and-pop businesses are, are catching on too – they have to or else they’re, they’re gonna be left behind.

Maria Crowley: Definitely. Kathy, you wanted to add to that?

Kathy West-Evans: Well, I think Anna brought up some great points. What caused me to think about some of the dialogue that we’re having with business. She’s absolutely right. We see a shift in large businesses, but you also have to remember of that small businesses are contractors of these large businesses. So we’ve got that trickle down effect. And I think that there’s more collaboration up and down the supply chain, in terms of how we look at doing business. I think, you know, one of our challenges and opportunities is helping businesses understand: don’t make assumptions based on a label. And that is particularly true with the population of people with disabilities, including head injury. Don’t make assumptions about an individual, where we’re seeing that shift away from the medical model and more into looking at the skill sets that someone brings and understanding that this is an untapped talent pool.

People with disabilities are innovative every day of their lives to adapt to the environment that they’re in. And that innovation is a real strength to our business customers. And really leading from that. The CDC came out with a study not too long ago – I think it was in 2020 – like Anna with COVID all the years have, um, blended together – but they started looking at data that indicated that 61 million adults in this country have a disability. That’s one out of four adults. That’s one out of four people in your workforce. And then adding to that, that 20.9 million families have one or more family members with disabilities. So thinking about that as an overall impact to the workplace and helping businesses look at the individual and their skill sets, but also we’re seeing more companies understanding that the need to support employees, whether it’s a working parent – correct, we’re hearing a lot about that – or someone that’s a caregiver or supporting someone with a disability in their family, they’re seeing that bigger picture and I think that’s an exciting – again – a challenge that’s leading to an exciting opportunity. So thank you for letting me add that.

Maria Crowley: No, I agree. I agree. People are working longer too, so you’ve got more people with a greater variety in the workforce overall. And people are impacted by secondary conditions related to health and disability. So that does factor in in later years. April, I know you probably have some things you wanted to add to that, in terms of specific challenges.

Anna Taylor: Sure, sure. Hello everyone. My name is April Turner and I’m the state Head Injury Director in the state of Alabama for the Alabama Department of Rehab Services. It’s great being here today and thank you for giving us this opportunity, in this voice, to be able to share some of our stories and our successes here in our state as well. So thank you for that. I do wanna share some things, especially some challenges in regards to brain injury and employment. There’s one thing I wanna go back, if you don’t mind, Maria, with talking about changing culture, what we’re seeing. Jessica and Elizabeth, who are here with us today, are from a small town, in what we call Opelika, Alabama. And that is my town as well, where my family lives. And we have seen a shift in culture as far as being there in, at Opelika and working for Opelika Power Services. So I’d like Jessica to speak up just a little bit and say, what has she seen as far as the culture and employment and hiring people with disabilities too. Jessica, do you mind speaking up before I began?

Jessica Samuel: Oh, no, not at all. I wasn’t aware of this program until I started working for the city of Opelika. So when I came in, I’ve learned so much, you know, the counselors, you all, aren’t just available for the employees, but the employer. I mean, Steve would reach out to me every week to ask me questions or ask me if there was anything that he could assist me with. And that was such a great help. So there’s definitely a shift and like I said, I wasn’t aware of this program before I started working for the city of Opelika.

April Turner: And Jessica, thank you for that. When you and I were talking earlier too, there was something that she brought up that I thought was very critical as well, is that she had said that there are more trainings within disability culture and to work with individuals that employers can bring and train folks in this area more than ever. And I really like, Jessica, that discussion that we had because years ago, employers were afraid to bring folks on or discuss disability and now it’s quite open. And when you say the word traumatic brain injury or brain injury, again, people are fearful. And just for Jessica to say that, that now that her employer and more employers in our area and around are more comfortable because they’re getting more training in this area. So in looking at the challenges, when you say brain injury and employment in itself, what are some of the things that come up? And these are the things, a state injury coordinator, and also as a counselor who helped individuals with brain injury, seek employment and get ready for employment again. The program that I’ve worked in and now supervise is we help individuals right outside of injury, go back to work, return to work or help them adjust to their injury and retraining them for work possibly. So what are we seeing here in our state in regards to that, is employing those that have brain injuries.

One of the main things that sticks out for us is the stamina factor. And we’re looking at returning to work that fatigue and that stamina. So, and I don’t know who uses analogy first, but what we always say is you start in the shallow end of the pool and you swim to the deep. You don’t ever jump into the deep end first, if you don’t know how to swim. And so with returning to work with brain injury, you wanna make sure that our employees are starting part-time. They were watching them build up to that full time. And it’s the same that goes with students who are returning to school and work at the same time. You wanna make sure that they are starting part-time and they’re able to hold that down. And their fatigue and their stamina holds up through that. Also finding an activity or a volunteer experience, or even a small job to build up that fatigue or to lessen that fatigue, or build up that stamina, to help with processing speed and the anxiety and also the attention and concentration of a new experience coming out of injury. We’ve gotta make sure that we’re engulfed in activities or community experiences where they are ready for that when they start looking for employment or looking for support.

