Soliday a success story for Ready to Work program

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With a strong support system, a lot of hard work, and a positive attitude, Shonna Soliday has paved the way for others to find success through the Ready To Work (RTW) program.

Soliday, with assistance from Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor Dena Dodd and E.H. Gentry, recently became the first student to complete the program and secured a position as a store clerk at Redstone Arsenal near her hometown of Huntsville.

Soliday’s journey began with what she believed to be a sinus infection. After her vision was impacted, she was informed by a neurologist that swelling behind her eye was creating pressure on the optic nerve. After getting a second opinion from University of Alabama at Birmingham low-vision specialist Dr. Dawn Dicarlo, Soliday was paired with VR Counselor Dena Dodd.

This move, Soliday said, was the first step of her successful journey.

Dodd said Soliday was initially very shy but receptive to the idea of entering the Ready to Work Program.

“When we were talking, I was telling her about Gentry and what they offered,” she said. “I told her if she was interested, we could take a tour and see what it was like before she went down there.”

After becoming more familiar with the program and the possibilities, Soliday was sold. She said she was nervous but ready and willing to take on the new challenge.

“I didn’t know what to expect when I got here, so I was open to anything,” she said.

Soliday pressed forward and earned her Microsoft Office certification for Excel, Word, Outlook, and Power Point. She also gained valuable experience working in the campus store, which prepared her for her new position at Redstone.

All of the programs proved helpful and interesting, but Soliday said she especially enjoyed the job preparation courses because they allowed her to create a strong resume and polish her job interview skills.

Dodd said she always felt Soliday had the tools to succeed, but she has been pleasantly surprised by the extra effort she put into the program in their year together.

“She has really excelled,” she said. “I believed she would excel, but she put forth her best effort and has done really well.”

Along with kind words and advice, Dodd made sure Soliday had the tools she needed to enter the work force. Those tools included a Ruby CCTV, a device she learned to use at Gentry. This handheld video magnifier offers her a clear, vivid image of items with no distortion.

The process that led to Soliday’s success began about two years ago when Blind Services Accessibility Specialist Jason Martin began working on the program’s structure. He was asked to evaluate the curriculum, which had been deemed inaccessible. Martin took each piece of the curriculum and worked it into an accessible format. This was accomplished by adding features from the ground up with guidance from ADRS. These additions now made it possible for a student with no vision to complete the program from start to finish.

“Basically, we made a path for someone who is totally blind to do this curriculum, and it improved the entire format because we looked at some of the effectiveness of some of the modules,” Martin said. “Since they were reworking it, they questioned whether they were effective for their working group. They even changed that up a little bit.”

Dodd said she has no doubt Soliday is ready to tackle the next phase of her life and begin a new and exciting career.

“She is looking forward to her new job, and I know she will be successful,” she said. “She is great.”

Watching Soliday “come out of her shell” and become the first to complete the program was an extremely satisfying process for Dodd.

“It makes your job worthwhile, because it does feel like you are contributing and helping someone,” she said. “She has the will and the ambition to be successful.”

Alabama’s Ready-To-Work program provides a career pathway for adults who have limited education and employment experience through 66 sites at 22 institutions.

The site at Gentry is the culmination of a two-year partnership between ADRS, Alabama Industrial Development Training (AIDT), and the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind.

The RTW curriculum is designed by AIDT to build skills based on demands of local businesses and industries along with a nationwide growth in technology, computer knowledge, and employment availability. In addition to soft skills, other areas of focus for RTW trainees include computer skills, workplace behavior, manufacturing, job acquisition, leadership, and problem solving.

Individuals who complete the program earn an Alabama Certified Worker certificate and a National Career Readiness Certificate.

Requirements include:

  • 95 percent attendance and punctuality rate
  • WorkKeys assessments (Level 3): mathematics, reading for information, and locating information
  • Satisfactory achievement of work ethic, organizational skills, attitude and motivation
  • Satisfactory achievement of problem solving skills, workplace behaviors, financial education, customer service, computer skills, attitude, and motivation
  • Alabama Certified Worker Examination

















Holloway brings experience, understanding to CRS medical consultant post

Dr. Albert Holloway was excited to hear new ideas during his visit to the CRS State Parent Advisory Committee Meeting.
Dr. Albert Holloway was excited to hear new ideas during his visit to the CRS State Parent Advisory Committee Meeting.

Dr. Albert Holloway has joined the Rehab Family as a medical consultant for Children’s Rehabilitation Service.

Holloway, who joined CRS through a contractual agreement with Medicaid, is available to respond to medical concerns generated from staff, families, and providers of CRS services.

CRS Director Melinda Davis said she is delighted to have Holloway available to serve as medical consultant.

“He has been a dedicated CRS partner for many years and has served as primary care physician for numerous CRS

Dr. Albert Holloway is pictured with CRS Director Melinda Davis during a recent visit to the Montgomery office.
Dr. Albert Holloway is pictured with CRS Director Melinda Davis during a recent visit to the Montgomery office.

clients,” she said. “Dr. Holloway is very active in public health initiatives at the national, state, and local levels and has a keen awareness of the issues facing children and youth with special health care needs and their families.”

Holloway said he has been involved periodically over the years with CRS and has had a number of patients with special health care needs, so joining the program was a natural fit.

He is a firm believer in the power of the parents to advocate for their children and said he is dedicated to getting positive results in every aspect of a patient’s life.

