Elizabeth attended the Tea Area School District and participated in the Life Skills Program. She also worked with the after school program, where she supervised grade school children waiting to be picked up by their parents. While in high school, she attended the Youth Leadership Forum at Northern State University - a week long career and leadership training experience for students with disabilities.
After finishing her educational credits at Tea High School, Elizabeth moved into a transition program. She attended Teachwell Transitions in Sioux Falls. This program provides students with developmental disabilities, ages 18-21, additional skill building options. Elizabeth learned home living skills including household management, health and safety, shopping and food preparation. She also gained extra skills needed for employment and living independently.
While attending Transition Advantage at Teachwell, she was accepted into the Project SEARCH program with Avera McKennan Hospital. Project SEARCH provides students who want to work with opportunities to explore a variety of careers and develop transferrable job skills. It is designed as an internship program, which facilitates learning new work skills on site. Individualized job development and placement occurs based upon the student’s experiences, strengths, and skills. A series of job rotations lasting up to 10 weeks allows students to seek positions that best suit their interests and skills. Students receive accommodations, adaptations, and on-the-job coaching.
After successfully completing Project SEARCH, Elizabeth found a position with the Grand Stay Hotel in Tea. Elizabeth is part time, working up to 35 hours a week. She earns bonuses based on performance and longevity. The hotel does not provide health insurance at this time, but she receives SSI benefits and Medicaid.
Elizabeth enjoys her employment. She was awarded Employee of the Month with the hotel franchise due to her hard work, great attitude, and dedication.
She lives in Tea, her community of choice. She lives with her supportive aunt and uncle and her cousin. She leads a very busy life. Elizabeth participates in Special Olympics, hangs out with family and friends, and rides the Sioux Falls bike trails. She is learning how to crochet, cook and bake with her aunt. She watches her favorite football team (the Packers). In the spring and summer, she is learning to garden.
Elizabeth is leading a fulfilled life – the life she wants and worked to achieve!
Gary worked for Gehl, a manufacturing facility, producer of equipment for construction, agriculture, industry and beyond . He had over 20 years working in this field and it was time for career change. It was time to find something different.
Gary applied for vocational rehabilitation services and he was found eligible. Once Gary learns a job, he is very reliable, as demonstrated by his employment history. He was seeking assistance with finding employment and wanting something that matched his skills and interests.
Gary likes working with his hands. His interest was in the manufacturing world; however, he accepted temporary work at a greenhouse while working with the vocational rehabilitation counselor. VR provided counseling and guidance; job coaching and follow along services. Different agencies worked together to find the perfect employment match for him.
Gary worked with a job coach at a work site to see if it was something that he liked and to determine if it was a good fit with his skills and abilities. The Department of Labor and Regulation assisted with the job search. One difficulty for Gary is applying for positions due to the reading and writing involved, skills needed to complete these processes. Supports were provided to assist Gary with these tasks, and Gary discovered a new employment outcome he truly enjoys.
Throughout this entire process, Gary’s wife was at his side. She attended meetings, assisted with the job search, and helped him maintain focus. This was a journey for the two of them as they explored all their options.
Gary was hired at Jerry’s Electric. He is a “Transformer Salvager”, and his is able to continue to do “hands on work”. Some of the functions includes mowing lawns and garbage removal. He is working full time. Gary is also receiving all of the employee benefits provided to all full-time employees.
When Gary isn’t working, you will find him at home, enjoying time with his wife. Gary also loves the outdoors. He likes hunting deer and pheasant and going fishing.
Anais attended Buffalo High School in Minnesota for two years and competed on the cross country team. She completed the remainder of her education at the Watertown High School. Anais is a person with an intellectual disability and connective tissue manifestations (progressive dilatation of the aorta). More recently she was diagnosed with Raynaud’s Disease, a rare disorder of the blood vessels, usually impacting the fingers and toes. She was on an individualized education plan until the age of 21.
Anais was busy during her high school years. She attended the Transition Learning Campus in Aberdeen for two years. This is a program for students with disabilities who desire independence. It provides them with a college atmosphere with same age peers. It’s an opportunity to plan transition to adulthood through a combination of continuing education, work experience, leisure activities, and other community based experiences.
Anais attended the Youth Leadership Forum in 2012 and 2013. She returned in 2015 as an Assistant Team Leader. She also participated in Catch the Wave. These events provided opportunities for her to learn more about herself, career interests, and different services and supports that might help her reach her goals. Anais participated in Project Skills throughout high school, which is a paid work experience program built on a partnership between the local school district and Division of Rehabilitation Services (vocational rehabilitation services), and a local employer. For her Project Skills work opportunities, she worked at NSU’s Children’s Center, Aberdeen School District, Stockman’s Café, Ponds Bakery, Culvers and Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer.
Anais worked with a VR counselor throughout high school. VR provided the following services: guidance and counseling, job coaching, transportation, tuition and fees, clothing, job coaching, driving tutoring sessions, and miscellaneous good and services. VR linked her with DakotaLink (SD’s Assistive Technology Project) and she received assistive technology services and devices. She received a laptop, Kurzweil software, Dragon Naturally Speaking, and a Livescribe Smart Pen. DakotaLink worked with Anais to help her determine what products were best suited for her and taught her how to utilize each item.
Anais worked with Independent Living Choices which provided her with learning budgeting skills, shopping, and other basic living skills. She also worked with Family Support 360 and they assisted her with being able to move out of her parent’s house into her own apartment along with helping her identify other resources. Both of the programs were a huge support to Anais and her family. Employment Action provided tutoring to help Anais prepare for the driver’s exam, and job coaching and follow along services to assist with maintaining employment.
When Anais started working with VR she wanted to work with children or in a position where she did cleaning. She also wanted to work where she could interact with others. Therefore, she found employment at Stockman’s Café, and washes dishes, busses tables, and completes food preparation. She works between 10-16 hours per week. Anais is a hard working individual. She taught herself (with minimal supports) how to use the local transit system.
Since VR closed her case, Anais obtained her driver’s license. She also purchased her own vehicle and new tires. She drives herself to medical appointments and work. She is a determined young woman who advocates for herself and others. She attends monthly peer support group meetings and is a role model for others. She sets goals for herself on a monthly basis and works towards achieving these goals. Anais was also recognized by the Watertown’s Mayor’s Committee with an award as Outstanding Citizen with a Disability in October 2016.
During her spare time, Anais participates in basketball, track and field, and bowling with Special Olympics.
Rachel was home schooled through the 6th grade when her parents enrolled her in the public school system. She began attending Faulkton High School and contact was made with the Division of Rehabilitation Services. Rachel started meeting with a vocational rehabilitation (VR) counselor in the 9th grade. At Rachel’s request, the VR counselor also participated in her IEP meetings.
Rachel understands the impact of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and chronic anxiety. She chose not to participate in Project Skills or other transition services. Rachel realized at a very young age that she wanted to keep her focus on her grades. She learned she does best when she limits interactions or distractions. Doing this improves her concentration and helps her focus on completing necessary tasks. When Rachel finished high school, she was interested in American Sign Language. She wanted to become an interpreter.
After graduating from high school, Rachel attended post-secondary education at Augustana University and participated in the Sign Language Interpreting Program. VR provided assistance with vocational guidance and counseling services, financial assistance with tuition and fees, books and supplies, room and board, assistive technology services and devices while she attended school.
The VR counselor helped coordinate services with DakotaLink (South Dakota’s Assistive Technology Project). DakotaLink assisted Rachel in learning about different devices which could assist her. Rachel utilized different ports, buttons, and other features on her laptop and functions on her printer. She also learned how to use the read, write, and study tools utilizing the Kurzweil 3000 software. DakotaLink also assisted her with utilizing Microsoft outlook for scheduling purposes and discussed how to use her headphones to reduce distractions. She utilized a Sony digital recorder to take audio notes and then transferred this information to her laptop for reviewing and studying.
Rachel graduated from Augustana University in May 2015 earning a liberal arts degree. She also participated in the State’s Mentoring Program and earned provisional certification in sign language interpreting. She found full time employment with the Sioux Falls School District, currently placed at Whittier Middle School. With her employment, she receives a benefit package which includes vacation time, health, and dental insurance.
Rachel has volunteered working with “Hands in Motion” at the 2014 and 2015 LifeLight Christian Music Festival held in Worthing, SD. Hands in Motion is a summer enrichment program for children who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Rachel is married, expecting her first child, and calls Sioux Falls home. In her free time, she enjoys attending church activities, playing piano and listening to music.
Mandy is an Audiologist at the Sioux Falls Veterans Administration (VA). She has been working with the VA for seven years, wanting to use her knowledge and experience to help veterans who struggle with hearing loss. Mandy was born with congenital hearing loss in both ears. She has worn hearing aids since age three. She also has a twin sister who has hearing loss in one ear.
Following high school graduation, Mandy and her sister attended Missouri State University (MSU) on handball scholarships. Mandy also sought out vocational rehabilitation (VR) services. Mandy received counseling and guidance while continuing her education. Other services provided during this time included tuition & fees and hearing aids. In the midst of studying and attending classes she and her sister were playing pro-level handball, eventually placing third and eighth place. Mandy earned a bachelor’s degree in communication disorders upon completion of her study at MSU.
Upon graduation, Mandy didn’t quite know what she wanted to do, so she a variety of jobs. Her sister went on and became a firefighter. Mandy decided to go back to school.
She applied with the University of South Dakota and enrolled in the audiologist program. At first, she didn’t know if she would make it into the program because of her hearing loss. She was accepted. This gave her hope and confidence that she would be able to assist others with hearing impairments.
After Mandy graduated with her Master’s degree, she did her fellowship at the School for the Deaf in Faribault, Minnesota. She then worked at an Ear, Nose and Throat practice in Kansas City, Missouri.
During her time in Kansas City, she enrolled in a doctorate program of Audiology. She obtained her degree two years later through the University of Florida online program. Upon receipt of her doctorate, she accepted a position with the Sioux Falls Veterans Administration.
Mandy is not sure what lies ahead or what goals may come next. She shares that without the help of vocational rehabilitation services, she would not have been able to achieve what she has so far!
Kayley graduated from West Central High School in Hartford in 2010. She attended Southeast Technical Institute and earned a degree in Marketing with a Design Emphasis and Marketing. She graduated with a cumulative GPA of 3.3.
Growing up, Kayley’s path was a bit different. At a very young age, Kayley was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). SMA is a very rare hereditary disease that progressively destroys motor neurons – nerve cells in the brain stem and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle activity such as walking, breathing and swallowing. Her doctors didn’t think she would live past the age of three.
During high school she worked with the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS). She knew she wanted to continue with post-secondary education, so she explored her options. She worked with a vocational rehabilitation (VR) counselor to pursue a career, and through guidance and counseling, she decided what she wanted. VR provided tuition, books, and a note scribe for her time in school. She worked with DakotaLink, SD’s assistive technology project, to determine what assistive devices would work best for her. She utilizes Keystrokes, Photoshop, In-Design and Illustrator. She also has a monthly subscription for 30+ Adobe programs.
Kayley likes marketing, media, and football. Working for a football team was her dream job. She worked for the Sioux Falls Storm (indoor football team) as a media intern in October 2014. Following graduation from college, she was hired as their Director of Social Media Marketing. She tweets live during each game, runs the Storm’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, she also works on the team’s website and writes all of the press releases for the Storm. Kayley works part-time, putting additional hours in during football season.
VR helped coordinate a meeting between Kayley and a benefits specialist. They worked together to determine how earnings would impact her benefits. Working with a benefits specialist has provided her with the information needed so she can work full-time and continue to receive needed coverage for her personal attendant and other disability related needs.
She strives to live life to the fullest each and every day. When not working, Kayley enjoys spending time with family and friends and listening to music. She is a Texas Longhorns and Dallas Cowboys fanatic. Her dream is to work for the NFL. She has told the Storm, if Jerry Jones calls, she will have to go!
Richard applied for services with the Division of Rehabilitation Services in 2014. In addition to counseling and guidance, Richard sought assistance with the purchase of an electric wheelchair to maintain his employment, along with the priority of maintaining his independence and mobility. SSDI was utilized, along with VR’s assistance to purchase this wheelchair. Not long after his vehicle accident in 1991, he started working with DRS.