Another is the shift in support – support for individuals who are heading back to work. Cause a lot of ’em had a job before. So we’re looking at employment, and then they had a disruption, a major injury or a small head injury. We’re not really sure. Everybody is on a different level as far as head injuries. So when you’re looking at that and bringing someone back aboard, they had expertise before. That expertise is still there. So they need help with that adjustment. And just recognizing that they had that expertise and that they may be returning back to work. It’s not just starting fresh and finding a new hiring experience. We’re looking at those that we’re returning back to the same job as well. But just understanding that. And lastly, making sure that the support is there, not just – and we’re gonna talk more about this in a few minutes – the support between the employee and the employer, but support also for a community to wrap around individuals, that it’s not just about the work shift, they may need support and assistance before the work shift begins and after.

So they may need that community, that support specialist to come in – a partner that helps encourage them or a family system outside of that work shift to help them adjust, returning to work. Cause it could be very – from the survivors I work with, they struggle sometimes just adjusting to the new part of work or going back and returning to work. So I just wanted to point those things out. There are many executive dysfunctions, of course, that they’re aware of when they begin going back to work because most, if all are released to return to work again, like Kathy said, we’re not in the medical model. So when they say head injury or brain injury, it’s not a fearful thing. And most employers, we want them to know that, but those challenges with brain injury going back, is dealing with those specific things, with that specific individual and everybody’s supporting and wrapping individual person-centered services around them. Did I cover it Maria? Or you want me to – I can go on and on.

Maria Crowley: No, those are great points. And I’m thinking, as you’re talking, it really does get down to setting people up to succeed, having a good foundation with all the different components that you talked about in place and having the person at the center of that planning.

April Turner: Absolutely. And I have, when we get further into this discussion, I definitely have some more from our survivors –what they’re wanting folks to know, as well, about job retention and ideas like that. But I’ll get to that in just a minute.

Maria Crowley: Thank you. So what would you say are some of the supports or strategies that are in place to help? Anna or Kathy, did you wanna start with that question?

Kathy West-Evans: In place to help for the individual or for the business, Maria?

Maria Crowley: For the business.

Kathy West-Evans: Or the business? Okay. First, I think it’s really building the relationship and really understanding the business. And that’s not just what HR looks like, but it’s that day-to-day business and how they operate and understanding their goals as a company. And much like we build the plan with an individual, we’re building a plan with that business. And what we’re finding – Anna, I think you’ll agree with me – is that we’ve got a lot of champions inside of business, and these may be parents or individuals with disabilities or family members or friends that are really supporting this company to make a shift. And how we work with that type of support inside a company, as well as what we can bring in terms of our expertise to the table, whether it’s an assistive technology specialist or an occupational therapist, et cetera, but it begins with that dialogue.

And a lot of businesses are also looking to us to help look at opening that discussion around disability. So it isn’t that fear factor. We’re not making assumptions. As April said, when we plan with a person, if you’ve met one person with a disability or one person with a brain injury, you’ve met one person with brain injury. So it’s the same with companies, right? And the same with individual offices. But businesses are more open to that dialogue. And so we’ve done a number of training with companies and that’s available to companies at no cost. We go in and take a look at the work environment, as well as understanding what’s in the job description. Working with the company to understand what an accommodation might look like if it’s needed and helping them be successful and be comfortable because the individual that is coming into the workplace is always part of a team.

So how do you help build that team for support and create – what a lot of the conversation has been recently about that psychological safety in the workplace, right? How do we enable someone to bring their whole self to work and feel comfortable with that and helping business build that kind of a culture inside a company? So again, those relationships, the trust – we’ve got such a wide range of services that we can offer, and so much expertise that we want to bring to our business customers to help make them successful. Anna, did I cover everything?

Anna Taylor: You did. You know, I just loved it. You hit all the points. You know, from a recruiter standpoint, I can tell you this: a lot of people, like we’ve mentioned, you know, think traumatic brain injury and, you know, they’re fearful of that word. And we’ve talked about that a couple of times now, but, you know, just like with anything unknown, people just, when you don’t know what you don’t know, you don’t know what to expect. And so employers, you know, often think that an employee has been cleared to come back to work after they’ve had an injury is the exact same person and can do the exact same things. And often that is the case. But for some it, you know, may not be that case. And so having that crucial conversation with an employer about what your needs are, you know, can often be a challenge for many people on both sides, for the employee and the employer. But, you know, it doesn’t have to be. Just like we’ve talked a couple of times now, you know, the cultures of inclusion are more important now than they’ve ever been before.

And you just need to lean into that. That conversation, it doesn’t have to be scary, you know, and people with disabilities, whatever kind of disability you have, they’re just people after all. And, you know, we all can relate to the feeling that we want to feel like we belong, you know, and work isn’t always just about money, but if somebody feels valued by their employer and they feel like their individual contributions make a difference, you know, it’s not always about money that keeps ’em there. It’s about those support that will help them work through the tough times, you know, and finding allies at an employer through employee resource groups, that’s becoming a big thing with employers. And like Kathy mentioned, psychological safety is key right now. People wanna feel like they belong. They wanna feel like they’re contributing. And as long as they have those supports, it’s just really starts with having a crucial conversation about what your needs are. And it doesn’t have to be a nerve-wracking thing. It’s okay. Someone just needs to start that conversation.