“I want to try to improve the outcome not only health wise, but psychosocially for kids with special health care needs,” he said.

Holloway will attend annual clinic meetings and provide feedback to staff for quality improvement.  He’ll also participate in local meetings with the CRS administrative team, the quarterly Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Partnership meeting, the quarterly Medicaid/CRS meeting, the annual MCH Title V Block Grant review in Atlanta, and national conferences.
He will assist in recruiting and retaining specialty physicians for CRS clinics and review new procedures and present recommendations to the CRS director, clinic program specialist, or other members of the state office team.

In addition, he will provide consultative and educational services as requested when issues arise or as needs are presented.

Holloway is a graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology. He obtained his medical degree from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., and completed his pediatric residency and a neonatal fellowship at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

He opened a private practice in 1982 and assumed the practice of Dr. Gillis L. Payne March 1, 2017.

Holloway is a past president of the Alabama Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and currently serves as chair of the Pediatric Council. He manages a general pediatric practice with Montgomery Area Mental Health Center and is a current member of the state Perinatal Advisory Committee. He chairs the City/County Joint Public Charity Board of Montgomery.

He is married with four children and five grandchildren.


VR sponsors summer transition programs around the state

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The Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services and its partners have had a busy summer conducting transition programs at colleges throughout the state to help students prepare for life after high school.

These programs have provided hands-on lessons designed to develop and improve independent living skills for people with disabilities. The agenda differed from school to school, with topics ranging from time management, financial management, self-advocacy, and vocational rehabilitation to dining etiquette, bullying, note taking, problem solving, social skills, and interviewing techniques.

Rehab engineering workshop under construction in Anniston

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Construction is currently under way on a new rehabilitation engineering work and storage space for the Anniston area.

The 864-square-foot workshop, which is being built behind the ADRS facility on Coleman Road in Anniston, will include a 24′ x 24′ workshop with work benches and a wash-out sink as well as a storage loft. The outside will feature water access for wheelchair washes.

The building is being constructed at no cost to ADRS by Robert Davie, the landlord for the Anniston ADRS office. It is expected to be complete by September, with move-in later in the year.



Students complete inaugural College Quest program at AU

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The Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services’ new College Quest program for students with vision loss conducted its initial session on the campus of Auburn University June 16-29.

Twelve high school students from around Alabama worked with resident assistants to complete several intensive, hands-on workshops designed to develop and improve independent living skills.

The two-week camp offered a full day of instruction for each session.

Participants learned about time management, financial management with adaptive devices, self-awareness and self-advocacy, vocational rehabilitation, dining etiquette, cleaning techniques, labeling and marking, bullying, note taking, problem solving, food preparation, travel for low-vision, and shopping. Topics for week two included Adulting 101, use of Amazon Alexa, hiring readers and drivers, diet and nutrition, and a day focusing on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers.

College Quest is a collaboration between ADRS, the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind, Alabama Industrial Development Training, the Alabama Department of Commerce, and Auburn University. The program is offered free of charge.

ADRS, AIDB, and AIDT provided instructors, and AU awarded two hours of college credit to students who passed the course. A scholarship was awarded to a student pursuing a STEM-related degree.

SAIL, Carpenters for Christ partner to provide ramps to consumers

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The brutal Alabama heat and humidity could not erase the smiles on the faces of the Carpenters for Christ volunteers as they worked on one of their most recent projects.

The group, which operates through First Baptist Church of Tallassee, has assisted Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services Independent Living Specialist Sharon Weaver in providing wheelchair ramps for clients who would otherwise have a difficult time entering and leaving their homes.

The program, one of the group’s founders Glen Baggett said, began with wheelchair ramp projects several years ago when his daughter Angie, an Alabama Department of Corrections employee, discussed the needs of a coworker’s family member. Another DOC employee who is paralyzed informed Angie that ADRS might be able to provide support. From there, a partnership was formed.

Baggett said when he and Weaver connected, she was excited about the opportunity to work with the group.

“When I mentioned ramps, her eyes lit up,” he said. “We have been building ramps for (ADRS) ever since.”

Carpenters for Christ has been especially busy this summer, having built a ramp every Monday. The crew generally consists of 10 to 20 volunteers from a roster that includes a retired Air Force officer, a Montgomery Police Department SWAT team member, a retired college baseball coach, and many others from interesting backgrounds.

“We have a wide variety of people,” Baggett said. “There are a lot of retirees, but we even have a few guys who are still working.”

Because so many are willing to lend a hand, the group usually completes their projects within a day. While they work quickly, First Baptist Church of Tallassee Minister of Education Barry Tice said the good vibes the workers receive last much longer.

“All of the guys here get a blessing out of this,” he said. “We work hard, but I feel like we are the ones who are the recipients of the blessings in addition to the people who get the ramps. That’s why they do it – to give back because the Lord has been good to us.”

Volunteer and retired Air Force Col. Steve Miller agreed. Miller, who discovered the group after being invited to the church by a friend, said it is a true blessing to offer assistance to those in need.

“Everyone says what we do means so much to the people we do it for,” he said. “I would never underplay that, but what we get out of it is worth so much more. It’s good work, it’s good to fellowship, and we get to help people.”

Miller said he has been blessed his entire life, and it is rewarding to be able to share those blessings through ADRS and Carpenters for Christ.

“This is good for the heart and good for the soul,” he said.