Richard requires assistance with activities of daily living. Family members assist him, in addition to him hiring personal attendants when family is unable to provide the needed assistance. He also has a modified vehicle, which he drives with the use of hand controls, when he can. He leads a very active and independent life.
Richard has also received services from Western Resources for Independent Living (WRIL) and Independent Living Choices (ILC), which are centers for independent living. WRIL purchased a shower chair and reviewed aspects of his home for accessibility. ILC provides assistance with the State Attendant Care program administered by Division of Rehabilitation Services, which assists him with personal attendant services. These agencies support his independence in daily activities, including employment. A ramp was also installed at his home, which is used on a daily basis.
Richard also enjoys helping his mom homeschool his younger siblings, going to church, and learning. He still has a passion for teaching, Math and Science specifically, and has always had the motto, “The best teacher is a good learner.”
Daniel completed his educational requirements with Tea High School, and then he attended the Transition Advantage Program with East Dakota Educational Cooperative. This is a program which assists young adults ages 18-21 who require assistance and support while pursuing transition goals. It is a community based support program which assists individuals in employment and independent living skills through the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) team process.
Daniel received support from Transition Advantage in the areas of employment and job training, community participation, home living, and education. Once Daniel completed his requirements, he participated in Project Skills. Project Skills is a cooperative arrangement between the state vocational rehabilitation agency (Division of Rehabilitation Services) and the local school district. The vocational rehabilitation agency funds the wages, workers compensation and FICA while the school provides job development, job coaching and follow along services at the job site. Daniel’s first employment experience was with Good Samaritan as ‘maintenance assistance’, where it is reported that he did fantastic in his first job!
Then Daniel applied to and was accepted in the Project SEARCH program in Sioux Falls at Avera Hospital. Project SEARCH provides high school students with disabilities, who want to work, a chance to explore careers and develop transferable skills. Students are placed in real world situations where they learn all aspects of gaining and maintaining a job. Individualized job development and placement occurs based on the student’s experiences, strengths and skills. A series of job rotations lasting up to ten weeks allow the student to find a position that suits their preferences. Daniel’s first rotation was in housekeeping, which he enjoyed. The next rotation was at Avera’s Living Well location where Daniel learned the position of ‘medical equipment technician’. He did such a great job at this location, that they hired him competitively! He accepted this position and now works 27 hours a week making over minimum wage.
Recently, Daniel obtained his driver’s license and now his employer is looking at expanding his duties to include more deliveries, which would mean more hours for him.
Daniel is described as one of the most polite people you will ever meet, friendly and personable, and a hard worker! When he isn’t working, you will find him playing video games, watching Netflix and YouTube videos, and going rummaging with his parents. Life is good!
Patrick attended schools in Sioux Falls and graduated from Lincoln High School in May 2012. He currently lives with his father and has a close relationship with his mother. Patrick had no work history when he met with a rehabilitation counselor from the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS) and applied for vocational rehabilitation (VR) services.
Patrick was provided assistance with how to effectively manage his newly diagnosed diabetes on a daily basis. He had already been living with specific learning disabilities and depression which were identified earlier in age.
During the second semester of his senior year, Patrick participated in Project Skills, a paid work experience program built on a partnership between the local school district, Division of Rehabilitation Services (vocational rehabilitation services) and a local employer. He worked at the museum in downtown Sioux Falls during this work experience program.
Patrick’s interests led him to attend Southeast Technical Institute. In addition to guidance and counseling, VR assisted with tuition and fees, and books and supplies. He enrolled in the two year Horticulture program and received an associate’s degree.
After he finished post-secondary education, Patrick worked with a lawn mowing company utilizing the Employment Skills Program; a program where VR paid his wages as he learned new skills at the job site. After some time, Patrick realized this wasn’t a good fit for him so he worked with a job developer to obtain employment with Home Depot. Patrick received job coaching during the new hire orientation and while learning specific job tasks. Patrick now works in the lawn and garden center during the spring and summer months and as a salesperson in the off season.
Patrick works over 30 hours a week in the lawn and garden center tending to plants and providing customer service. He is working in an area that he truly enjoys.
Patrick is a history buff and likes to play video games with on-line friends - his favorite video game being - “FallOut”. He likes to watch football during the season with his dad and friends. He is also involved in several fantasy football leagues and was invited to join one this fall with a co-worker at Home Depot.
At one time during her employment, Helen developed bronchial meningitis which led to pneumonia. She was on medical leave when she applied for vocational rehabilitation (VR) services through the Division of Rehabilitation Services (Division). She explained to her VR counselor that her hearing loss was beginning to negatively impact her employment.
The Division assisted Helen through the provision of guidance and counseling, while at the same time they requested medical information from Advanced Hearing Technology. The hearing evaluation reflected severe hearing loss, which was resulting in communication and interpersonal problems at work, along with completing other day to day activities.
VR assisted Helen by purchasing hearing aids, which have helped her communicate more effectively in her world of employment and as she lives independently in the community. She received short-term disability benefits for a while during this time, but she has now returned to work full-time and no longer relies on this or other services to be successful in her employment.
Helen loves to socialize and be around people. She volunteers at the concession stand in the summer during softball season. In addition to enjoying the game of softball, she also loves to watch football, bowling, and volleyball. This helps to keep her very busy. She is also very close to her family and enjoys spending time with her brother and sister-in-law whenever possible.
Trevor has worked in several different capacities, employment sites and roles, and through trial and error he has learned which settings work for him and which ones don’t. Trevor has also learned that he enjoys helping people. He has great compassion and understanding towards others. He likes working with his hands; and he enjoys working on machinery. Through the years he has assisted his family on their farms and he has discovered that he learns best through hands-on experiences.
Trevor is an individual whose disability has resulted in functional limitations which impact areas of his daily life, including his employment. He applied for services with the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS) to assist him with seeking employment and finding the right fit. Through vocational guidance and counseling, he and the vocational rehabilitation counselor explored employment goals, taking into consideration his likes and dislikes, as well as his skills and abilities. They worked together to assist him in making informed choices that were designed to lead to a successful employment outcome. These conversations also identified services and supports that would support him in reaching his employment goal.
DRS coordinated medical appointments and referrals with him, provided employer education, assisted with his employment search, online classes for certification testing, tools acquisition, and job coaching. Later on follow along services assisted him in identifying ways to cope with stress, ask questions; and solve problems in a positive manner as they occurred daily on the job.
One example of Trevor learning more about himself was that he needed to minimize noise and lessen distractions within the work environment to be more efficient on the job. He discovered that wearing earbuds while he worked was a quick and inexpensive fix to this situation. It was also an option his employer was very agreeable to making on his behalf.
He has learned to take breaks when needed to practice coping skills when experiencing stress. He has learned to communicate more effectively in order to gain a clear understanding of employer’s expectations. He also has learned that he prefers verbal direction rather than written direction when taking on new tasks and responsibilities.
Trevor has gained employment with Lamb Chevrolet Implement in Onida and works 40 hours a week as a technician. He drives to work daily, 46 miles one way. As a full time employee he also receives full benefits. He pursued what he liked and discovered an employment opportunity which offered a blend of machinery and farming in one environment, something which he identified earlier as “one of the happiest times of his life”. It was a matter of being patient, working in different capacities and finding a good match for his skills and abilities, and now he is working and doing something he truly enjoys.
Trevor enjoys being able to live and work in a small community. His employment provides financial independence for him and his family. He and his wife Heather have been married for seven years. They are the proud parents of not one but four dogs; a black Labrador, a Pug, a Yorkie and a Chihuahua. Trevor enjoys collecting, wouldn’t you know it, toy farm machinery!
Jason was employed as an agent with an insurance agency when he applied for vocational rehabilitation (VR) services through the Division of Rehabilitation Services. He had been involved in a motor vehicle accident in 2004 which resulted in him sustaining a crushed hand and having a below the knee amputation.
Following his recovery, Jason’s sales and services decreased due to the economy downturn and he decided to change his employment goal to truck driving. Jason’s doctor supported his goal of truck driving, indicating that he shouldn’t have any trouble being successful in this new arena.
Jason’s resulting functional limitations were pain, limited right hand dexterity, standing, walking, climbing, kneeling, and bending. These limitations interfered with his quality of life in all areas, including employment.
Working with a VR counselor, Jason received guidance and counseling to help better understand his interests, abilities and employment options. VR also provided assistance with a portion of the costs of a prosthetic limb so Jason could maintain and increase his employment options.
DRS assisted Jason with the costs of assessments, training, testing, and licensures in order for him to become successfully employed. They also assisted Jason with tuition and assistance as he attended Western Dakota Technical Institute, where he successfully obtained his Certified Driver’s License.
Jason began working part time, hauling wood chips in state for a trucking company. He applied for a waiver for his DOT card (necessary due to his disability) so he could drive out of state, which he successfully obtained.
Jason is currently driving truck for Aulick Leasing Corporation, averaging sixty hours a week hauling molasses from Montana to South Dakota. He is receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), and is working his way off these benefits.
Jason is very happy with his position, especially since he is able to be home every night to enjoy time with his wife and daughter
Prior to receiving vocational rehabilitation (VR) services, Alan had experience working as a convenience store manager, meat clerk, and in positions working in advertising and contracting.
Alan applied for VR services through the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS). At the time, he was utilizing a wheelchair for nearly all of his mobility needs. Alan has spinal stenosis/peripheral neuropathy/diabetic lumbosacral radiculoplexopathy. Spinal Stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal, which is located within the backbone. This is the space that holds the nerve roots and spinal cord. As this space becomes smaller, it can squeeze the nerves and spinal cord which causes pain and other symptoms. Peripheral neuropathy is a condition that causes tingling, numbness and burning pain throughout the body, but primarily in the hands and feet.
Alan’s work experience was very physical and when his conditions worsened, he could no longer perform the necessary functions of his current employment. He had surgery in July 2012, and he was unable to return to previous positions. Alan had to confront his health realities and their impact on his future employment opportunities.
Alan and his DRS counselor explored what new career options would match his current abilities through employment skills training. Alan had interests in the clerical support arena. Through vocational rehabilitation services, Alan received guidance and counseling, assistive technology training, job placement, benefits counseling, follow along services and assistance with transportation. Alan also learned how to utilize Paratransit services to attend training and to meet other mobility needs.
Alan also received training on “Dragon Naturally Speaking Voice Recognition” software, a program which allows the user to speak into a microphone and have the computer produce their words as text on the computer screen. This enabled Alan to improve his computer skills.
Alan started work part time as an Operation Specialist earning over $11 an hour. Later, he was offered a full-time position with TCF Corporate, and he is now earning enough in wages to get off Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. He also receives other benefits of employment, e.g., health insurance, leave, retirement.
In wrapping up this story, the placement provider followed up with Alan, and she was shocked when he met her in the lobby of the office, and he was walking! When Alan began employment he was utilizing a wheelchair for mobility. Today he is working full time, driving his own vehicle again, and walking on his own. As a matter of fact, Alan turned in unused Paratransit bus passes for other VR clients to use. Beyond working, Alan enjoys spending time with his wife. Together they enjoy music, golf and other sports.
Connie has worked in the customer service field for 20 years. She has been employed as a desk clerk and a customer service representative.
Connie needed to find a different work environment due to her respiratory disorder. She has a condition with recurrent attacks of Dyspnea, which results in airway inflammation and wheezing due to spasmodic constriction of the bronchi, also known as bronchial asthma. Attacks vary greatly from occasional periods of wheezing to severe attacks that almost cause suffocation. Connie’s asthma is due to an allergy or antigens, in the form of dust, smoke, automobile exhaust, and animal dander.
Connie entered the doors of the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS) seeking assistance with finding employment with sedentary work experience and environmental controls that wouldn’t exacerbate her respiratory disorder. She and the vocational rehabilitation counselor explored her interests, which were in the bookkeeping, clerk and customer service area.
DRS provided vocational and rehabilitation services to include guidance and counseling, job search and placement assistance, benefits counseling, computer training and on-the-job training. The Department of Labor and Regulation also provided job search assistance and self-directed computer training.