Maria Crowley: Great points, great points. April, anything you wanna add related to, you know, talking about specific supports and strategies that are available for the individual?

April Turner: Absolutely. I would like to talk about the supports we have in our state. And I know in many other states, these supports are there. And with Elizabeth, we did ask for some of those supports and accommodations, and I’m gonna give her an opportunity too, to speak up as well. Actually, Elizabeth, if you’ll go before me. There were some specific accommodations when we approached employers and there were some supports that we asked for in approaching Opelika Power. Can you speak to, to your experience a little bit or what you knew you needed going into a job when we started looking?

Elizabeth Benton: Okay, yeah, I can. When I went in, I definitely needed some time away in case I got overwhelmed with what was going on, you know, just take a minute, step aside, kind of think about what I’m going through. Because it was something completely new for me. I mean, I was used to just my family and very small interaction, but it was something that I definitely wanted to do. So I needed them to have that. I also just needed it to be part-time, you know, just move into it like that, trying to make sure that I could do that. And also needed Jessica, a person that I could confide in, somebody that I could talk to and let them know what was going on. If I was uncomfortable, if I was in a situation that I needed help in, she was there. So those were things that we definitely talked about me needing, because I definitely wanted to get out there into the real world, but I knew that it was something new for me.

April Turner: Thank you. Definitely Elizabeth. I remember those and we knew that ahead of time going in. So what I wanted to mention, cause Elizabeth did so perfectly in explaining what she needed. It wasn’t very technical either. It was, I need a person there. I may need some time away. And that is the way that we spoke up to employers. When we addressed employers, we also asked them, as well, we support them as much as we do as the person with a brain injury. So here in our state, the state of Alabama, and some of the services that Elizabeth is allowing me to share with you all, we supported her and wrapped around her based on what she told us she needed. And then we also were there for the employer as well. Our business relation consultants were there for any questions that they may have too and easing in to her, returning to work.

And so I wanted to mention some of those supports here in our state for individuals with TBI. We have our case management program. It was known as ICBM, but it’s an adult TBI case management program after injury. We have that for our individuals with lived experience. We also have a wonderful vocational rehab program, and I have to say that, and I love to say that cause that’s who Anna and I work for, but we have a robust vocational rehab program in our state and outside as well as our TBI program. Many people know it nationwide, and that is something that Elizabeth was a part of. And so I would encourage anybody to get involved in that support system of vocational rehabilitation. A part of vocational rehab that we have is called a RAVE program, and that is Retaining A Valuable Employee, and Anna and her coworkers are so diligent in an employer asking, “Hey, we need help, we wanna keep an employee after injury, they’re coming back, what can we do?” We jump in. Those business relation consultants are experts on this. We also have vocational evaluations. You’ve got folks who have never had a vocational evaluation. They jumped into work, an injury occurred and they don’t really know or understand their strengths and weaknesses. So we can help them with that and point them in the right direction of where their interests are now. And they can tell us their likes and dislikes too. Another thing is assistive technology. Like Kathy mentioned before, assistive technology is at the forefront. We’re hearing it every day to help individuals return to work. And that could be as simple as having, you know, a reminder on your watch or on your phone these days.

And we have a wonderful assisted technology program here with voc rehab as well. We have rehab engineers who create different accommodations or create 3D products, images, whatever it takes for that individual to be successful at work. We have a driver’s training program when our individuals with experience or wanting to return back to driving in order to go to work. We have a very robust driving training program here as well, and also looking at the individual, whether they wanna work part-time or full-time and meeting them where they’re at in their community. So supporting them means supporting them where they’re at, if they’re in a rural community and they’re underserved, we have to meet them there. So we have offices all over the state of Alabama and we have counselors and TBI care coordinators who travel. So just having those supports and knowing that in your state, you could go and with vocational rehab or find those supports as well, to help that individual when they want to return to work or finding that first time job, if they’ve never worked before. Those supports are there in their state. And we’re here to help. And we’re very appreciative that we were able to meet Elizabeth and Elizabeth gained a lot of these services in order to prepare her, to get ready for that first interview and ask for those accommodations when she was ready with Opelika.

Maria Crowley: Great points, April. You have provided kind of a nice segue. And I don’t know if y’all wanna add to this, but you touched on, you know, some of the uniqueness of brain injury in terms of job retention. Anything that you wanna add to that – because it is, in my opinion, very unique. I am thinking you guys agree with me?

April Turner: Yeah, I could jump in just from the brain injury aspect of it again. Maria, one thing, and I had asked many of our survivors in our state, what would they say about retaining a job? And this is nationwide. It’s not about finding that job. It’s about retaining a job for people with brain injury, especially in this economy and with what Kathy and Anna and Jessica shared about the jobs being out there. Getting a job is quite – I don’t wanna say it’s easy, but it’s easier these days – but retaining it is significant for our folks with brain injury. Many of them jump in before they’re ready. Like we talked about before, jumping in the pool. So, just some points I wanted to make as we’re going through about job retention and brain injury is, many of the survivors do not know the supports that are there. So the support I just talked about for individuals with brain injury to become employed, or to find that first time job, they may not know that there’s vocational rehab in their state or the other supports for people with disabilities, independent living or those Medicaid waiver programs. They may not know that that’s there. So I encourage them to please find those supports before entering into the workforce, so they can help prepare, knowing if there’s vocational rehab or any other support that could help them and guide them. Being successful and being prepared in the beginning will help the retention factor later on. And also once they’re employed, knowing who to go to, who is that support person or is the support person in HR, is the support person standing right next to them? Like we’re gonna hear in just a few minutes.