Bill Carroll, a member of Tallassee First Baptist Church, said he has traveled all over the world in 20 years of mission work. His stops have included Nicaragua, Belize and several states. However, he said one of the most rewarding service projects has been the help he and others provide in his home state.

“We get a huge blessing when we ask them to come out, come down the ramp, and see their expression,” he said. “We get more of a blessing right then. That is what it is all about. We help people who are not always able to help themselves.”

The group generally receives information about a project from Weaver. After an initial visit to the site, the group uses its measurements to make a list of the materials needed. Weaver and ADRS then provide financial support.

From there, the Carpenters for Christ spring into action.

Weaver said partnering with these volunteers has been an extremely rewarding experience.

“They have been a real blessing to SAIL (State of Alabama Independent Living/Homebound Services),” she said. “They are eager, and they love what they do. It is dear to their heart. They love to serve people, and it is fantastic for us because we get to help our consumers to live more independently.”

Donations are accepted to supplement the needs that are not covered by ADRS. Supporters can visit the church or mail donations to First Baptist Church, 1279 Friendship Road, Tallassee, AL 36078.

Another option is visiting and clicking the “give” tab at the top of the page. The options will allow donors to specify where they would like their money applied.



New board member Leah Patterson Lust ‘eager to serve’

Karen Freeman swears in Leah Patterson Lust earlier this year
Karen Freeman swears in Leah Patterson Lust earlier this year

For new Alabama Board of Rehabilitation Services member and Cullman native Leah Patterson Lust, the opportunity to represent Congressional District 4 is a duty she takes very seriously.

Lust, who sustained a spinal cord injury at age 17 in a car accident and uses a wheelchair for mobility, will provide the board with a more-detailed view of the challenges faced by those with disabilities. She said it is an honor to represent the people of her region and the rest of the state to do her part to bring solutions to some of these challenges.

“I hope to represent north central Alabama well,” she said. “The people in this area with disabilities and throughout thestate have many needs. I hope that I can bring information to the table that will be beneficial and that will help the agency as it tries to meet the needs of the people.”

When she was notified of her appointment, Lust said she was excited and is ready to get to work.

“I am eager to serve in whatever way that I can to be beneficial to the people of Alabama,” she said. “I was honored to be mentioned and honored to serve. It really meant the world to me.”

Lust is a graduate of the University of Alabama, where she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work.

Her career began at Druid City Hospital (DCH) in Tuscaloosa, where she served as a staff social worker for two years before moving to Cullman Regional Medical Center as director of social work for 10 years. Lust was elected probate judge of Cullman County, and after a six-year term became a private counselor. She assists individuals and families in the areas of crisis intervention, marriage and family, substance abuse, and grief and bereavement.

Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services Commissioner Jane Elizabeth Burdeshaw said Lust’s experiences, both personally and professionally, make her a great addition to the board.

“I believe Mrs. Patterson Lust is an outstanding candidate for this appointment and presents a unique opportunity for the Alabama Board of Rehabilitation Services to add a strong voice for Alabamians with disabilities,” she said in a nomination letter to Gov. Kay Ivey. “In my recent meeting with her, she expressed that she is humbled by the possibility of this new challenge and is eager to serve.”

Lust is a current member of the Day Star House Board and a founding director of OASIS: Suicide Prevention Outreach. She is a past member of the state of Alabama Rehabilitation Council and a former chair of the state of Alabama Independent Living Council.

She lives in Cullman County with her husband of 16 years, Michael.


Deaf Services consumer ready to hit the road after earning CDL

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An exchange of smiles and a fist bump between newly certified truck driver Joey Woodle and Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor Quentin Morris allowed both to celebrate a huge milestone Wednesday, May 9.

Woodle, who is deaf, realized a lifelong dream moments earlier by passing his driving test and earning a commercial driver’s license from the Central Alabama Community College’s Truck Driver Training School.

The final test brought an end to a long journey for both Woodle and Morris.

The two have worked closely on job searches, and both thought a trucking career was out of reach until a medical waiver was discovered. When Woodle, a Huntsville native, was ready to proceed, he and Morris chose CACC because of the school’s ties to E.H. Gentry in Talladega.

Now, six weeks and 240-instruction hours later, Woodle is ready to hit the road with an offer on the table from Shaffer Trucking.

Woodle said he hopes his journey can serve as motivation to others with hearing loss. He has already recommended the program to others.

“I am so excited to show them that they can pass, they can do it,” he said. “I have a friend who is Deaf, and I told him to come over and get the training. I have been telling all of my friends that they can do it.”

It was hard to tell who was more excited about the accomplishment. Morris sported a smile that was equal to that of Woodle. He said he was not only excited for Woodle but for others who thought this career field might not be available.

“I am so excited for him, because this has been a goal for him and for several people who are Deaf and hard of hearing,” he said.

Woodle, who is 50, said he waited a long time to follow in the footsteps of family members who have also driven big rigs. They served as his inspiration.

“Ever since I was little, I have always been interested (in trucking),” he said. “My dad and my uncle were truck drivers, and I would ride along with them. I thought, ‘This looks really interesting. I can do that too.’ ”

CACC instructor Willie Brooks was admittedly nervous in the beginning but now says Woodle has been one of his better students.

“I found out he was no different than anybody else,” he said. “He was a good student. He was a really good student who caught on quick.”

Brooks said he and Woodle established signs along the way to improve their communication during the driving portion of his training. He said it was very rewarding to help someone realize his dream, and he welcomes the possibility to train other drivers with hearing loss.