Connie was hired as the general office clerk at The Center in Yankton. She works an average of 25 hours a week. The Center is a club for adults of all ages, which provides opportunities and resources in the areas of physical and mental health, nutrition, recreation and education to positively affect peoples’ quality of life and assist in maintaining their independence. Recently, she was promoted within the organization and assigned additional responsibilities.
Connie, in working with DRS and the Department of Labor and Regulation, was able to identify a work environment that was compatible with her interests, disability, previous training and work history.
She is doing what she enjoys and providing for her family. You will also find Connie spending her free time with family and friends.
David (Dave) is an individual who has borderline intellectual functioning – which is an intellectual disability in which the person has a below average IQ. Individuals who have borderline intellectual functioning usually have a relatively normal experience of emotions; they might have trouble thinking abstractly, and they show a preference or need for explanations and instructions.
Dave was raised in Colton and continues to live in the house where he grew up. He lived with his parents until they passed away, and now his brothers provide any needed natural supports (e.g., financial, personal). Dave lives with his brother, Loren, who now owns the acreage. Dave and his brother share the responsibilities around the home.
Dave worked as a sorter at Millennium Recycling Millennium for ten years. Dave was an excellent employee, rarely taking time off or utilizing sick leave. As the popularity of recycling grew, Dave’s duties and demands in terms of production increased, making it difficult to keep up. As a result, Millennium ended up letting Dave go.
After losing his position and following the loss of both parents, Dave’s brothers encouraged him to apply for services with the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS). Through vocational guidance and counseling, he and the vocational rehabilitation (VR) counselor explored his interests. Dave indicated he liked doing janitorial and production types of jobs. Since Dave had an excellent work ethic and stellar employment history, the VR counselor connected him with a job developer and they started exploring opportunities in the Sioux Falls and surrounding areas.
The job developer assisted Dave with completing on-line and paper applications, providing him insight on how to conduct his job search, and practicing interviewing techniques. During this time, VR was providing gas vouchers to Dave while he was conducting his job search, which allowed him to travel to Sioux Falls from Colton. Dave was also participating in the Job Search Assistance Program offered by the Department of Labor and Regulation.
Dave applied and interviewed for a facilities maintenance worker position with South Dakota State University (SDSU), and he was offered the job. Job coaching services were offered; however, Dave wanted to move forward on his own and did wonderfully. Dave is working full time, and earning full benefits (vacation and sick leave), earning over $12.00 an hour.
During Dave’s employment search, his brothers assisted him with applying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and he was referred to the Medical Assistance for Workers Program. Once Dave was hired in the full time position, applications for both programs where no longer pursued.
Dave found his niche as a facilities maintenance worker! He drives to work, over 36 miles one way, and he is living independently in the community of his choice. Dave looks forward to utilizing his income to pursue his hobby in woodworking.
Laci is an individual with an intellectual disability and speech impediment which makes it very difficult for others to understand her. Laci has worked as a magazine vendor, and in a kitchen as a plate scrapper and dishwasher. She has also completed piece rate work through LifeQuest. Laci also has worked at the Daily Republic to help with inserting ads into the newspaper.
The Daily Republic had an opening for an individual to assist with pulling from the press machine, labeling and other various tasks. Laci was interested in moving into this position.
Job placement assistance was authorized through the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS) and provided by Career Connections, the local community support provider. Laci continued receiving HCBS funding and supported employment through LifeQuest and services were coordinated between DRS and LifeQuest.
The DRS vocational rehabilitation (VR) counselor worked with Laci, and they identified the need for assistance with job coaching - transportation to and from work - and the purchase of orthopedic shoes due to the amount of standing required at work. DRS also provided assistance with coordinating a meeting between Laci and a benefits specialist to work with her to determine how this career change would impact her benefits.
Laci learned the new duties associated with the press machine with the assistance of job coaching and was hired. Laci’s impediment to employment is her speech. In the past, VR purchased a “Say it Sam”, a communication device to help with communication. She also utilized pen and paper to correspond with others when they were unable to understand her. Later, Laci began using a cell phone to text when someone was having difficulty understanding her. Now, Laci has a job in which they are able to communicate effectively with her.
When Laci first applied for vocational rehabilitation services, she was receiving SSI and SSDI as well as Medicaid and Medicare. She is now only receiving SSDI and Medicare.
In her free time, Laci enjoys spending time with her family and friends. She attends concerts, rides her bike, and goes on walks. She also likes listening to music and bowling.
In 2007, Carrie was a Training Manager at a local credit card facility. Like many of us, Carrie was just 33 and found herself going through a divorce. A few months later, and on the very day that would have marked her 9 year wedding anniversary, she woke up home alone… with a headache so intense it temporarily blinded her. She blamed it on stress. The headache refused to subside, but Carrie waited five days to go to the doctor, again thinking this had to be related to her new found family situation.
The doctor sent her for an MRI and later that afternoon he called her, telling her to immediately head to the hospital. The MRI revealed an arterial venous malformation, or AVM. Vessels in her brain had burst causing the blood to pool and damage brain tissue. During an operation to repair the aneurysm, complications ensued and Carrie hemorrhaged again, and yet a third stroke occurred during recovery from her surgery.
She awoke from a coma that lasted several days – she couldn’t walk, speak or feed herself. After time and extensive rehabilitation, Carrie regained many of the skills she had lost. Carrie was walking - using a brace and cane. She was determined to return to work the day after Labor Day!
Unfortunately, the very day before Carrie’s “scheduled return to work date”, she had another setback after grocery shopping. She loaded her groceries and got in the car to go home. She put the vehicle in reverse – and woke up in the ambulance! She had experienced a grand mal seizure. Doctors were now telling her to stay home for six months. Carrie’s employer explained that they just couldn’t hold her position open that length of time.
Feelings of self-pity and anger returned; Carrie was so close to going back to work, a position which was financially rewarding and one she valued. She finally accepted being permanently disabled and went on disability benefits.
However, after a few short months her attitude changed. Her childhood dream of helping children resurfaced. Carrie applied for services through the Division of Rehabilitation Services, worked with a vocational rehabilitation (VR) counselor, where she received guidance, counseling, and financial assistance for tuition and fees to enroll in Colorado Technical University’s Criminal Justice program, focusing on Human Services.
For a person waking up from a coma, not being able to add ‘two plus two’, to learning business algebra and spreadsheets, and earning a 3.9 GPA, Carrie was successful! She began working part time at Children’s Home Society as a Residential Treatment Counselor, and then accepted a position with The Glory House.
Carrie experienced working in settings which provided programs responsive to the unique needs of individuals, families and the community. Today Carrie is working at the Goodwill of the Great Plains. Carrie continues to assist individuals to develop life skills, problem solving skills, and positive habits. Carrie guides and coaches individuals with employment searching, and often works one on one with clients , providing advocacy and intensive case management services. Carrie is at a place where she needs to be at this point in her life.
This young woman adapted and overcame - healing her body, mind, and soul. Carrie encourages her two children to live each day as if it could be their last. She provides encouragement to others who are in need – carrying small metal disks that say “strength” on one side and have an angel on the other. When Carrie runs into someone in need of encouragement, she has these on hand to share, knowing how important they were to her to simply get through the day.
Steve has worked over thirty-five years in the food industry including kitchen management. He and his wife currently own a small food business. However, this part-time business does not provide enough income to support the family.
The food business required that Steve work over 60 hours a week and it was mostly on his feet cooking. Through the years, Steve has acquired Coronary Heart Disease, Type II Diabetes, Diabetic Neuropathy of his feet, Hypertension and Hyperlipidemia. All of which led him to knock on the Division of Rehabilitation Services’ (DRS) door. Medical records stated that “he just can’t tolerate being on his feet 50 hours a week”.
Steve worked with a vocational rehabilitation (VR) counselor with the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS) – he was adamant about staying in the same line of work, except finding something that was less physical in nature and fewer hours.
Through vocational counseling, guidance and support, Steve opted to try a computer class working with Black Hills Special Services Cooperative (BHSSC) and the Career Learning Center.
Steve accepted a position with the Good Samaritan Society at St. Martin’s Village working 40 hours a week and making a good wage with benefits. He works at one of their retirement centers that was built from the ground up. Steve was hired to design the kitchen, hire staff, and run the day to day operations.
Steve spends less time on his feet now. He has time to sit and plan meals, order supplies, and complete the necessary paperwork. Steve’s current position requires him to put his new computer skills to work, a skill he learned at the Career Learning Center. He is also grateful for learning how to communicate through email, which includes staying in touch with the VR counselor.
Steve was also eligible for the Medical Assistance for Workers with Disabilities (MAWD) Program, which provides health insurance coverage for someone with a disability who is working.
Steve is extremely thankful for everything DRS and BHSSC provided him. He is described by his employer as an extremely motivated employee who has a great work ethic.
It was a matter of Steve and staff exploring together and finding the right fit, something less physical, within a regular work week that led to Steve’s continued success in employment in a career he loves!
Steve’s new employment provides greater financial support for him and his family. Now with more spare time, Steve enjoys creating new spices, recipes and cooking!
Digna came to the United States in 2012 from Honduras to be with her mother, step-father, brother and a step sister. Her other brother just moved to Huron from Honduras in 2014 and so the family is now all together.
Digna’s family speaks Spanish as their primary language. Digna is deaf and her primary form of communication is Honduran sign language. Her family never learned Honduran sign language so they communicated using their own sign language. At the age of 12, Digna moved away from her family to attend a School for the Deaf in Honduras.
After arriving in Huron, Digna was referred to the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS) through the Department of Labor and Regulation. She knew her goal was to find employment; she wanted to work because in Honduras - individuals who are deaf - do not work.
Digna’s first goal was to communicate better through American Sign Language (ASL) and English. This was accomplished by meeting twice a week with an ASL interpreter and the vocational rehabilitation (VR) counselor. Digna would write the words down so she could see and learn them. If something was discussed and one of them didn’t understand, they would use an iPhone, e.g., translating English to ASL, translating Spanish to English and English to Spanish, and English and Spanish dictionaries. They would also use the computer to look up pictures of different objects for her to have a better understanding. Her VR counselor created flashcards from their sessions so she could utilize these in her free time to continue learning English and ASL.
Digna learned more and more and she quickly jumped to broader based topics including those related to employment. For example, what information to include when completing an application, how to write a resume, and how to conduct oneself in an interview. She needed to learn about things common to those raised in the United States e.g., how to file income tax, complete a W-4 form, use a cell phone, own a home, and obtain auto/home/dental/medical insurance. These items seem standard procedure to most living in the United States; however, for an individual new to the country, Digna needed to learn about them and much more to be successful in reaching her life goals.
DRS also assisted Digna with obtaining her first driver’s license. She was referred to Cornerstones Career Learning Center where she took adult drivers education courses, behind the wheel training, and test preparation. VR paid for interpreter services and the costs of the classes.
The VR counselor worked with Digna and DakotaLink (SD’s Assistive Technology Project) in the areas of communication and independent living - identifying a cell phone which would include sign language applications, translation applications, and the ability to text. DakotaLink staff assisted Digna in identifying devices for daily living e.g., flashing doorbell, bed shaker alarm clock. The VR counselor assisted Digna in applying for Medical Assistance for Workers with Disabilities (MAWD), which is health insurance coverage for someone with a disability who is working.
Digna attended Catch the Wave, so she could gain awareness of additional opportunities and disability resources if she decided to pursue post-secondary education. At a time comfortable to Digna, the VR counselor made arrangements to tour several businesses in Huron to provide her with a greater understanding of the different kinds of work opportunities in the area. The VR counselor also assisted her with completing applications for full time employment.
Digna was first employed with La Hacienda, a Mexican restaurant, and then at the Crossroads Hotel earning minimum wage at both jobs as a part time employee. Through the assistance of her vocational rehabilitation counselor she applied and was hired with Dakota Provisions. She works 40+ hours a week earning more than $11.00 an hour and earns vacation and sick leave. She continues to have health insurance coverage through the MAWD program.