So where is that support inside the actual employer once the person becomes employed? And many individuals, they’re looking for that supportive environment, like Kathy mentioned before, and also looking for who that staff member or that employer is, who is willing to help them, not just someone that they say, oh, well, you’ve got to go stand by this person or support, but who is that person who’s really willing to learn? Not only people inside the employer, but outside as well, from the top down. Individuals with brain injury, returning to work, find it difficult to reach out and talk to management when they’re struggling. That was another factor that many of my survivors wanted to make sure everybody knew. We all have our good and our bad days, that individuals with brain injury may need that one person, like we keep talking about to share their concerns. And then that employer or that employee, knowing that individual enough to be able to speak up and say, you know, what’s going on.

That is, they’re seeing them struggle at work. And having that open communication to be able to talk about that. Many individuals with brain injury too, do not know that they can ask for accommodations when they’re returning to work or they’re trying to retain work. They most certainly can ask for those accommodations and they can be very simple. One thing that kept being mentioned by our survivors is they may need just a small factor, like they may need extra time to complete a job task. And just asking that employer, if they can have some additional time or having a structured schedule where they’re doing the same thing everyday, but they may need that schedule pinned up visibly or checking that cell phone, or that reminder is something simple accommodation doesn’t have to be extravagant or, you know, doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to be able to support someone on the job.

And then lastly is allowing the flexibility for our individuals. All of us need some type of flexibility on the job. We all have our strengths and weaknesses and some of us work well in the mornings. And there are some of us who work really well in the afternoons. So when you look at just the individual themselves, allowing that flexibility of those reminders that may be needed, or they may need to walk on their breaks, they may need to stand, or they may need to sit. So just having that flexibility and focus on those strengths, what we do here is person-centered and the whole discovery process of who they are with returning return into work. We definitely wanna make sure that those individuals, when they get on that job, that they stay for a long time. And to do that, we’ve got to be flexible and find out who that person is and be very person-centered in the process. So I think my counterparts here have a lot to say about that too. So …

Maria Crowley: Thank you. Kathy?

Kathy West-Evans: Yes. I wanna speak from a very personal perspective here. When my brother came out of his coma, we heard a lot from doctors about what he couldn’t do. And because myself and my husband, who is a person with a disability, have backgrounds in VR, we sat down and asked for a new doctor and then wrote a rehabilitation plan with my brother. It started by really focusing on: things have changed. Head injury happens and things have changed and it impacts everyone differently. But you have to understand the strengths. You cannot lead by what someone can’t do. You have to work with an individual and really build on the strengths. And as April said, so what are the reminders? You know, we now have text reminders. We have vibrating watches. We have, you know, there’s a whole host of things, written communication.

What’s the strength of the person? Is it auditory? Is it visual? How do they learn best? And there’s a lot of tools that we can use in vocational rehab to help people understand their strengths. And that’s what we need to lead with when we’re working with an individual. And I think there’s a lot of benefit in working closely with doctors, but on the accommodations and accessibility, that’s really our area of expertise. So how do we bring in those specialists to really make that shift? Because there is life outside and after the hospital. And it really is dependent upon building and helping that person understand their strengths, where they wanna go and how we all support them in moving there. It’s been a real life experience. And I’m so glad that I had it. I love my brother. He has a heart of gold and he is been an extremely wonderful father and has built a life that’s incredible. And I’m just so honored to be part of it.

Maria Crowley: You’re so right. And, Kathy, thank you for sharing that personal aspect for us. That’s really meaningful to hear. I think it adds a lot to what we’re talking about. Okay.

Anna Taylor: I just wanted to say, and just remind everybody that’s listening is that you’re not alone. There are a lot of people out there, whether they’re in your community or not, there are resources all over the nation for you, okay. So if you can’t find access to an ally at your employer right away, or if you can’t access things right away, there are resources that we’re gonna be giving you to help you connect with a community of support. So just remember that. And it’s a journey. Accessibility is a journey for everybody, and it’s a journey for employers too, as well as the person that has the disability. But I just wanted to take a second and just remind everybody that: how cool is it that we have all of these supports in 2022, like all of these magnificent accommodations, but you are not alone. So I just wanna remind y’all about that.

Maria Crowley: Great point. And it’s not a once and done, you know, it’s a journey. So, you know, things need to be tweaked along the way. Next question. What can program staff, rehabilitation staff, or community providers do to encourage businesses to partner better with them or partner with them? And Jessica, this is really a question for you.

Jessica Samuel: I think just more awareness of your program and all of your services. I met Anna at a veteran’s luncheon and she and I just started talking and I was listening to their presentation and I thought, Huh, Elizabeth came from a program like this. And, you know, just more awareness. Like if you could, you know, maybe attend job fairs or new employee orientations, or maybe some type of social media platform. I’m not sure if you have that, but just more awareness of all of your services.