Woodle, who was recently featured in The Alexander City Outlook and Overdrive Magazine, said now that he is certified he cannot wait to hit the road.

“I am just excited and ready to get to work,” he said.

To read related articles, click the following links:

Achieving a dream: Deaf Alabama man overcomes hurdles to earn Class A CDL


CRS receives grant to advance care for children with medical complexity

 CRS Maternal and Child Health Coordinator Lolita McLean
CRS Maternal and Child Health Coordinator Lolita McLean

Collaborative Improvement and Innovation Networks (CoIINs) are multidisciplinary teams of federal, state, and local leaders working together to tackle a common problem.

Last year, CRS was one of 10 states awarded a CoIIN to advance care for children with medical complexity (CMC). The grant, managed by the Boston University School of Pubic Health and supported through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), is to improve the quality of life for children with medical complexity, the well-being of their families, and the cost effectiveness of their care.

The CoIIN approach provides a way for participants to self-organize, forge partnerships, and take coordinated action to address complicated issues, said Lolita McLean, CRS maternal and child health coordinator.

“The core of the problem we are working to solve is developing and testing a new pay model for care of children with medical complexity. It is a very small group of children – less than 1 percent – but their significant medical needs use up a majority of the total funding,” said McLean.

In addition to helping identify a new CMC pay model, CRS will work to reduce scheduled CMC hospitalizations and also report unmet needs of children with medical complexity.

Other states participating in the CoIIN are Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. CRS will receive $135,000 in funding per year  through 2021 for participating in the CoIIN.

Other partners in the HRSA-supported CoIIN include the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs, and Family Voices.

A Q&A with retiring Executive Secretary LeAnne Bull

LeAnne Bull, right, goes over some information with Karen Freeman, who will take over as executive secretary when Bull retires Feb. 28


Rehab news spoke with outgoing Executive Secretary LeAnne Bull – who has served under every commissioner since ADRS became a department in 1995 – a week before her retirement. A transcript of that conversation follows:


RN: LeAnne, you’ve been with our department for many years. What does “rehabilitation” mean to you?


Bull: When I was a little girl, I rode by one of our buildings and said, “I want to work there one day.” Just to play a small role in what we do everyday means a lot. It’s a blessing to know that we are touching others’ lives in a meaningful way each and every day. Rehabilitation is a blessing, and I truly love our sense of family.


RN: As you look back over your career, what’s it been like to serve in the commissioner’s office under every commissioner?


Bull: All of our commissioners have been wonderful, and they have all had unique personalities I have had the pleasure to get to know.

Lamona, she was the mother to us all. I was very young when I served with her, but I’ll always remember her as a go-getter and someone with boundless energy. With Lamona at the helm, there was never a dull moment. When we were fighting to become a department of our own, we were all up working non-stop. It was an all-hands-on-deck situation because we all knew that if we didn’t succeed, Lamona, and likely others, would lose their jobs. Under Lamona’s guidance was when I first saw the raw passion for people with disabilities. Everything we do is for the people we serve, and you have to remember that if you want to be a part of the Rehab Family.

I interviewed with Mr. Shivers twice. The first time was when he was the assistant division director, and the second time was when (previous Executive Secretary) Jacquelin Harris was retiring. Long story short, Mr. Shivers is the person who brought me back to Rehab after leaving to work at the Department of Finance for 3 years.

Mr. Shivers is the most humble person I have ever met. He was always working. He was up working well before my starting time, and late into the night, as well. I never saw him as just my boss – he was my friend. Mr. Shivers was a huge help to me when I lost my mom, and I knew him to be someone who would never ask you to do anything he wasn’t willing to do himself.

Winona Nelson was our interim commissioner for only about three months, but we’ve been friends forever. She is the most loyal person you will ever meet. She’s a highly ethical person and was well respected. I know she only served in the office as a transition from Mr. Shivers to Dr. B [Cary Boswell], but she’s been a true friend to me for as long as I’ve been at Rehab.

Boswell – Dr. B as I knew him – was someone who also had a ton of energy. He also seemed to have the biggest heart, and it was a true pleasure to work for him. It was almost as if we could read each other’s minds. We were in lock-step together, and he was – and is – a great, great person. Dr. B was also there for me through the death of my dad and my precious nephew. I can’t begin to thank him for everything he and the department did for me during that incredibly difficult time.

And as for Jane Elizabeth, I’ll say that she is exactly what this department needs right now. She is well-liked, has a true heart for consumers, and is a real go-getter. She will take this department to whole new heights. I am 100 percent sure of that.

When you work for someone as closely as I have worked with our commissioners, you know just about everything about them. You not only know about their work meetings, but you also schedule their trips to hair dressers. Something that always kept me a little nervous was knowing that whenever we got a new commissioner, I could be sent packing. Now, I had reversion rights to fall back to an ASA III job, but there was a question of, “Will they keep me?” All in all, it has been a pleasure to serve them all, and I’ll forever be indebted to them for what they have done for me. It’s been a wonderful experience.


RN: What will you miss the most when you leave?


Bull: I’m going to miss the one-on-one with the commissioner. I’m going to miss being that extra hand for them. This desk’s sole purpose is to make them look good. When Jane Elizabeth is walking through my office, my role is to hand her folder to her to make sure she has everything she needs. I’m constantly texting/communicating with her. My goal is to always stay one step ahead at all times, and I hope that I have done that while I was here. I have certainly tried my best to do that.