Digna is very happy to be living in the United States and she is happy having the opportunity to work full time. She has purchased a car and drives herself to and from work. She has also purchased a home. When asked about hobbies or other interests, she explains that she loves spending time with her family. Her next goal is to become a US citizen.
Digna llego a los Estados Unidos en el año 2012 de su país natal Honduras. Ella llego para reunirse con su Padre, Madre y hermanos. El año pasado 2014, su otro hermano llego a los Estados Unidos y ahora toda la familia esta junta.
La familia de Digna habla el lenguaje de español como su lengua materna. Digna es sordo muda y su principal forma de comunicación es el Lenguaje de Señas Hondureño. Su familia nunca aprendió ese lenguaje de señas pero se comunicaban utilizando su propio lenguaje de señas en el hogar. A la edad de 12 años Digna se separó de su familia y se mudó a una escuela para sordo mudos y así aprender el Lenguaje de Señas Hondureño.
Después de llegar a Huron, Digna fue referida al Departamento de Servicios de Rehabilitación por medio del Departamento de Trabajo. Ella sabía que su meta era encontrar un trabajo, ella tenía ese sentido de trabajar ya que en su país de Honduras las personas sordo mudas no trabajan.
El primer paso para que Digna cumpliera su meta era, que aprendiera el Lenguaje de Señas Americano e inglés para adaptarse a este país. Esta meta fue completada al reunirse dos veces por semana con un intérprete de Lenguaje de Señas Americano y la Consejera del Departamento de Rehabilitación. Un método que se utilizó para aprender era que Digna escribía las palabras y miraba las fotos de las palabras para memorizárselas. También, cuando había algún problema con algún entendimiento se utilizaba el teléfono (iphone), la computadora, diccionario de traducción junto con diccionario del Lenguaje de Señas Americano. La Consejera del Departamento de Rehabilitación también creo tarjetas con diferentes palabras para que Digna las utilizara en su tiempo libre y así siguiera el proceso de aprendizaje del inglés y Lenguaje de Señas Americano.
Digna fue aprendiendo más y más y rápidamente y se pasó a otros temas más complejos incluyendo todo lo relacionado con la búsqueda de trabajo. Por ejemplo, algunos temas que se consideraron fue el cómo completar una solicitud de empleo, como escribir un currículo, y hasta cómo comportarse durante una entrevista de trabajo. Ella tenía que aprender algunos procedimientos muy comunes en los Estados Unidos como el reportar impuestos cada año, completar la forma W-4(impuestos en el trabajo), usar un teléfono celular, comprar una casa y obtener cobertura de auto/casa/dental/medica. Estos procedimientos son muy comunes para una persona que crece en los Estados Unidos, pero para una persona como Digna que llego a un nuevo país tenía que aprenderlos para cumplir las metas que tenía.
El Departamento de Servicios de Rehabilitación también ayudo a Digna en obtener su licencia de conducir. Ella fue referida a la agencia de Cornerstone Career Learning Center donde tomo clases de manejo, práctico al volante, y se preparó para el examen. Todo esto fue posible la ayuda que el Interprete de Lenguaje de Señas Americano proveyó al igual que todos sus servicios junto con las clases de conducir fueron pagados por el Departamento de Servicios de Rehabilitación.
La Consejera y Digna trabajaron juntas con DakotaLInk en el área de comunicación para ser más independiente de sí misma. Lo primero fue encontrar un teléfono celular que se adaptara a las circunstancias de Digna. Algo que tuviera aplicaciones de lenguaje, traducción e incluyera mensajes de texto. El personal de DakotaLink asistió en eso y le ayudo a encontrar aparatos que lo pudieran asistir en su vida diaria como un timbre que tiene luz (se prende y apaga) o un despertador de alarma que mueve la cama. Otra cosa que la Consejera pudo hacer por Digna es que le ayudo en completar su aplicación para Asistencia Medica para Trabajadores con Discapacidades la que incluye cobertura médica para alguien que tenga un trabajo.
Digna ha estado aprendiendo mucho desde su llegada, hasta asistió a un programa llamado “Catch the Wave” donde aprendió acerca de otros recursos para personas con su condición y hasta si quería continuar con una educación superior en el futuro. La Consejera también programo visitas a diferentes negocios del área para que Digna entendiera que tipo de empleos hay disponibles y completaron solicitudes de empleo juntas.
El Primer trabajo de Digna fue en el restaurante de comida mexicana llamado La Hacienda y después trabajo para el Hotel Crossroads. En los dos trabajos tenía un salario mínimo y solo eran de tiempo parcial. Gracias a la ayuda del Departamento de Servicios de Rehabilitación, Digna pudo encontrar empleo de tiempo completo en la compañía Dakota Provisions con un salario de $11.00 por hora junto con los beneficios de vacaciones y días de enfermedad. En este momento ella continúa teniendo cobertura médica por medio del programa MAWD (Asistencia Medica para Trabajadores con Discapacidades).
Digna está muy feliz por vivir aquí en los Estados Unidos y está contenta de tener la oportunidad de trabajar a tiempo completo. Ya compro su primer vehículo y lo maneja sola de su casa al trabajo. También compro casa, y cuando le pregunto cuáles son sus pasatiempos favoritos ella responde: “Me gusta pasar tiempo con mi familia”. La siguiente meta de Digna es hacerse ciudadana de este país los Estados Unidos.
Thore completed a Master’s of Science in Mechanical Engineering from South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in 1999. He worked for several different agencies until he found what he was seeking in a career with Legend Air Suspension in January of 2009.
After a few short months with Legend Air Suspension, Thore was involved with a dirt bike accident, which left him paralyzed from the chest down. Thore was thrust into the world of rehabilitation.
Recovering from the accident and learning how to live as a person with quadriplegia, not only impacted Thore, but it also impacted his family. With his wife at his side and having a young daughter, they learned together to make the necessary adjustments to a different life.
He applied for services through the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS) because his goal and career choice were to remain at Legend Air Suspension. Thore required assistive technology and personal attendant services to perform activities of daily living, and he needed to learn how to utilize a wheelchair for mobility.
Vocational rehabilitation services from DRS provided assistance with evaluation and training on the use of hand controls for a vehicle. He went to Craig Hospital in Colorado for the Drivers Evaluation and Training, and Performance Mobility for the installation of driver controls. DRS also provided assistance with mileage and overnight accommodations when he traveled out of state. There was additional coordination of services with Adaptive Experts in Minnesota for further driver’s evaluation services.
Thore has accomplished his goal of continuing to work with Legend Air Suspension. A fellow employee had this to say, “I have worked with Thore directly for a few years now, and I have been able to watch him progress every day. Thore has such a good outlook on life with all he has been through - he is a true inspiration to everyone around him. I am so excited for him to be able to drive again with his new van; there is no one that deserves it more than him.”
The van mentioned above was made available by fellow supervisors, coworkers, and others brainstorming ideas on how to help Thore raise the money needed to purchase the van and the necessary modifications. Supporters raised $84,000. The van represents independence!
Thore drives himself to work, assists his wife with chores e.g., going to the grocery store. Thore takes their daughter to school and other activities. These activities are only a few of the daily activities that most people take for granted, and Thore is once again doing independently.
Rehabilitation, hard work and perseverance have paid off for Thore. He is living life on his terms. Thore is happily married, and he and his wife are raising a very active daughter. He is working full time, and he looks forward to what lies ahead in the years to come.
Kristin grew up in Brandon, SD and attended Brandon Valley High School. While in high school she applied for vocational rehabilitation (VR) services from the Division of Rehabilitation Services and she was found eligible due to her hearing loss. She relies on interpreters for communication purposes.
Kristin attended Youth Leadership Forum and Catch the Wave while in high school to learn more about what was available to students with disabilities. Through vocational guidance and counseling, Kristin realized that she wanted to pursue a degree in biology during college.
Kristin was accepted at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in New York and began college during the fall of 2009. The Division of Rehabilitation Services assisted with tuition and fees and books, while Rochester Institute of Technology provided needed interpreter services. Kristin worked with a benefit specialist to better understand how employment would impact her SSI benefits.
Kristin received her Bachelor’s Degree from RIT in Bioinformatics. This unique degree is offered by only a few universities in the United States. Bioinformatics is the study of genetics utilizing computer science. As a career path, it can be utilized in a variety of ways including the health care field, agriculture, biomedical research, education or any genetics related area. While in college, Kristin’s primary focus was on the study of genetics and molecular biology.
Once her degree was completed, Kristin applied and was hired for a 40 hour per week job as a Research Assistant in Informatics at the University of Iowa, Department of Psychiatry. She earns $17.00 per hour and is very happy with her job. She is currently working under a contract and is pursuing additional opportunities when it ends in May 2015. Additionally, Kristin is considering graduate school in a few years to advance her career even further.
While in college at RIT, Kristin’s major activity was her sorority. She was involved with Sigma Sigma Sigma and served as the chairperson for the community service group. This gave Kristin confidence in herself and helped her gain valuable leadership skills.
Kristin’s hobbies include a love of reading, crafts (making body scrubs, knitting, making a journal book, or more); researching her family tree, drawing, biking, sports, outdoor activities, and more.
Dustin started working with the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS) in high school as a senior. He had no paid work history prior to this, but he did help out his family by running errands and helping out at his uncle’s car lot from time to time.
Dustin has Asperger’s disorder, a developmental disorder which impacts conditions that involve delays in the development of many basic skills - most notably - the ability to socialize with others and to communicate. Dustin is an introvert and a hands-on learner. Dustin also has a cardiac impairment, which has required surgeries in the past and results in some limits on his physical abilities.
Dustin started attending Southeast Technical Institute in the business administration program. However, this didn’t go well for him. Dustin changed his path and switched schools. He attended Mitchell Technical Institute for their heating and air conditioning (HVAC) program, and successfully completed an associate’s degree.
Dustin didn’t stop there! He wanted to run his own business. He applied through vocational rehabilitation services to develop a self-employment plan to run a taxi service. Through guidance and counseling, Dustin developed his self-employment plan and his plan was approved.
He received financial assistance to purchase the computer equipment and DakotaLink (South Dakota’s Assistive Technology Project) assisted with the evaluation, consultation, assessment and installment of appropriate computer software designed to fit Dustin’s needs. He received training on Excel and QuickBooks and uses this for his business.
As his business grows, Dustin’s goal is to work himself off of SSI cash benefit while maintaining Medicaid through the Medical Assistance for Workers with Disabilities (MAWD) Program.
Dustin currently lives with his aunt and enjoys spending time with family and friends. He is a diehard Cincinnati Bengals fan, likes to fish, boat, grill out, going to bonfires, and loves the outdoors.
This young man grew up on the family farm. And growing up on the farm, is where he learned about farming and how to fix old things. This is where he discovered that he liked to work with his hands!
Lee attended Florence High School and was on an Individual Educational Plan (IEP) because of ADHD and other learning disabilities. The IEP also addressed areas of self direction, interpersonal skills and communication.
Growing up on the farm, Lee’s interests fell in the areas of electrical work, mechanics and truck driving. Lee participated in the Project Skills program working at Hurkes Implement in Watertown during high school providing him with a variety of work experiences.
Lee met with vocational rehabilitation services in high school which assisted him with the Project Skills opportunity. Through guidance and counseling he decided that he wanted to attend Mitchell Technical Institute (MTI). Vocational Rehabilitation Services assisted with tuition and fees, books and supplies, room and board, and assistive technology. Lee worked with DakotaLink staff to determine what assistive technology would be appropriate for him. He utilized a digital recorder, learned how to utilize Dragon Naturally Speaking and Math Advantage.
He obtained an associate’s degree in Small Engine Repair from MTI. Following this, he attended Lake Area Technical Institute and took a class to assist him in obtaining a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).
Lee is a full time employee with Dependable Sanitation and works 40+ hours a week. He also receives a full health insurance package. At the young age of 23, Lee is working full time and earning benefits. He was living on his own, but made the decision to move home to assist his mother who recently had surgery.
UPDATE: Lee has made some changes. Lee accepted a position with Kent Roe Inc., (Hayti) as a truck driver. He is working full time and receiving benefits. Here is a picture with Lee and his new truck!