Maria Crowley: Great. Do you feel like it would be useful to you also, in addition to awareness, maybe to help businesses overcome any hesitation or discomfort that they might have in working with people who have brain injury, maybe some of the challenges are just not seen. Is that helpful?

Jessica Samuel: Yes. Ma’am that, that that’s helpful. That is helpful. When I, when Elizabeth was here before I got here and I didn’t realize what she had gone through because she was actually working with someone else that was kind of interim before I came and she was already trained, you know, and she, and I just formed just a friendship because I was asking her, Hey, how you do this? So she, she was parttime. So, you know, it’s, like I said, like, I, I had no idea just meeting her that she’s been through all of, all of, um, her brain injuries and everything. People are hesitant of, you know, you just because you just don’t know.

Maria Crowley: Right. Elizabeth, uh, I wanna shift our questions to you just a little bit, because we would love to hear more about your own experience and journey. Can you tell everybody a little bit about what your job is? Like, what do you do? And what’s it like.

Elizabeth Benton: Okay. I am a customer service representative here. I work the drive through. So anybody that has to come in and wants to pay a bill, that kind of stuff, they come see me, they ask me a lot of questions about their bills and that kind of stuff. And I try to figure out how to answer questions for them, for the most part I can. But there are times when I have to ask one of my other ladies that I work with, how do I answer this? What do I need to do? that kind of thing. But this is the only time that I really interact with people like I do here, because I would say that I’m not one that tries to step out there and meet people a lot, because I am nervous that I’m not gonna say the right things, but I think I’m a lot better at that than in my mind I am, but that’s my job here. I take phone, I help people pay bills, that kind of thing.

Maria Crowley: I’ll bet you are a lot better at it because you have to answer things spontaneously. You don’t know what people are gonna ask until they ask it.

Elizabeth Benton: That’s right. Yes. Ma’am.

Jessica Samuel: And she takes, in the most money. She takes the most payments. She balances very well. Like she, doesn’t give herself enough credit at all.

Maria Crowley: That’s coming through. I said, it sounds like you’re underestimating your skills there. And it sounds like you’re valued employee.

Can you tell us a little bit about your employment journey? Can you describe that for us.

Elizabeth Benton: Here? When I first started here, I was just here through rehabilitation services. Um, part-time first time that I’d actually stepped out into the real world and it was, uh, amazing. I was so excited that I actually got to stay here after being here for a little while, but just, uh, customer service, you know, interacting with people with everything that had happened to me, I actually had to relearn how to do everything. So it was like teaching five year old, how to, you know, talk and read and that kind of stuff. But I mean, it was a amazing place for me because everybody here was so supportive and understood what I had going on.

April Turner: Elizabeth. This is April. Would you, I’m gonna ask you something personal. Would you mind sharing with us a little bit about your story about when your injury occurred?

Elizabeth Benton: Right.

April Turner: Did that happen?

Elizabeth Benton: I was in a car accident, was thrown out of a car October 3rd, 2014. I believe, you know, my memory’s not so good, but anyway, thrown out of a car. Um, I was in a coma for 32 days when I came out of the hospital, I was in a wheelchair, all that fun stuff. My parents had to take care of me all over again, but, um, you know, learn to walk again, learn to talk again, learn to do all that kind of stuff. So it was scary for my family and kind of scary for me when I think back on it. But now like I’ll see pictures and that kind of stuff. And I’m like, oh my gosh, that’s me. Like when was I ever like that? When did that happen? So I know it actually happened to me, but I have made an awesome journey to get to where I am now.

April Turner: Absolutely. And, something I and Elizabeth is said that I could share, but her, her brain injury was a severe injury. We work with many of those that are not severe with her having a severe injury and being able to return to work and has stayed on that job. It’s been seven years, hasn’t it? Elizabeth?

Elizabeth Benton: It has…

April Turner: So Elizabeth has been there for seven years. Then we have some with those who have a concussion and they may have some really grave, difficulty going to work and you have Elizabeth who had to fight to get back, but ask for those simple accommodations to still been fighting. But it, I just wanna make sure people know there are varying degrees. And for those families who have that individual who, when they come home and they say, oh, they have a severe brain injury, or they won’t ever live on their own, or they won’t ever work again, you know, take that may not be true. Okay. And Elizabeth’s situation. She was and be in her, the one that helped her, I could tell you she was classified as having a severe injury. And from where she is today, it is miraculous, but she put in that hard work and she’s had so much support too. So the next thing that I think that we need tovhighlight here and is not mentioned between Elizabeth and Jessica, can you tell me the dynamic there too? Because I think that’s very important for employers to hear is the dynamic between you all. I know that Jessica you’re her supervisor or one of her supervisors, but also you all have a unique relationship that gets you through your day. So can you talk a little bit about.