RN: What’s your fondest memory of your time at Rehab?


Bull: Without a doubt, that would be the many late nights we spent together when we were fighting to become a department. We all stayed up listening to the debates in the Senate. We listened to Mrs. Lucas.

We heard Mr. Shivers say, “It was a good day at Rehab.” We all believed it, too. Like I said before, if we didn’t succeed, Lamona would have lost her job. We were fighting for her sake, but really our consumers would have paid the most. We knew whole-heartedly that we could better serve them as a stand-alone agency, and that was what we were fighting for in that moment.

On a lighter note, another fond memory of mine is that of Jim 3 (retired Assistant Commissioner Jim Harris III) prank-calling me. He would call me out of the blue with all sorts of crazy things, and I would fall for it every single time. He was so much fun to work with, and I’ll always remember him for having the biggest heart. A lot of us miss him dearly.


RN: And how do you want to be remembered by your peers?


Bull: Just a smidgeon of Carl Nowell. He was so well-loved, so highly regarded. Everyone who knew him loved and respected him, and if people saw me – even just a tiny bit – in that same way, then I would feel so honored. I just want people to remember me as someone who helped them do their jobs a little better and as someone who always served others to the best of my ability.


RN: As you part ways with us, what’s next for you in your life?


Bull: I’m going to go home and be mama. I’m going to take my 15-year-old to school and pick him up. I’ll maybe take a couple of trips. Really, I’m just going to wait and see what God has in store for me.


RN: LeAnne, is there anything else you’d like to add that you haven’t already said?

ADRS Board Secretary LeAnne Bull sits to the left of Commissioner Cary Boswell during a board meeting that occurred on March 7, 2014
ADRS Board Secretary LeAnne Bull sits to the left of Commissioner Cary Boswell during a March 2014 board meeting


Bull: It’s funny that you ask that, because right now, I’m thinking about my role as secretary for the Alabama Board of Rehabilitation Services, which I have also been since the first day Mr. Shivers served as our commissioner. In that time, I’ve never missed a single board meeting. Not one. Whether it is luck or good health, I have been fortunate enough to attend all of our board meetings in that time. Now, I can’t say that I baked a pound cake for each of those meetings, but I was there to verify the quorum and take minutes for each of them.

I’ve enjoyed working with each of our board members, and the experience has been a wonderful one. And I might just leave that pound cake recipe for Karen Freeman before I go.

Pilot program eyes college success for students with vision loss

The College Quest graphic
The College Quest graphic

A new ADRS College Prep program specifically for students who are blind or have low vision will debut this June at Auburn University.

The two-week program – called College Quest – will host a dozen students from around Alabama, with at least one student from each of the seven workforce regions of the state, said Dana Barber, state coordinator for Blind Services.

“In talking to Blind Services staff, one of the recurring topics I often heard was how much we needed a College Prep program of our own,” said Barber. “[The Alabama School for the Blind] is a wonderful school, but the fact is the majority of Alabama’s students who are blind are mainstreamed in our more traditional public/private schools. College Quest was designed for them.”

In this file photo, Annie Park meets with VR Counselor Dena Dodd on the University of North Alabama campus in Florence. Orientation and mobility training helps her to properly navigate campus to get to class on time
In this file photo, Annie Park meets with VR Counselor Dena Dodd on the University of North Alabama campus in Florence. Orientation and mobility training helps her to properly navigate campus to get to class on time

Barber said the core of the program’s curriculum focuses on six disciplines: independent living, orientation and mobility, assistive technology, team building, student advisement, and vocational rehabilitation.

“Far too often, students who are blind or have vision loss aren’t keeping pace with their peers,” Barber said. “It’s not because they aren’t ready for college academically. It’s typically because they need to polish their independent living skills. That extra step is creating an unnecessary delay in their education, and I think College Quest’s six disciplines can eliminate that gap time so blind students can attend college with their peers.”

College Quest – with backing from ADRS, the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind (AIDB), Alabama Industrial Development Training (AIDT), the Alabama Department of Commerce, and Auburn University – is free to students.

ADRS, AIDB, and AIDT will provide instructors, and Auburn University is awarding two hours of college credit to students who pass the course.

In addition, Auburn will offer one scholarship to a College Quest student wishing to pursue a STEM-related degree at their school.

“For this to be our first year with College Quest, I’m really proud of the program we have built,” Barber said. “Coming up with a College Prep program was a core component of our strategic plan, and it is now a reality for us in 2018. I couldn’t be more excited for it.”


Jefferson County businessman joins ADRS board

Charles Wilkinson is the newest ADRS board member, representing the 6th congressional district
Charles Wilkinson is the newest ADRS board member, representing the 6th congressional district

A prominent member of the Birmingham business community has been appointed to represent Congressional District 6 on the Alabama Board of Rehabilitation Services.

Charles Wilkinson, the founder and chief executive officer of Human Resource Management Inc. (HRM), a consulting firm specializing in human resource management compliance, will represent business and industry on the seven-member board. He was appointed by Gov. Kay Ivey and confirmed by the Alabama Senate.

Wilkinson is a founding member and current president of the Alabama Industry Liaison Group (ALIG), a coalition of federal contractors committed to equal employment opportunity and affirmative action.

Prior to founding HRM in 1999, Wilkinson served as vice president and director of human resources for Colonial Bank.

Throughout his business career, Mr. Wilkinson has been a vocal and tireless advocate for workers with disabilities.