AJ applied for vocational rehabilitation services when he was in high school. He had no paid work experience at the time he applied for services. AJ was eligible for services because of the functional limitations posed by paralysis due to Transverse Myelitis. Transverse Myelitis is a rare inflammatory disease causing injury to the spinal cord with varying degrees of weakness, sensory alterations and autonomic dysfunction. For AJ, this impacts his ability to walk and stand.
AJ was receiving Social Security Income (SSI) when he applied for services. He continued to receive benefits through college, and up until he was employed full time.
He received guidance and counseling, tuition/fees/books for his undergraduate program, as well as a chair topper. AJ also worked with a rehabilitation engineer within the Division of Rehabilitation Services who assisted him with identifying and reviewing information about the chair topper. The Chair Topper is a device which fits a wide variety of automobiles. It automatically folds and stores a conventional wheelchair inside a weather resistant car-top compartment – eliminating the need to store the chair in the trunk or backseat of a car.
AJ received his undergraduate degree from Augustana College in May 2008, with his Bachelors of Science in Psychology. He then applied and was accepted into medical school and attended USD School of Medicine. He currently is completing a 5 year residency and fellowship in psychiatry.
AJ will earn $51,000 annually, working full time and earning benefits. He will work two years with children/adolescents and three years with adults during his residency with Avera Behavioral Health.
When he isn’t working, he hangs out with friends, family, rides his handbike, reads, and loves going to the dog park with his dog Griffey!
Thad’s past work experience has included working for the City of Watertown watering flowers for six years, working at Dakota Bodies and Watertown Livestock as a janitor and working in the vocational workshop at New Horizons.
Thad has a mild intellectual disability, depression and epilepsy. He receives SSI and Medicaid as well as SSDI and Medicare. Thad applied for services through the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS) and met with a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor. Thad utilized the Ticket to Work program, which assists an individual with increasing their financial independence and self-sufficiency, reducing their reliance on disability benefits.
Through Vocational Rehabilitation Services and the Ticket to Work program, Thad received career counseling, job placement assistance, on-the-job training and benefits specialist services. Through this process, he identified his employment goal to become a dishwasher.
Thad also received supports from New Horizons, a division of the Human Service Agency, a community support provider. New Horizons worked closely with Vocational Rehabilitation Services, employers, businesses and Thad to identify an employment opportunity matching his goal.
A position was identified at Papa Murphy’s, and Thad started working there part-time as a dishwasher. Thad has a wonderful natural support system in place. Two of his supervisors had worked with him before as job coaches, and they were able to provide needed support on the job. He is approaching his one-year anniversary at Papa Murphy’s, and the manager at Papa Murphy’s shared that “Thad is always on time and he is dedicated to his job. He fits in perfectly!”
Thad lives independently on his earnings and SSI/SSDI. He currently lives with his girlfriend in an apartment and receives assistance with medications. Thad has a great relationship with his mother, and they meet on a regular basis for lunch.
Thad is now engaged. He enjoys bowling, wrestling, hanging out with friends, and singing karaoke every week.
Austin came to the Vocational Rehabilitation after graduating from West Central High School in 2012. He lives in rural Hartford with his parents and his younger brother. Austin suffered an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) when he was 11. An AVM is an abnormal connection between the arteries and veins and are typically congenital (present at birth). Austin’s AVM affects his gait and use of his right side. Fortunately for Austin, his speech was not impaired following his AVM, but he did have mobility issues on his right side and he went through physical therapy to increase his overall mobility until he reached maximum medical improvement.
Austin had very limited work experience prior to coming to Vocational Rehabilitation. He had assisted his dad in doing some care of livestock, mostly working with sheep, for about four years in his pre-teen and teen years. When Austin first applied for Vocational Rehabilitation services, he was not really certain about his vocational goals. Austin was interested in sports and work perhaps in game, fish, and parks. He explored colleges that offered degrees in wildlife management and started some of the admission’s process to attend college. However, with the help of some counseling and guidance from hi VR counselor, Austin disclosed that he really didn’t enjoy the homework of high school and he wasn’t really sure if he was ready to tackle college. The focus of Austin’s vocational goals changed and to see what kind of tasks he would be able to do, his VR Counselor recommended he go through the 6-week Work Adjustment Training (WAT) program at Goodwill Industries in hopes to boost his self-confidence and determine his strengths and capabilities.
Austin’s training program at Goodwill began in the E-Store. He would scan donated books and CDs and determine their value. He also assisted in shipping the items that were purchased off of the E-Store website. Austin was a model employee and the E-Store supervisor, Josh, liked Austin’s willingness and demeanor on the jobsite. When the time came for Austin’s training program to end, the Goodwill staff had a potential part-time opening in the E-Store coming available and they strongly encouraged Austin to apply. Austin’s training ended December 4th and after applying and interviewing for the position at Goodwill in their E-Store, he was hired and began work on January 20th.
Austin works 28 hours a week and still maintains SSI benefits. In addition to the scanning and shipping duties Austin did during training, he also writes the descriptions for the online items for the E-Store website. Austin received follow along services, benefit specialist services and counseling and guidance from VR and benefit specialist staff to help him find employment.
Eventually, Austin would like to live that American Dream….house, marriage, children, and stable job. He hopes to find a full-time career with medical benefits and eventually work himself off of SSI. Austin is very independent and drives with the assistance of a left foot accelerator to make driving easier. Austin enjoys spending time with his family. In addition to his younger brother, Austin has two older brothers, an older sister, three nephews and a niece. Prior to suffering the AVM, Austin was active in baseball and football and he continues to enjoy playing quarterback in the yard with his brothers, as well as attending his brothers’ baseball and softball games.
Someday Austin hopes to be certified as a softball umpire. Austin attends church with his family and likes going to new release movies and especially enjoys comedies. His favorite sports teams are the Minnesota Vikings and the Twins. He also enjoys camping with his family and his favorite camping spot is West Bend near Pierre.
Six months ago, Austin’s father was diagnosed with lung cancer and he and his family have held a number of fundraisers to help offset the chemotherapy costs. Despite all of these life challenges, Austin maintains a positive approach to life and easy-going attitude.
It’s never too late! Teresa earned her GED at the age of 48. Through supportive counseling and guidance services provided by the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS), Teresa gained a better understanding of her strengths, interests, abilities and employment options.
Teresa gained a broader perspective relating to the management of her mental health symptoms to improve her quality of life. She learned what she could manage, what she could tolerate, and what was too stressful. Teresa has degenerative arthritis and fibromyalgia which limited her range of motion and work tolerance. She also came to understand that employment options were very limited without a GED.
Through support from DRS and the Black Hills Special Services Cooperative Northern Hills GED Program, Teresa worked towards the successful completion of her GED. During this timeframe, DRS also assisted with transportation costs which enabled her to finish her training, and with costs of the final GED testing.
Teresa’s employment interests were working with the elderly in some capacity. DRS provided job placement services along with an employment specialist to assist in searching for appropriate employment in her area of choice. Other services provided included vocational exploration, completing a resume and filling out applications, conducting mock interviews, and job development. DRS also provided assistance with the purchase of clothing for interviews and work.
Teresa also received services through Behavior Management System’s Care Program, which provided case management services, medication management and therapy services. She was also referred to the Department of Social Services for the Medical Assistance for Workers with Disabilities (MAWD) Program.
Teresa is now a Dietary Aid at a long term care facility. She helps prepare and serve meals to the elderly. At the time of case closure, Teresa was averaging 30 hours a week and earning $9.00 an hour. She is now earning benefits (health, vacation) since completing the probationary period.
In Teresa’s spare time, she enjoys crocheting and spending time with her daughters and grandchildren.
Jarid is a young man who grew up helping his uncle on the farm. He had no work history through the middle school years, however that all changed when he reached high school.
Jarid has ADHD and pervasive development disorder which impacts his interpersonal skills and interactions in social situations. Jarid’s functional limitations were also impacted in the areas of time management and organizational skills. While in high school Jarid participated in Project Skills, which is a cooperative arrangement between the state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agency and the local school district. The vocational rehabilitation agency funds the wages, workers compensation and FICA while the school provides job development, job coaching and follow along services at the job site. While in the program, Jared worked at Hometown Tire where he changed and rotated tires, changed oil, and completed detailing work.
Next was Project SEARCH, which is a business led transition program for students with disabilities. The program provides students who want to work, a chance to develop transferrable job skills with the goal of working in a competitive environment. Individualized job development and placement occurs based on the student’s experiences, strengths and skills. Students receive supports with accommodations, adaptations and on-the-job training. Jarid had three job rotations through Project SEARCH including dining room attendant, deep cleaning crew member, and dishwasher.
During this timeframe Jarid received counseling and guidance, job coaching, employment/follow along services, and job placement services through the Division of Rehabilitation Services. These services were coordinated through Career Advantage, a community support provider in Brookings.
Jarid enjoys activities which allow him to be physical and move around, which successfully landed him a position working at Aramark Dining Services. Some of his duties include deep cleaning of equipment, janitorial cleaning and occasional food preparation. He works over 25 hours a week and earns $9.00 an hour.
Jarid lives independently in an apartment with minimal supports and enjoys spending time outdoors, going for walks, meeting with friends, or just having friendly conversation. Jarid also enjoys spending time with family that live close by.
Ian is a young man with an intellectual disability who was raised by his father in Woonsocket, South Dakota. Ian had no work history or independent living skills training prior to applying for vocational rehabilitation services in high school.
Through vocational rehabilitation services from the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS), Ian received guidance and counseling. His VR counselor attended IEP meetings with him and assisted with transition planning. During his last years in high school, Ian participated in Project Skills, which is a paid work experience program for high school students with disabilities. The program is a cooperative arrangement between the vocational rehabilitation agency (DRS), local school district and an employer, which helps the student build their work history and references.
Project Skills provided Ian with valuable work experience. He worked as a dishwasher and busboy at Pod’s Place, a local restaurant in the community. He worked as a dining room attendant and enjoyed visiting with the residents at Prairie View Care Center.
When Ian first applied for vocational rehabilitation services he was not receiving any benefits. He applied for Social Security Income and was found eligible for SSI in 2008. When he obtained enough quarters, he switched from SSI to SSDI.
Ian’s father is a big part of his life. They both learned about available services and supports, including those available through LifeQuest after moving to Mitchell. Ian received job placement assistance from Career Connections, an employment resource center owned and operated by LifeQuest. Ian also obtained work experience at the Kum and Go Convenience Store stocking shelves. Ian remains living in Mitchell and he is now working at Dakota Wesleyan University (DWU) in the food service area.
Ian has always liked sports, and he wanted to be a coach. His dream came true through a connection with a LifeQuest staff member, where he discovered the Dakota Wesleyan University track team. In 2010, he started volunteering as one of the assistant track coaches. Keloland Television featured a story by Don Jorgensen in February 2014 and Assistant Coach Derik Fossum was interviewed. Fossum spoke highly of Ian, saying, "He's very hard working; he will always tell you he's working hard today no matter what's going on…, but just to have coach Ames come over and give you a fist pound, tell you good job, no matter what, it really puts it into perspective; life is so much bigger than competing; it's about being a part of a family; being a part of a community that cares about you, no matter what happens, Ian's never shy to remind you he cares about you," Fossum said.
Ian stays busy. He participates in Special Olympics, and he is active in the Mitchell Area Community Theatre.
Wes grew up in Nebraska, where his experiences in school were difficult at best. However, public school staff, the Educational Service Unit and his parents were committed to obtaining a good education for him. During elementary school, Wes was diagnosed with a developmental disability (pervasive developmental disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and borderline intellectual functioning).
Wes enjoyed working with his father learning carpentry and numerous practical skills. During high school, he moved to South Dakota where he received services and support from Yankton Area Adjustment Training Center (now Ability Building Services), a community support provider. He held positions of employment with a lumber company, a drywall contractor, a convenience store, a manufacturing business, and a janitorial service. Although he gained valuable job experiences and new skills, each position was terminated following issues related to his disability.
His parents, along with Ability Building Services (ABS), sought out Vocational Rehabilitation Services from the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS). DRS provided Wes with guidance and counseling, job coaching and benefit specialist services.