Jessica Samuel: Sure. I am Elizabeth’s supervisor and I’ve learned her over the years, so I can tell when she’s frustrated, I can tell when, you know, she’s just, it’s just not a good day. You know, if it’s something she doesn’t understand, it’s just, and she doesn’t even have to say anything. And we’ve had, I think we’ve had this relationship since the beginning. We have like, she, I can just look at her and tell when she comes in, if it’s just not a good day. Oh. Or if it’s something complicated on her computer, even before, like if a customer asks her something, even before she asks or look around, I could share, she stands right here in front of my office. So I’ll just come out and I’ll just say, Hey, what’s going on? Right. You know, how can I, how can I help? You know, sometimes that’s, I think that’s better than her having to ask people or, you know, just, disrupt what’s going on.

You know, we have customers in and out our lobbies. And so, you know, she it’s, it’s extra things. I mean, we do have extra things sometime, but it’s okay. You know, like I told her in the beginning, if you wanna say, we’re gonna make it happen, you know, because she was like, well, I understand, you know, I’m going through this program. I, and I was like, no, Elizabeth, you work hard. She is the hardest working employee that I have. Like, she she’s gonna push through. She’s gonna make sure it’s done. Even if she ask a million times, she’s gonna, she’s gonna keep trying until, until she gets it. Right. And that means a lot to me, you know, so, but we do have a, we do have that, um, that relationship where I can just look and I can tell like, okay, she she’s, she’s having a hard time.

Let me just walk up and let me just see Elizabeth, are you okay? Yeah. what can I do? Are you okay? That’s what she does because she knows me. Well, she really does. She’s very supportive. She’s been here for me. She has, you know, let me take my time aside to kind of, you know, go through whatever’s going on in my mind. But she also knows that I’m here to work. That if I have a question I’m gonna hit her with it. But for the most part, you know, I try to figure it out. Yeah.

April Turner: So Elizabeth, you mentioned also that she lets me, she lets me work it out. Tell us what, when you get, when you’re struggling or you get really fatigued at work or you get frustrated, what are the things you do there Attica power to sort of help relax or maintain your full day of work? What are some of the things you do to de-stress and some of the things that they allow you to do to help with that fatigue?

Jessica Samuel: Right? I mean, if ever I need to, they’ll just let me, I’ll say Jessica, and she’s like, Elizabeth, you know, take some time. If you need to, I can kind of step aside, take, you know, walk around, go get some water, something like that. Just if I’m ever overwhelmed with something which, you know, coming into the drive, people come into the drive through, it’s not as bad as people wanting to necessarily come in and set up new accounts and ask questions like that. But she always can kind of tell just like she said, she can see it on my face and she can hear to my boyfriend. She’ll be like, you need to go step away, go right ahead, go take a, go, get a drink of water, you know, take a minute. And so that’s a big thing for me is just being able to kind of.

Elizabeth Benton: Step back, take in everything that’s going on. And either I’m too overwhelmed and I can’t, or the few minutes gives me time to come back and be like, okay, I’m good. Now I can do it. Now I can go forward.

Maria Crowley: Awesome. That’s great. It really gets back to one of the things April was mentioning in terms of knowing what your support system is at work and for the business to know their staff well enough to really recognize, you know, when things, when a person might be struggling or some additional supports that they need, it does kind of get back to relationships. Doesn’t it?

Anna Taylor: Well, Maria, you know, clearly this is an excellent model of a place where an employee feels a sense of a belonging. They feel like their individual contributions matter. And I mean, what a great model to be an employer of choice. That’s what it’s gonna take in today’s workplace cultural shift to keep people, to attract people. You know, all of the things that we all need are right there. And I just kudos to both of you for having those crucial conversations for modeling the way for a best practice. I mean, you know, you guys sound like you have fun, so I just, I’m excited for both of you and I’m, you know, I’m glad to be part of this conversation.

Maria Crowley: Yeah. I’m so glad things have gone so well for you, Elizabeth. IIwould love to ask you what advice you might share with other individuals who have sustained a brain injury when they’re looking for work. What are some things you might want to share in terms of some advice?

Elizabeth Benton: One thing that I would definitely say is put yourself in a position where you have to actually try to push yourself forward to do something. I mean, you know, you may not be used to actually having a lot of interaction with people I did not. Before I came here, I just didn’t interact a whole lot. My family, it was with rehabilitation services. It was with, by support that kind of stuff. So that’s one of the major things is that, you know, put yourself in a place where no matter what you might think about getting up in the morning, you are gonna try it. You are at least gonna step out there and try to interact with people and try to learn something new. Because when you come from what I came from, you have to kind of remember and learn everything. That was a huge thing for me. And just being able to interact with people anywhere was a major thing, because I didn’t do that a whole lot. I didn’t. And you know, my doctors had said that I was not gonna make it. There was my doctors, I should say, there was another chance that I would make it, but here I am, I was able to step out there. And I’m so thankful for everybody that has supported me to get me to this position.

Maria Crowley: That’s great. One last question. If I could ask, what do you think that providers or staff could do better in terms of helping people with brain injuries? Go to work? Anything?

Elizabeth Benton: I guess, I don’t exactly know how to answer that because I didn’t have that. I didn’t have anybody that wasn’t there to support me. I mean, I just didn’t anytime I went anywhere, whether it was with April or, you know, Steve, anybody, I had somebody there supporting me when they brought me here. I mean, I did. So I don’t know exactly what I could say because I don’t know.