His compliance work with Colonial Bank to implement requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) – done in tandem with ADRS – became a personal passion and resulted in the creation of his consulting practice and of ALIG, both of which assist other companies with similar interests and compliance goals.

ADRS Commissioner Jane Elizabeth Burdeshaw said she is pleased with Gov. Ivey’s choice.

“Mr. Wilkinson’s extensive experience as a human resources professional has given him valuable insight for disability-related issues, and he has already proven himself to be a vocal and tireless advocate for workers with disabilities,” Burdeshaw said. “He’s a great person who has impeccable business credentials, who also happens to be the parent of a child with a disability.”

Wilkinson’s 11-year-old daughter, Bergen, has Down syndrome. She has been served through an array of services from ADRS as well as the Bell Center and United Ability (formerly UCP of Birmingham).

“I feel like all of the advocacy work I have done throughout my career was preparing me for the birth of my daughter,” said Wilkinson. “In turn, Bergen has helped me broaden my own relationship with ADRS to forge new and exciting partnerships to further recruitment and retention of persons with disabilities.”

In 2013, Wilkinson joined the Board of Directors of the Alabama Business Leadership Network (ABLN), whose mission is to maintain a network of business with a commitment to disability issues. He was elected vice chairman in 2015 and chairman in 2016. As chairman, he collaborates with other Alabama business leaders to provide resources, information links, and qualified job candidates to employers throughout the state. Through his work with ABLN, he is actively involved in the United States Business Leadership Network, which connects him with business leaders from around the country.

Wilkinson will be sworn in at the March 16 meeting. He fills the seat vacated by Roger McCullough, who rolled off the board last fall. He joins board members Stephen Kayes, District 1; Board Chairman Jimmie Varnado, District 2; Penny Foster, District 3; Eddie Williams, District 5; and Mitch Strickland, District 7. Andrea Collett, the representative for District 4, resigned in December. The appointment of her successor is pending.

About the Alabama Board of Rehabilitation Services

The Alabama Board of Rehabilitation Services consists of seven members, one from each U.S. Congressional District. Board members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Alabama Senate. Alabama law requires that three members be individuals with a disability, selected from consumer disability organizations; one member be the parent of a child with a disability; and three members be from organizations of business and industry within the state.

The board oversees the department’s operations and is the governing authority of programs administered by ADRS. Duties carried out by the board range from appointing the ADRS commissioner to establishing rules and regulations for the provision of its services. The board directs and supervises legislative appropriations, shares information that concerns and promotes interest in disability and rehabilitation issues, and takes action to guarantee the rights of and services to people with disabilities.

Together Success: Diyari Askew (featured story + video)

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When CRS Social Work Administrator Melissa Alexander first heard from Cassie Laird that her 8-year-old daughter’s one true wish was to be able to feed herself independently, she said, “Let’s try to make it happen.”

Diyari Askew is a very bright and precocious second grader in Ms. Jacob’s class at W.O. Lance Elementary in Lanett. She loves reading, learning, and playing with her friends. Like a lot of kids her age, her most-favorite-subject-of-all in school is art.

"Success Seventeen" - The official graphic for ADRS success stories for FY 17
Success Seventeen – ADRS success stories for FY 17

This always-smiling kid is full of boundless, big ideas that are only matched by her big and generous heart. Yet, arthrogryposis steals away more than 90 percent of the strength in her arms and upper body, and she isn’t able to fully bring a spoon to her mouth on her own.

“I am always calling CRS whenever I have questions or problems,” said Cassie. “They are a treasure trove of information for me. Without CRS, we were uneducated to our own needs or what is even possible. I talked to CRS about the feeding issues with Diyari, and Melissa recommended I take her to the feeding clinic.”

Diyari’s issues with independently feeding herself were not typical for the CRS feeding clinic, as that clinic usually handles chewing or swallowing problems or food texture issues. CRS tried several different techniques to assist Diyari, from differently shaped utensils to weighted spoons.

Nothing worked. Except for the Meal Buddy.

The Meal Buddy Assistive Feeder is a robotic arm that allows the operator to choose from one of three different bowls to eat from with the push of one button. The robotic arm wipes excess food from the spoon and even wipes drips from the bottom of the spoon.

“The Meal Buddy is just the most-recent example of CRS helping our family,” Cassie said. “For as long as I can remember, CRS has been there.”

Cassie said that when Diyari was born, her limbs were  twisted and locked in such a way that doctors told her not to expect positive growth or development.

Through physical and occupational therapies provided through AEIS and CRS, Cassie began to notice big changes within Diyari’s first two years.

“She was a late bloomer,” said Cassie. “But she was always trying. She learned to scoot on her hiney, and she was able to take her first steps when she was 4 years old. Once she realized she could do it, there was no stopping her.”

Now, Cassie relies on CRS staff to help Diyari by attending IEP meetings and providing necessary school accommodations, like extended time for taking tests.

“It’s difficult for her to write,” Cassie said. “She’s fully capable of doing the work, but she needs more time.”

CRS also worked with ADRS Rehabilitation Engineering & Assistive Technology Services to see if Diyari was a good candidate for Dragon Natural Speaking speech-to-text software.

“The software is tuned for an adult’s voice,” said Cassie. “It wasn’t a good match for her now, but it’s nice to know that is an option as she gets older.”

Knowing is the biggest victory for Cassie and Diyari – not only what is now possible, but also knowing the steps needed today to reach the goal for tomorrow.