Wes began employment with Applied Engineering in January 2012, as a parts cleaner, working part time. He has learned to focus on his responsibilities, work towards the positive, and surround himself with those who know and understand him. His significant supporters include his supervisors and co-workers, and Jill (a community support provider staff member).
Wes is an important part of the Applied Engineering Inc., team. He works in a safe manner, maintains a high standard of quality, and he is willing to do what is needed to help meet customer goals. He is now considered full time and earns health insurance, vacation and medical leave benefits through his employer. A majority of his Social Security benefits have ended due to his work activity.
He continues to receive Community Training Services (CTS) funding through the Division of Developmental Disabilities, which assist him in maintaining his current level of independence and work activity. ABS also provides support that has allowed him to become more independent – he rents a home, lives independently and drives a vehicle.
Wes and his parents credit the flexibility of services and supports provided by ABS, DRS and the employer as critical to Wes developing and maintaining his employment. It has been said that his success is truly a team effort, with Wes being an active member of the team to make all this happen.
When not working, Wes enjoys playing video games, listening to music, cooking, playing pool, and volunteering at church. He also participates in Special Olympics.
Samantha attended high school in North Dakota and was on an Individualized Education Plan. After graduation, she moved to South Dakota to be closer to her mom and other relatives.
Samantha has intellectual disabilities which impact interpersonal and communication skills as well as self-care, self-direction and work tolerance. Her work experience during high school was very limited and when she applied for services through the Division of Rehabilitation Services and was found eligible, she had less than one months’ work experience.
Samantha grew up in a difficult home situation with family members’ involvement with alcoholism. When she applied for vocational rehabilitation (VR) services, she showed no interest in any hobbies, however she expressed an interest in working with children and she also expressed interest in working in the cosmetology field.
VR provided guidance and counseling, employment follow-along services, on the job training, situational assessment, job placement services, and “Top 20 Teens Training”. Top 20 Teen Training is a person centered approach to learning communications skills, developing self-advocacy skills, and identifying and addressing motivation and the willingness to change one’s quality of life. VR also provided assistance in the area of acquiring needed clothing for employment and transportation to and from work.
Through Aspire (a community support provider) she receives long term supports i.e., supervised housing and payee services. Aspire also assisted in providing situational assessments, job placement and employment follow along services.
Samantha is currently working at Revive Day Spa fifteen to twenty-five hours a week, and she is earning $7.75 an hour.
Since receiving services through VR and Aspire, Samantha has excelled in different areas of her life. She is now living independently with some support, enjoys her chosen employment, and she has gained respect in her work environment. She has become a valued member of the wider community and contributor to the community’s overall success.
Alison has functional limitations in the areas of communication, work tolerance, self-care, self-direction and interpersonal skills. She had a history of losing employment for various professional reasons, in addition to leaving positions for disability-related reasons. Alison turned that trend around after receiving vocational rehabilitation services.
Alison has work experience in the areas of dietary aid, prep cook, night auditor, customer service representative and dishwasher. Alison met with vocational rehabilitation staff and identified an interest in employment in the areas food service, cashier, sales and service work.
Assistance provided by the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services has gone beyond the counseling and guidance relationship to include job placement, follow-along services and on-the-job training. Through a job-placement package, she received assistance with filling out applications, interviewing skills, updating her résumé and other work-related skills.
Alison also received training in independent living skills and peer support through Independent Living Choices. She receives mental health services and medication management through East Central Behavioral Health.
She started employment with United Living Community (United Retirement Center) as a dietary aid in January 2014. She works 32 hours a week, which is considered full time, earning $9.79 an hour. Once she successfully completes her probationary period in May she will also receive employee benefits.
When not working, Alison loves spending time with family and enjoys hanging out with friends, photography, cooking and attending peer support groups. She also attends AA meetings when time allows.
Chris attended school in Sioux Falls, and during high school he participated in the Project Skills program. Project Skills is a paid work experience program partnering the Division of Rehabilitation Services (vocational rehabilitation services), with a school district and a local employer to provide a young person with work experience.
Through Project Skills, Chris worked at Dairy Queen during high school. Following high school, Chris continued vocational training, academic skill instruction and employment exploration through Community Campus – a program of the Sioux Falls School District for students, ages 18-21, which assist students as they age out of school-age programs and services.
Students with significant disabilities have numerous options available to them as they transition to adult services. Working with members of his IEP team, Chris decided to receive services from LifeScape (formerly South Dakota Achieve) – a community support provider located in Sioux Falls. LifeScape provided him with independent living services, job coaching services and part-time employment in a sheltered workshop.
At this same time Chris worked with vocational rehabilitation services, and he received counseling and guidance, benefit specialist services, job placement services and additional job coaching services. Things started to change for Chris.
Chris started part-time at a day care center as a janitor. He later took a part time job as a janitor with Sam’s Club because he could get more hours and better pay. After working at Sam’s Club for a while, he was promoted to full-time and started receiving benefits working at the Sam’s Club Gas Station as an attendant.
When Chris began this process, he was on Supplemental Security Income (SSI). He is now on Social Security Disability Income (SSDI), and he expects to be going off benefits at some time in the future. Chris lives in an apartment that he shares with his brother. He loves working, and one of his hobbies includes watching movies.
Chris is excited! He is thankful to be working 40 hours a week and to be receiving vacation, sick leave and health insurance. He is proud to be giving back to his community.
Lori has been profoundly deaf since birth and communicates using American Sign Language. She grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin and began her education at the age of three at St. John’s School for the Deaf in Milwaukee. She graduated from Wisconsin School for the Deaf in 1985. She then attended Gallaudet University in Washington DC obtaining a bachelor’s degree. Her love and passion for the field of mortuary science led her to further her education by attending the University of District of Columbia where she acquired an Associates of Applied Science Degree and completed an apprenticeship while employed full time at Rapp Funeral Services.
She married her childhood sweetheart, Thomas, and in 1995 followed his career to Sioux Falls. In 1999, they moved to Vermillion. Lori worked with a privately owned funeral home in the Vermillion area and eventually buying the business when the owners retired. She was also deputy county coroner for Clay County from 2001-2007.
Lori has had a successful and rewarding career in the field of her choice – regardless of it being a male dominated field – and is still the only licensed deaf female mortician, funeral director, and funeral home owner in America. Lori teaches and mentors apprentice morticians in the areas on embalming techniques, cosmetology and mortuary science. She also serves as assistant sexton at Bluff View Cemetery. Lori presents at numerous national, regional and local conferences and seminars. She is involved with her local business community and chamber, as well as with a citywide food drive in Vermillion. She is an active member of the South Dakota Association of the Deaf and has served on and chaired several committees. She is a member of the South Dakota and National Funeral Directors Associations. Lori’s unique skills, abilities and love for people have helped her excel.
Because of Lori’s lifelong involvement, contributions and dedication to the deaf community and beyond, she earned the 2013 Outstanding Citizen with a Disability Award. She received her award from Governor Dennis Daugaard at the Governor's Awards Ceremony held in Pierre.
Lori is an individual who has demonstrated determination and commitment in reaching her personal goals and in promoting independent living and employment opportunities for persons with disabilities.
Picture: Mount Rushmore Now and Lincoln Borglum Museum
Courtesy of NPS, Mount Rushmore NM
Photography: Ed Menard, NPS Ranger
Mount Rushmore National Memorial was recognized as the outstanding Public Employer by Governor Dennis Daugaard in 2013. This category seeks to recognize an employer that leads by example and demonstrates what it takes to be successful in the business world. Mount Rushmore National Memorial is an employer that has had, and continues to have, an impact on the local community. The Mount Rushmore National Memorial is committed to employing a diverse workforce.
It is their policy to provide reasonable accommodations for qualified applicants or employees who have made requests. They have provided accommodations such as computer equipment and software, rearranging an office to reduce noise impact for an employee with a hearing impairment, and modifications of employee uniforms.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial has hosted workshops with Black Hills Works on sensitivity training, disability awareness and inclusion. They have hosted an annual EEO training and routinely volunteer with the “Explore the Outdoors” events. All employees feel valued and appreciated for their contributions. All staff are fully integrated during work hours and after work hours with all events. Mount Rushmore National Memorial’s administration has been an advocate for workforce diversity at the local community level – specifically in the tourist industry. They are actively involved with the Workforce Diversity Network which is comprised of business people who have an interest in integrating people with disabilities in the workforce.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial’s Superintendent's expectations reflect her goal of improving employment opportunities for persons with disabilities and they transformed the Park into a model employer for individuals with disabilities. Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a strong leader in the Black Hills, in providing an environment that allows employees to contribute to their fullest potential.
It is fitting that in a place where diversity is respected and valued in the millions of visitors every year, that it respects and values the individuals who work there on a daily basis. That is why Mount Rushmore National Memorial earned the 2013 Outstanding Public Employer of the Year Governor’s Award.
Marc was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy - or Werding-Hoffmann Disease, a rare progressive neuromuscular disorder. He never had the use of his legs and started using an electric wheelchair at the age of three. Throughout his life, he has had very limited use of his arms and hands, but during high school and college, he could write, type and draw. In the last few years, he has lost all movement in his hands except for two fingers on his right hand, which he uses to click the mouse of his computer. This disease has no effect on brain or mental functions similar to Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS).
Marc graduated as valedictorian from Northwestern High School in Mellette in 1998. Following high school, he was interested in finding a school that offered computer and mathematics coursework, two areas he enjoyed and in which he excelled.
Marc and his mother moved to Madison for three years while he attended Dakota State University, where he graduated summa cum laude in 2001 with a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science and minors in math, business administration, information systems, and DSU’s Center of Excellence. His degree in computer science provided an excellent foundation necessary to be a proficient computer programmer.
Marc first joined Great Lakes, then Education Assistance Corporation, as a summer intern prior to his senior year at DSU. His current position with Great Lakes is Senior Programmer/Analyst in the E-Commerce department. His job entails developing and maintaining computer programs for the network, which includes several web applications and other network utilities designed to streamline in-house data processing. Along with Marc’s general web development duties, he also dedicates a significant portion of his time to web accessibility, where he mentors and works with others to ensure that Great Lakes’ websites are state-of-the-art and accessible to all, regardless of vision, hearing, physical, or cognitive disabilities.
Marc uses a microphone and a speech recognition program in the work environment – an environment which also includes ramps, accessible restrooms, spacious hallways and an elevator which aid in navigating his chair around the facility. Marc also benefits from his company’s teleworking program, which allows him to frequently work from home in order to maintain good health and avoid commuting during difficult weather conditions.
Marc learned of the Division of Rehabilitation Services and received assistance with tuition and fees to attend college and with the purchase of assistance technology. DakotaLink also worked with Marc in selecting, acquiring and learning to use different assistive technology devices. Marc’s technical skills are excellent, as evidenced by his academic record and his work history, but those who he works with, indicate that his most significant contribution to the company is his positive attitude, good humor, and strong work ethic.
Marc also lives an independent life style! Family, friends and others wired his home which allows him the ability to control the lights, television, thermostat, and doors all from his computer. He also owns a minivan with a wheelchair conversion package, including a lowered floor and an automated ramp.
How fast things can change! Abbie had never been employed, had limited communication skills, had no work skills and limited self-direction. Then she met with school and vocational rehabilitation staff, and things started to fall into place!
Life changing moments! Abbie learned about herself, her career interests, different programs and available services and supports that might help her identify and reach her goals. She learned about Project Skills, Project SEARCH, and the annual Youth Leadership Forum (YLF).
During high school, Abbie completed three work experiences through the Project Skills program. She worked at Risen Savior as a preschool assistant; she worked at a USDA office in the scanning department, and she served as an office assistant at Christ the King Church. She was also encouraged to attend the Youth Leadership Forum during the summer. The forum is a week-long event – focusing on training and career awareness - specifically designed for juniors and seniors with disabilities. She learned about leadership, self-advocacy, organizational skills, disability related laws, the legislative process and much, much more.