Maria Crowley: Well, that’s great. April wants to add something to that, I think.

April Turner: I think that was, that was perfect. Elizabeth, another thing I wanna highlight along with what you just said, and Anna said is that we have, we had support from the top down. So not only does Elizabeth and Jessica, they have that relationship. And she had that relationship with those of us who were supporting her. But even now she’s got a community around her supervisor, or the director above Mr. Pott. We met with him as well. He knows Elizabeth. He knows her routine. He knows how valuable that she is. He knows her strengths just as well as Jessica does. And so when you have that community around you and Opal, is doing some wonderful things. If you move into a community like ours, who are constantly looking for those opportunities to bring in folks with brain injury, or it could be any disability are veterans, they are heading in the right direction on recruiting and being diverse and equitable and bringing all those folks together to allow the opportunity. And I just think that Elizabeth hit it. I mean, her answers have been wonderful and her situation has been ideal. And so if we could be that person centered and that supportive from the community to the top manager all the way down, look how well it could turn out. I mean I’m a proud mama here. I’m a proud mama for Elizabeth and for my community and her employer. So, anyway, I could go on and on about that. Thanks guys.

Maria Crowley: And thank you for sharing. We appreciate you being willing to do that with us. Elizabeth, it’s been great to hear you. Also a big thanks to like a power services. It sounds like you guys have it together in terms of how you operate and what you do and how you go about doing it. Any resources that you’d like to mention any of you that are available to help any additional items of support that you think folks ought to know they’re listening.

Kathy West-Evans: I think I’m lipreading my name.

Maria Crowley: [laugh].

Kathy West-Evans: So at the national level with the national employment team, we have a team of specialists that work with business. So whether you’re in Alabama or I don’t know, I wanna go to work with Jessica and Elizabeth, honestly. I love that work environment, but anywhere a business, has an operation. We wanna build a team around that business; really looking at, you know, from the whole spectrum of how you build that talent pipeline, whether it’s young people transitioning out of high school into work, or, you know, as we all talked about the aging population, although we’re all in denial about that. And that recognizing that, you know, life changes in an instant and disability is the one diversity group that any one of us can join at anytime. And, you know, when we have businesses coming and ask and saying to us, you know, we just don’t know what we don’t know.

We’re afraid to ask there’s the number one barrier. So how do we help build the pipeline, recruit qualified applicants, provide training, be part of that dialogue about building out your DEI and a, um, initiatives accessibility. You’re not truly inclusive if you’re not accessible, correct. And then looking at retention programs and all of the, the range of consulting and technical assistance, as well as financial supports that the public vocational rehabilitation can bring to the table for business anywhere across the country and with the, you know, remote types of opportunities that we’re seeing in the hybrid workplaces. Sometimes that means that Anna and I will be working with a company that’s willing to hire someone in Florida or Vermont or somewhere else because they’re working remotely. So we have a strength in building together and we bring a number of no cost services to business.

I love to tell to our business partners, this is taxpayer dollars back at work in business, and we are ready to listen to you and build a strategy with you and bring a lot of talent to your workplace. And again, you know, you don’t go wrong when you have a great partnership. Like you’ve got here in Alabama and working with Jessica and Elizabeth and understanding that, you know, people value the workplace culture. If you ask a lot of people with the disability or not, what do you value about work? It’s not always pay it’s about the people we work with and the culture of a company that allows us to grow as a person. So, I just wanna say, thank you for letting me be part of this conversation. We are here as a resource for companies and for individuals, we listen to business and what, whatever you wanna do, let’s talk about how we build that career, because I’m looking at Anna and April and Maria, who, came from VR. We build a plan around a person, and I think that’s the strength of this program is wherever you’re at, and wherever you wanna go, and how we bring that learning in that learning moment from business we’re in this together. And so let us support you, whether you’re the individual or the business, or maybe you’re both, we’re here.

Anna Taylor: You know, it’s so great to be part of a national organization, Kathy, you know what we’re doing in Alabama, we can talk about in New York, Florida, and Texas all over the country, you know, but for those of you that need to reach out, you know, our website, rehab.alabama.gov, you can find us very easily and April’s gonna have some other sites. I’m sure she wants to share. But in addition, we have some other national partners that are all part of this movement to promote inclusion of people with disabilities; and Disability:IN just finished their big global conference. And 4,000 people attended it just this past week. And, you know, there are allies all over the country and globally, um, that wanna hire people with disabilities and they have resources. And there’s also local affiliates as well, that you can connect with in your states. And just another resource outside of vocational rehabilitation, we’re called the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services. We’re all named something a little bit different, but we’re pretty easy to find. But, Disability:IN is, it’s just disabilityin.org and there’s a lot of resources there. And you can find your local affiliate in your state. There’s a map that you can getto, but, you know, reach out to us if you, aren’t sure who to connect with.

Kathy West-Evans: One thing I, I forgot to add in there too, Anna, that we’ve talked a lot about is the partnership we’re building with other national entities. Disability is one, we’ve got a partnership with the veterans administration and veterans readiness and employment. We’re working with social security. So we have built platforms with business to take a look at talent and how you easily access it. So we have our talent acquisition portal, capability.org. We have our national employment team, and then we have great people at the state level. So wherever you wanna start, and however you wanna build the plan, reach out because we’ll bring a team with us.