“CRS is there for you, even when they don’t have to be,” said Cassie. “They encourage you when you are at your weakest, and they empower you to take those steps forward to having an independent lifestyle. I’m thankful that we are a part of that.”

This story is part of an occasional series – entitled Success17 – highlighting the accomplishments of ADRS consumers. It and other stories in the series appear in the 2017 ADRS Annual Report.

Guide Dogs for the Blind staff offer glimpse of the ‘guide dog lifestyle’ (photo gallery)

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Staff from Guide Dogs for the Blind were in Alabama recently for a training and workshop for ADRS staff and consumers.

The group’s stay began with a two-day training session for orientation and mobility specialists from ADRS and other entities, including the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind, E.H. Gentry, and Birmingham-area school systems. Class topics included assessing a client’s readiness for training and working/living with a guide dog and preparing guide dog users for guide dog mobility. Participants also learned methods for working with a guide dog – including back-chaining, patterning, and targeting objects/places.

The four wrapped up their visit with a half-day workshop for individuals who are interested in using a guide dog for mobility.

Guide Dogs for Blind, the largest school of its kind in the United States, was established in 1942. It has campuses in San Rafael, Calif., and Boring, Ore.

Training helps first responders better understand mental illness, cognitive disabilities

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Officers and first responders with Vestavia Hills Police Department are currently participating in a unique training program specifically designed to help them identify typical behaviors seen in persons with a broad range of cognitive disabilities and mental illnesses.

Persons with cognitive disabilities or mental illnesses often have different reactions to stressful situations than persons without those disabilities. Led by ADRS staff, the training aims to help first responders recognize those behaviors in individuals who exhibit them and teach them how to react accordingly.

The training comes as a direct response to several documented incidents from around the U.S. involving officers dealing with people with disabilities.

“The actions of persons with disabilities are often misinterpreted, and disability as a whole is a topic that is often misunderstood,” said Samantha Wadsworth, rehabilitation specialist at ADRS Lakeshore. “The goal of this training is to heighten the awareness of our first responders when they approach a person with a disability. In the process, we’re giving them the tools to adequately de-escalate needlessly dangerous situations.”

Approximately 30 uniformed officers attended a Feb. 1 training at Vestavia Hills City Hall, the third of five scheduled sessions. About 90 uniformed officers with Vestavia Hills PD will have completed the training at the conclusion of the final session on Feb. 12.

“In my 28 years as a police officer, I have never participated in a class quite like this one,” said Cpl. James Coleman, who attended the Jan. 19 session. “As an officer, we are usually asked to get things done quickly – to get in and get out. My first takeaway from the training is that that typically isn’t going to be the best method when interacting with a person with a disability. Patience and calmness are key for positive outcomes in those situations.”

By recognizing how individuals with disabilities respond to emergency situations, law enforcement officials can better help them through the situation, said Sgt. Eddie Crim, Vestavia Hills PD public liaison officer.

“There’s always a human behind that badge,” said Crim. “We are all sworn officers because we want to help. We respond to all sorts of calls, and trainings like these ensure that we always put our best foot forward to help all people in the best way possible.”

READI-Net offers medical aspects of disability training for employers (photo gallery)

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More than 100 people, representing some 50 employers, recently attended the Medical and Psychological Aspects of Disability in the Workplace mini-conference at the Trussville Civic Center.

The daylong workshop featured a number of expert panels discussing orthopedic disorders, internal disorders, deafness/hearing loss, reasonable accommodations, mental illness and cognitive disorders, and trauma disorders.

Participating employers included the Alabama Department of Transportation, Alabama Power, Amerex, the city of Auburn, Children’s Hospital of Alabama, Cook’s Pest Control, Marshall Space Flight Center, Redstone Arsenal, Regions Bank, Troy University, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and the Veterans Administration.

ADRS consumer recognized during Gov. Ivey’s State of the State address

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An ADRS consumer who was hired after attending last fall’s Governor’s Disability Job Fair was recognized during Gov. Kay Ivey’s State of the State address Jan. 9.

While attending the fair, Caryn McDade met and interviewed with Southern Hospitality Home Health Care of Fultondale.

By the end of the week, she was employed and training on-the-job as a full-time home health care aide.

When asked what gave Caryn the edge over other applicants, Southern Hospitality Office Manager Jackie King said, “She came with her resumé in her hand. She asked meaningful questions and showed a passion and genuine interest in working for Southern Hospitality.”

Ms. King said that in the short time Ms. McDade has worked for Southern Hospitality, she “has already demonstrated desire and immediacy in tackling some of our most-challenging and resistant clients and has been successful in serving them.”

Some of Caryn’s daily work duties include light housekeeping, personal care, and being a companion to clients in her care.

As a teenager, McDade’s long history of learning disabilities plagued her until she saw no alternative other than dropping out of school. For most of her adult life, she worked various jobs in retail, but had difficulty counting money.

She was taking GED classes at the Birmingham Career Center when she was referred to the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services (ADRS). The 35-year-old came to ADRS in 2016 to work on resumé writing, job development, interviewing, and placement. ADRS paired her with Harold Reynolds, an employment specialist with Easterseals of Birmingham, to prepare her for potential job interviews at the Governor’s Disability Job Fair.

When asked about her experience at the job fair, Caryn said she would not change a thing and that she is grateful to have a job. She said the wages she earns will go far in assisting her family with household expenses.