Following her experiences through Project Skills and YLF; Abbie met with her team, and it was identified that she could benefit from continued Transition Services. She enrolled in Project SEARCH during the Fall of 2012. Project SEARCH is a collaborative partnership between a school district, East Educational Cooperative and a business. In Abbie’s situation, this was Avera McKennan Hospital. Designed as an internship opportunity, Project SEARCH places students in real-world situations where they learn all aspects of gaining and maintaining employment. Once hired at Avera McKennan Hospital, she initially received job coaching and follow-along services from the Project SEARCH staff from East Dakota Educational Cooperative to help ensure her success on the job.
While Abbie was in the Project SEARCH program, she was offered full time employment with Avera McKennan Hospital in the sterilization department based on her hard work and positive attitude. Abbie has never received Social Security benefits, and most likely will not in the future. She is employed full time as a technician, working 40 hours a week, earning over $11.00 an hour, plus vacation, sick leave and health insurance. She currently lives with her parents and siblings, but she is saving money to purchase her own condominium within the next 2-3 years.
Danielle entered her senior year at Brandon High School with no work history. She attended her Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting along with a vocational rehabilitation counselor, and she decided to try Project Skills.
Project Skills is a paid work experience program for high school students with disabilities in South Dakota. The program is a cooperative arrangement between the state vocational rehabilitation program and the local school district. Students learn different skills in a variety of job placements with the assistance of a job coach.
Danielle gained valuable work experience at Dairy Queen; however she wasn’t quite ready for the challenges of full time competitive employment. It was during her final IEP meeting, they decided she could benefit from continued Transition Services to include Project SEARCH.
Project SEARCH provides real-life work experience combined with employability and independent living skills to youth with significant disabilities. The program provides training and career exploration, long-term job coaching and continuous feedback from teachers, job coaches and employers. The program is a collaborative effort between Vocational Rehabilitation Services,
East Dakota Educational Cooperative, the school district, and a business – in this case – Avera McKennan Hospital.
She received job coaching and follow-along services through the program and decided she wanted to work in food service. She was offered full-time employment in the cafeteria at Avera McKennan Hospital mainly because of her hard work and positive attitude. She started at $9.59 an hour with benefits including vacation, sick leave and health insurance, and has since received two raises.
She is a “Champion” for Project SEARCH, and every year since she graduated, she has attended the Open House sessions to help educate future students, families, teachers, and business partners about the benefits of Project SEARCH. She is also involved with training new Project SEARCH students who are assigned a work rotation in her department.
Kristi – you’ll see her wearing a Dallas Cowboy jersey –
posing in pictures with players, coaches or even the owner. She attends games in Minnesota, Kansas and Texas. But as a daughter, you will find her attending Minnesota Vikings games in support of her parents.
A die hard sports fan to say the least, but one part of Kristi’s story.
When Kristi was younger, age 10, she was diagnosed with Lupus. She experienced a Lupus flare when she was 15, which led to the virus, Transverse Myelitis attacking her spinal cord, leaving her with T1 paraplegia. She has had many ups and downs with Lupus and the spinal cord injury, but she attests that she is stronger and better each and every time.
She applied and received services through the Division of Rehabilitation Services and received tuition and fees to attend college. She started with classes at University Center and transferred to Colorado Technical Institute. She received her degree in Business Administration in 2009, taking a little longer to obtain her degree because of taking time off due to her disability, but she didn’t let that stop her.
She started working with a job coach to find employment. However, another opportunity presented itself, and she took time off from the employment search to participate in the Ms. Wheelchair South Dakota competition. She won and then needed to raise funds to attend the national competition. She raised the needed funds, and she traveled to Grand Rapids, Michigan to participate at the national level. She had the time of her life and talks about the people she met and friendships that were developed as a result of this experience.
After her time traveling and speaking in her role as Ms. Wheelchair, Kristi returned to vocational rehabilitation services for assistance in finding employment. She now works for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. She is a regional coordinator recruiting mentors for people with spinal cord injuries for a five state region including Wyoming, North Dakota, Minnesota, Montana, and South Dakota. She coordinates peer mentoring and peer and family support. She travels to Minnesota to conduct peer mentor training, and she is hoping a peer mentor training can be offered in Sioux Falls sometime in the future.
Kristi works from her home – all she needs is her computer and a phone. There are no barriers at this worksite. And, she sets her own hours. When asked what helped make the road to employment successful – she responds with “it helps to know the right people in the right places”. She was first hired with the Reeve Foundation as a ‘blogger’, and another co-worker referred her for the regional coordinator position.
What motivates her to work? It’s something to do, and she likes helping people. She states “The money is nice – and it gives me more freedom to go out with friends and to go shopping“.
When asked what advice she would have for people with disabilities that are looking for employment, Kristi answered “don’t be afraid to work”. She said to give back – stating that “the disability community is so small that as a person with a disability – it’s nice to give back”.
And her advice for employers and hiring people with disabilities– “Don’t be afraid to give someone a chance, they are hard workers!”
Through vocational rehabilitation services, Kristi received diagnostic services for driving. She didn’t want a car or van, she wanted a truck! She found something that worked for her in Florida! VR assisted with the modifications for the truck, but she made the vehicle payments, and it is now paid off. She says people should check out their site: http://rynomobility.com.
For Kristi, she stays busy and she isn’t afraid to try new things. Besides football games, she attends concerts (Rock and Roll of course) works out at an adaptive gym and skies with adaptive programs offered through Ski For Light (Terry Peak) and at Great Bear (Sioux Falls). She won’t let anyone or anything slow her down. Next she wants to try adaptive water skiing, kayaking….and who knows what else.
Kristi at Great Bear in Sioux Falls
James Hartwell is a man who once worked on an off-shore seismograph boat in the Gulf of Mexico and North Atlantic Ocean. After an accident, he was medically released and told he could not return to this type of work.
James Hartwell was determined to gain the needed education to support his family. He and his wife, Karen, returned to South Dakota with their family. James applied for vocational rehabilitation services on the basis of his physical disability and after further testing, discovered he also had a reading disability. James wanted to become a teacher of Industrial Arts, and the Division of Rehabilitation Services provided computer equipment and software to enhance his ability to gain his education. He learned how to use Kurzwell software for reading and class assignments at Black Hills State University. He had the support of Karen, who attended counseling and planning appointments and encouraged James in every way. He maintained contact with the university’s disability coordinator to ensure needed accommodations were in place.
James graduated from BHSU with degrees in Industrial Technology and Industrial Technology Education. He passed the Praxis test and became a certified teacher in South Dakota. James works for Northwest Area Schools, a Multi-District/Educational Cooperative and teaches Computer Aided Drafting and Computer Aided Manufacturing and Architectural Drawing classes. He teaches in a mobile unit, relocating to a different school each semester to provide the experience in rural SD. He also offers adult education courses in computer aided drafting.
James is an exemplary role model to his students, colleagues and fellow community members. In 2012, James earned the Governor’s Outstanding Employee with a Disability Award in recognition of his achievements in competitive employment - overcoming a disability – and providing inspiration to others with disabilities.
Samuel began working with the Division of Rehabilitation Services in high school. Samuel and his family were unaware of the resources in the community, until he met a vocational rehabilitation counselor in school. He has autism and learning disabilities.
Prior to this, Samuel had no work experience – but he had a love for computers! In high school there was a computer programming contest in Vermillion (Java). This was a team contest; however Samuel entered it on his own. To the disappointment of the other teams, Samuel won and took the grand prize - a laptop computer.
While working with his vocational rehabilitation counselor during high school, Samuel learned of Project Skills. He participated in three different work experience opportunities with Killian College, City of Sioux Falls and Best Buy. He received life skills training through the Sioux Falls Community Campus where he learned cooking, budgeting, doing laundry and using the bus. He also participated in the summer transition program offered through Independent Living Choices.
Had Samuel not learned of the available supports and services, he would have been one who fell through the cracks. He was initially denied eligibility for services from SD Achieve due to his high IQ. However, South Dakota Advocacy Services and the Sioux Falls School District appealed this decision, and they were instrumental in assisting Samuel in obtaining services through the Division of Developmental Disabilities.
A number of people who knew Samuel recognized his interest with computers. His vocational rehabilitation counselor and job developer worked on getting Samuel into a computer training offered through New Horizons. The training was provided free of charge – an in-kind donation of $2,500. When it came time for Samuel to test for certification, Vocational Rehabilitation Services paid for this testing and he received the A+ Certification. (A+ Certification proves competency in configuring and troubleshooting PC hardware and software).
Samuel is now 23 years old and works 35 hours a week at Heartland Computers. He earns $7.25 an hour, and at some point in the future his Social Security benefits will switch from SSI to SSDI. Samuel has been with Heartland Computers since August 2012. He is working closely with his case manager, job developer, employer and a benefit specialist to ensure that as his earnings increase, he continues to have access to needed supports.
Samuel lives with two roommates in an apartment, with minimal staff support. He uses transit to get to work. Samuel is a quiet person - until a computer problem is brought up – then he lights up and joins the conversation.
If you ask Samuel what he loves about his job, his response is “COMPUTERS”. The more complicated the problem, the more energetic he becomes. He loves to research problems related to computers, including Macs!
Amanda Schaeffer, 36, was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes when she was 11 years old.
Right now, Amanda runs a daycare about 20 hours a week and she is a personal attendant for a person who has quadriplegia. Amanda also volunteers as a children’s minister at church.
“I’ve always wanted to start a daycare. I have a passion for kids,” Amanda said.
Amanda has a background in working with children. She earned a bachelor’s degree in social work and has worked in child protection services, Children’s Home Society, Department of Social Services and has done case management work. Amanda also worked at Citibank for six years because of the great benefits, including health insurance, which came in handy with her diabetes.
“It was very easy to find work because of my degree, but insurance was important,” Amanda said. “I would have to ask very specific questions about insurance.”
All of her monthly costs for pumps, insulin and sensors to treat the diabetes add up to at least $1,500. With that kind of additional expenses, Amanda was relieved when she was accepted for MAWD.
“I started researching on my own and contacted a resource coordinator,” Amanda said. “I looked even harder and found the MAWD program.”
Amanda started MAWD in July 2011. Since then, she has more flexibility to have a job she loves.
“One major factor that changes everything (since getting MAWD) is the freedom to pursue different interests. I’m not tied to my job because of the quality of the health insurance,” she said.
Amanda added that MAWD has been wonderful and gives a lot of flexibility to pursue her career goals, even when employers may not be too keen on hiring you for one reason or another.
She said to be honest with your employers about your needs up front, don’t give up on people right away and put yourself in their shoes.
Amanda said that while she was working at Citibank, it was frustrating not to be able to work in her field, and after receiving MAWD, she has more options. She shared what helped her get through that time.
“My faith kept me going. I get my power from the Lord,” Amanda said.
Today, she has to wear a sensor to detect when her blood sugar is getting too low. She has had diabetes so long that she can no longer determine when her blood sugar is low. Amanda has had complications with her diabetes and even has had seizures because of it.
“All of my supplies are so horribly expensive that the type of insurance is critical,” Amanda said. “I have great appreciation for MAWD.”
Going to college was not something that Brad Konechne thought he could ever do. After he attended the Youth Leadership Forum (YLF) 9 years ago, he started to change his mind. He met other youth with disabilities that were planning on attending college or had already started college. He then began to believe that anything was possible. Because he has cerebral palsy, Brad knew that he would have barriers to work through to further his education and become employed. He did not let this stop him. He decided he wanted to do the same things that people without disabilities do such as attend college and have a career. After graduation from high school, Brad attended and graduated from Southeast Technical Institute in Sioux Falls. He said once he started college he told himself that he could do anything he set his mind to. During his schooling, Brad utilized services from DakotaLink, which offers assistive technology to residents of South Dakota. Brad needed assistance with reading and DakotaLink was able to assist him with a reading device called Kurzweil 3000. After college graduation in 2006, Brad moved back home to Kimball, SD where he currently lives.