Anna Taylor: Kathy, I’m glad you mentioned capability because they’re having a huge online job hiring event on the 27th. So of July, you know, I’m glad you mentioned that there’s just lots of resources and there’s people that want to hire you. And there’s people that value you, those of you that have disabilities that are listening. So now more than ever lean into it, because we’re there and people are looking for you.

April Turner: Thanks guys. Wow. That’s awesome. So I’ll talk about the brain injury part of it, the employment part, they checked off all my lists on that side. So from the brain injury perspective, I just encourage all of you to, um, to jump in and find out who your lead agency is in your state. You can look it up, you can Google it sometimes in our state, it happens to be the Alabama Department of Rehab Services, but in other states it may be under mental health or public health. So just if you’ll tap in and look in and see if you could find who that lead agency is, that’s where I would start to and learning about brain injury in your State, as well as the helpline, many of our states. and I have state partners that I work with all over the United States, and they have help lines too, that you can call for acquired brain injury or, um, traumatic brain injury.

So I encourage you to look at and find the help lines as well. Our national TBI advocacy organizations that we have one here that, Maria also works for is NASHIA. NASHIA is our, leading advocacy organization that helps the states and administrators bring programs to our states and give us technical assistance as well. So I encourage you to reach out to nashia.org, as well as the state TBI advocacy programs. We have ADAP here in our state. We have Alabama head injury foundation. They’re at hif.org. There are many organizations within the state as well who provide like support groups and encouragement and other additional support for our individuals who are looking at returning back to work. Also your state independent living programs, your waiver programs as well. Senior services also has employment services from people with brain injury, vocation rehab, and looking at accommodations.

We’re really good at that, but also looking at the Jan network online. If you need some of those simple accommodations under brain injury, you can look at that as well. And there are those of us. Alabama is very lucky to have the TPI federal TPI grant. There are many of us states here in the United States who have those grants and are fortunate enough to have those. And we partner with other states who have grants as well. So I encourage you to find that lead agency on brain injury, see what services they have for you, see if they have the federal grant, look and see if they have a TBI registry like we have in our state. Look and see if they have a task force. Like we have Alabama head injury task force who were prioritizing the needs of our individuals in our state who have brain injury.

So, also a selfish plug with our particular program. You can go to rehab.alabama.gov, that Anna mentioned, and alabama.tbi.org as well, just to know where to start here in our state. But Maria, I’m sure you can help me if I left somebody big out, which I probably did – oh, UAB. Look also to your hospitals in your state too. They have UAB TBI model systems, but there are other TBI model systems in other states as well, connected to their universities and do many research projects like we have here, the TRIP Lab (http://triplaboratory.com/) who does wonderful research on prevention as well. And they’re our partner here, along with University of Alabama at Birmingham which is [inaudable] rehab as well, but they’ve got those in your state too. And we’re all here to support people with brain injuries. So if I can answer any questions, I’m just so glad to be a part of this conversation today. Thank you for giving me the opportunity, an opportunity to connect with Jessica and Elizabeth again, too ladies. Thank you.

Maria Crowley: Thank you. This has been great. Brings us to the end of our podcast today. It was incredibly insightful, and we know that you listeners will have some additional perspective on these issues and some tools to take back to your state, to form some new and stronger partnerships that can lead to better employment success. Some of the key takeaways that I noted as you guys were talking really gets to some of these points. You talked about innovation and flexibility with business and with employment. You talked about turning challenge into opportunity, and I think that’s really the touchstone for our whole talk today. Building in accommodations, setting people up for success, really tuning into an individual need and supporting employees when they need the supports, whether they see that they do, or whether you recognize that they do. And as Elizabeth said best, you know, really pushing yourself, getting yourself out there so that you can succeed. Thanks to each of you individually: Anna, April, Jessica, Elizabeth, and Kathy. We appreciate it. Thank you to the Alabama power services, the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services and the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation. And we appreciate all the expertise you shared with us. and lastly, thank you to the Administration on Disabilities, Disability, Employment TA Center for collaborating with us to produce this podcast. We hope you have a great day.

Announcer: You’ve been listening to the, a AoD Disability Employment, Technical Assistance Center podcast.

The AoD Disability Employment Technical Assistance Center, or DETAC, is a project of the Lewin group and TASH, created by a grant from the Administration for Community Living to provide evidence based training and technical assistance to Administration on Disability grantees aimed at improving competitive, integrated employment and economic outcomes for individuals with disabilities across the nation. To learn more about DETAC visit aoddisabilityemploymentacenter.com. For news and alerts about upcoming webinars and podcasts, you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Music for the DETAC podcast is an original composition and performance by Sonora, the co-director and autistic self-advocacy mentor at the musical autist. You can learn more about the musical autist at www.themusicalautist.org.

We’ll have another episode on integrated employment for you in the near future.

[music plays]

This discussion was originally recorded on July 22, 2022.

This audio recording and transcript has been lightly edited for content and clarity.

Recent Posts