Brad’s college degree is in graphics communication which has lead to working on a small business endeavor for website design. Brad works part time at Overweg Repair, LLC in Kimball, where he works on their website and also does some car detailing. He believes his success with employment is due to his mother’s encouragement to go to college. He also received support from YLF students to move forward with his life. Brad said he enjoys living in a small town, because everyone knows each other and helps each other out. People in his community spread the word that Brad does web design which he said is his best form of advertising. Brad said the benefits of being employed are getting to meet new people and feeling like he is a part of the community.
Brad would like to tell other people with disabilities that you can’t give up when you are looking for a job or going to school. You can do anything if you set your mind to it. Brad hopes that more employers will give people with disabilities a chance so that they can prove they can do their job as well as anyone else.
Brad became enrolled in Medical Assistance for Workers with Disabilities (MAWD) in 2009 after he was informed of the program by staff from the Freedom to Work Project. Brad says he is thankful for MAWD because it provides him with medical coverage and he no longer has to rely on Social Security benefits which felt restrictive to him. MAWD is an incentive for qualifying people with disabilities to remain working or return to work while providing healthcare coverage through Medicaid.
Nicole Wetrich describes herself as self-motivated. She has had to rely on that motivation in the last several years since she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of Muscular Sclerosis. Nicole said she has always worked during high school and college. She knows that she can support herself and she has a three and a half year old child who provides her with even more motivation to work.
When Nicole was diagnosed with MS three years ago, she was a sophomore in college. She found herself in a difficult situation; she had just had a baby and then got the news of the MS diagnosis. Shortly after this time, she had gall bladder surgery which increased the MS symptoms. Due to the increase of symptoms, Nicole had to be in the hospital for rehabilitation for over a week. It was during this time that someone from the Midland Group visited her and told her about the MAWD (Medical Assistance for Workers with Disabilities) program. She was one of the first people to apply for MAWD. After she was approved for MAWD, she was very relieved to know that her treatment for MS would be covered. Nicole knew that without the treatment, she would have difficulty remaining employed. She said the MAWD program has done wonders for her in knowing that her medical expenses will be covered so she can continue to work and provide for her family.
Nicole said the barriers to employment for her are when the MS symptoms increase. For example when she was hospitalized, she had been at the job less than 90 days. When she came back she discovered she no longer had a job due to being out too long. She said it did not stop her; she went back to the temporary job agency and got back to work. Her job supports are her determination and her family. Nicole says she just makes herself do it. She has never needed to rely on outside supports such as Social Security benefits.
Nicole now works full time as an accountant and has a part time job teaching at a local community college. All this, while raising her daughter and working towards completion of a master’s degree in business. Nicole’s road to success has been paved by the determined attitude that she has. She said “I don’t care. I won’t let the disability stop me. I had a life plan and the MS won’t deter me.”
Getting into the work environment is something that Nicole feels other people with disabilities should consider if they are not currently working. She said it is a way to meet new people and raise your spirits. You will have emotional support from others as well as financial resources to rely on. Nicole feels working is a way to be a contributing member of society and it gives you a sense of accomplishment. Nicole says employers should realize that “if you give people with disabilities a chance to show their talents, you may find a hidden gem.”
LeRoy Clemetson is the president and owner of Computer One, Inc. in Brookings, South Dakota which has been in business for ten years. He is in charge of the company finances, expansion of the company, employee development, and public relations. He interviewed and hired Jana Krogman who is the Operations Manager for Computer One, Inc. Jana shared in the interview with LeRoy that she had a disability. He said her disclosure did not influence his decision to hire her or not to hire her. She had the experience and the personality that he wanted to fill the job which is why he hired her. LeRoy says the experience has been a good one for him. He said that Jana is highly motivated and her disability does not hold her back from doing a good job for the company. He had the experience of hiring another person with a disability and although it did not work out as well as Jana’s situation, he did not consider it a negative situation. LeRoy said the key is a willingness on the employee’s part to work hard. If the employee works hard that makes up for any other issues.
As an employer, LeRoy feels it is important to be open-minded when interviewing and hiring employees. Employers need to give any person with the right qualifications a chance. He said, “You never know, you might find that diamond in the rough”. He says it is important to treat all applicants and employees the same. For him, it is a simple issue, if the person can do the job and they work hard, he would hire them. To help employers become more interested in hiring people with disabilities, it is important that they be made aware of the available tax incentives as well as what is available for accommodations.
LeRoy says that people with disabilities who are looking for employment should keep trying and never give up. “If you work hard and do the best you can, there will be an employer who will appreciate you for that.” He believes it is also important for people with disabilities to utilize the programs that are available to them as well as getting support from others who can provide assistance with directing them to the job that best fits them.
Jana Krogmann works at a-i Computer Solutions Inc. in Brookings as the Operations Manager of the business. She states that during her life she has been frequently sick and now that she is healthier she wishes to be a productive person in society. She does not want to be seen as disabled. She states she has always been driven to work and receives motivation from others at her workplace. At her current job, she feels she has contributed and helped the business to thrive. Jana said, “Being able to work is emotionally huge for me. I’m a people person and I am not happy if I am not working.” She goes on to say that she needs to stay busy and active as long as she can. She wants to continue to be an example for her adult children as well as her daughter who is still at home. Jana realizes that she could have applied for Social Security benefits but she chose not to because she wants to be self-sufficient and work as long as she can without relying on others to provide for her.
Jana spoke about how helpful and understanding her supervisor has been. He has helped to make minor accommodations such as providing a special chair for her as well as allowing her to take more breaks. He has no problem when she needs to be gone for various medical appointments. Because of these small accommodations, Jana feels she is a more loyal and dedicated employee. She said the award that she received from the City of Brookings hopefully will show others with disabilities that they can do anything they put their mind too.
Jana credits her success to her own motivation but she also gives credit to services she received from the Department of Labor and the South Dakota Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS). Jana was able to take classes and receive help in finding a job through the Department of Labor. Also, Jana said her DRS counselor was “awesome”. According to Jana, the counselor went out of her way to help her and others become employed.
The DRS counselor referred her to the Medical Assistance for Workers with Disabilities (MAWD) program. Jana applied for MAWD and has been enrolled since May, 2010. Due to the types of disabilities that Jana has, she needs to take a variety of medications and needs services from numerous medical providers. Not having insurance made life very difficult for Jana so having medical coverage through MAWD has been life changing for her. She is able to be at her job consistently and not miss work due to illness. She is able to take all of her medications without having to choose which ones she can go without. Jana said that MAWD has provided her with healthcare coverage so that she is healthier, able to work full time, take care of her daughter and enjoy life.
Jana would like other people with disabilities to know that their disability does not have to “become them”. She says determination is everything and a negative attitude gets you nowhere. She truly believes that everything is possible if you have the will. Her hope is that employers give more people with disabilities a chance in the workplace. “Disability is a hard label and I wish there was a way to get beyond it.”
Brad Kehn has been the general manager for the I-90 Travel Center in Mitchell for the last nine years. Brad works with Career Connections, a community support provider for people with disabilities in Mitchell. The working relationship between his business and Career Connections has helped contribute to employing people with disabilities at the Travel Center. Although Brad is quick to point out that a person with a disability does not have to be connected with an agency to be eligible for employment at his business.
Brad brings a very unique perspective with him to his managerial role; he was employed with the juvenile justice system before becoming the manager of the Travel Center. He feels this experience gave him a good understanding of people with disabilities especially those with mental illness and developmental delays. Brad feels he is much more open minded to people’s needs due to his prior career.
Brad’s experience with hiring people with disabilities has been very positive. He said that once he understood the bigger picture he was able to see ways in which people with disabilities could fit very nicely into his business. Brad employs approximately thirty people at any given time and currently there are six people working at the Travel Center who have a disability.
Brad said he doesn’t like the word ‘disability’. He believes some employers are scared off when they hear that someone is disabled and they automatically think the person cannot do certain things. This then leads to misconceptions by some business owners regarding people with disabilities. He feels that employers need to get beyond the word, disability, and instead see the person and what ability they have. He acknowledges that it is important for agencies to talk to employers one on one about hiring people with disabilities as this would help to dispel the misconceptions and apprehension.
Brad believes that employers should research and become educated about hiring people with disabilities. When he hires someone with a disability, he takes a little extra time to learn about their disability so that he can accommodate whatever needs they might have. Brad feels this pays off in the long run and may be the reason for a successful and longer employment for the person. He is aware of the tax incentives available to employers, but he doesn’t feel that is necessarily the best reason to hire someone. Instead you should hire a person based on their ability to do the job. He said if you have thirty employees, you have thirty different sets of needs regardless of if the person has a disability or not. There is someone out there who can benefit your business. He said, “Don’t overlook the person behind the label.”
Brad would like to tell people with disabilities who want to become employed to “Keep trying, there are employers who are educated on hiring and need valuable employees.” He said people with disabilities should always take advantage of any available programs and resources that are available to them.
The I-90 Travel Center was honored in 2009 to receive the Cal Schultz Memorial Award for the “Outstanding Employer of the Year” from the Mitchell Advisory Council for People with Disabilities.
For the last 15 years, Velma Austad has been employed in her home in Elk Point, SD, doing daycare for her grandchildren. As recently as 2001, Velma was providing daycare and also working at Gateway as the head cook. Due to Velma’s degenerative disc disease which began to worsen in 2001, she had to quit her job at Gateway and only do the daycare in her home. Velma also transports one of her grandsons to his program at Children’s Care Hospital in Sioux Falls.
In 2009, as Velma was meeting with her food stamp caseworker, she was told about the Medical Assistance for Workers with Disabilities (MAWD) program. She applied and was so thankful to be approved. While on MAWD, Velma was able to obtain some medical procedures that helped her to be free of some of the pain she is constantly in, as well as being able to move around more. Having the medical appointments paid for during this time was a lifesaver for Velma. Even though Velma was only eligible for MAWD for a short time, she is very grateful for the medical coverage she had during that time.
Velma feels work is so important for everyone whether you have a disability or not. She said people need to get out and try to work. Her advice to others is to “keep looking until you find something you can do, even though you are disabled you can still work doing something.” For Velma, working by providing daycare makes her feel like she is not a burden to anyone and the plus side is that she is a part of her grandchildren’s lives. Velma wants to help herself as long as she can and working and being as active as she can helps her with that goal. She said she is never one to sit and do nothing no matter what the barrier in front of her is. Velma said you have to have some incentive to get up every day, her job is just that motivation she needs.
Velma understands how easy it would have been to just give up and she understands that others may also feel that way. She would like to tell other people with disabilities that you can’t let your disability hold you back, you have to help yourself! Velma is very proud of herself and what she has done even though her disability has been a barrier to overcome especially these last few years.
Even though Velma does not work outside the home for someone else, she has some advice for employers. “Don’t be afraid to hire a person with a disability; give them a chance. Put them in a position that they can handle and match them to their ability.”
Wanda Doop Kilmer was working with a Rehab Counselor with Rehabilitation Services in Brookings when she was told about Medical Assistance for Workers with Disabilities or MAWD. Wanda had been unemployed for approximately 5-6 months as well as being without health insurance. With the help of Rehab Services, she was able to secure a job at the United Retirement Center Nursing Home. Wanda works part time in the kitchen as a dishwasher and assists with passing out food trays to the residents. At the same time she became employed, Wanda applied for MAWD and found out she was eligible. Since Wanda had no health insurance prior to MAWD, her stress level has gone down. Now she knows she can get the medication she needs for her diabetes and asthma conditions which she has had for the last three years. She said without these medicines she could literally die.
Wanda stated that her support to become employed came mostly from Rehab Services. She stated that she learned a lot from her work with a Rehab Counselor; how to write a resume and interview tips. Wanda is continuing to work with them because her goal is to become employed with a full time job.
When asked what motivates her to work, Wanda said she needs money to pay her bills and extra items she needs and wants. She said it is “something to do and she is bored when she is at home all the time.” She also said the other benefits to working are you get to know other people, make friends and learn things from others. The only barrier to employment that Wanda experienced was feeling like some employers are very particular in who they hire and some employers are just not hiring right now. If she could say anything to employers, she would like to tell them to give people with disabilities a chance to work.
If Wanda could give other people with disabilities some advice, she would say, “Don’t give up on looking for a job, hang in there and things will eventually turn around for you.” She is proof that persistence pays off.