Statewide AGCEPD awards ceremony honors businesses, exceptional people with disabilities (photo gallery + video)

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The Alabama Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities honored the success and contributions of individuals with disabilities in the workforce and recognized businesses that provide opportunities for successful employment for people with disabilities. The winners were recognized at a Dec. 7 ceremony/reception in the Old Archives Chamber of the Alabama State Capitol. Gov. Kay Ivey personally congratulated and posed for a photo with each of more than a dozen individual award recipients. The winners were chosen from the October’s area Governor’s committee award recipients.



New clinic ‘one-stop shop’ for youngsters with craniofacial disorders (photo gallery)

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Homewood’s CRS office recently launched a clinic to specifically address the orthodontics needs of children with craniofacial disorders.

The CRS Orthodontic Clinic for Craniofacial Disorders – first held this past summer – offers a one-stop shop for consumers with craniofacial anomalies.

The new clinic is the only one of its kind in the state and is held quarterly onsite at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Dentistry. It offers a multidisciplinary team approach to providing medically necessary orthodontic evaluations to children with congenital or acquired craniofacial anomalies who are qualified Alabama Medicaid recipients.

Development of the clinic began in response to a request from Dr. Chung H. Kau, professor and chairman of the UAB Department of Orthodontics. Kau approached ADRS Assistant Commissioner Melinda Davis and Medicaid Dental Consultants Beth Huckabee and Dr. Danny Rush to address his concerns for children with craniofacial anomalies.

In addition to providing nursing services for consumers attending the clinic, CRS offers consultations with a speech-language pathologist and a nutritionist. As with every other CRS clinic, CRS social workers meet with the client and family before they depart.

The clinic is open to diagnostically eligible CRS consumers statewide who are Medicaid recipients. For more information, contact Gara Johnson, nurse coordinator for Homewood CRS, at 205-290-4599.

Employers weigh in on value of VR services at business roundtable (photo gallery)

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Representatives from 20 employers from around the state gathered recently for a business roundtable on disability in the workplace. Alabama was one of five states – California, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania being the others – to participate in the event as part of the Council for State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation’s strategic planning initiative, known as Vision 2020. The roundtables were designed to gather input from employers on business needs as related to vocational rehabilitation services. Employers from a range of industries, including banking, health care, government, and hospitality, were invited to the event, which was sponsored by ADRS, the Alabama Business Leadership Network, and the Alabama Industry Liaison Group.

33rd annual early intervention preschool conference a success

AEIS staff pose with ADRS Board member Penny Foster and Commissioner Jane Elizabeth Burdeshaw at the 2017 EI and Preschool Conference

More than 500 professionals and parents attended the 33rd annual statewide Early Intervention and Preschool Conference in Huntsville Oct. 23-25.

The cover of the 2017 EI Conference agenda
The cover of the 2017 EI Conference agenda

The 2 1/2 day conference offered more than 40 sessions, recommending practices for various early intervention and preschool services from birth to 5 years of age.

Penny Foster, the parent of a child with Down syndrome who received services through AEIS, delivered the conference’s keynote address. Foster also serves on the ADRS board, representing the 3rd Congressional district. See related story:

Other speakers at the conference included Dr. Robin McWilliam, an internationally known author and trainer on Routines-Based Intervention, and Phuong Palafox, a speech-language pathologist who also speaks nationally on providing services to young children with disabilities and their families.

Planning for the 2018 conference is already underway, and is scheduled to be held in Birmingham Oct. 15-17. To learn more, contact Jeri Jackson at



OASIS program marks 30th anniversary (photo gallery)

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OASIS, the department’s program serving older Alabamians with vision loss, celebrated its 30th anniversary at the Oct. 17 meeting of the OASIS Advisory Council.

The program began in 1987 with funding from a competitive grant and has served more than 30,000 people since its inception, 1,044 of them in FY16. The program is nationally recognized for its innovative approach to service provision.



Together Success: Ronald Witherspoon (featured story + video)

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For Ronald Witherspoon, 2016 was a mixed bag of joy and sadness.

Just a few months before becoming a father for the first time, the Mobile man was critically injured in a robbery attempt in a public park.

“It was about 9, 10 o’clock, and I was standing outside on my phone,” said Ronald. “I was shot twice in my thigh. I was shot in my stomach. I was also shot in my arm. And I was shot in the center of my spine, in my back. And the one in the back caused me to be paralyzed.”

Ronald spent more than a month in the hospital recovering from his injuries. When he was finally released from the hospital, he found his life at a crossroads.

"Success Seventeen" - The official graphic for ADRS success stories for FY 17
Success Seventeen – ADRS success stories for FY 17


“I was frustrated and angry,” he said. “Something that I used every day was taken from me. It was taken away from me for the rest of my life. Here I am, worried for the future, and I meet Polly Jones. And she changes everything for the better.”

Polly, an independent living specialist with SAIL, arranged for a ramp to be built at Ronald’s home. More importantly perhaps, she worked tirelessly to eliminate his frustration and restore his self-confidence.

And with the arrival of his newborn son, Ronald Jr., his newfound determination couldn’t have come at a better time.

Ronald said his relationship with the ADRS was life-changing for him. Where he was once solely absorbed by his inability to walk, rehab opened his eyes to the endless list of things he could still do – from fishing at his favorite spot to pursuing a career to provide for his growing family.

VR helped Ronald land a job working from home as a customer support representative. With continued VR support, he now has aspirations of returning to school to study network engineering.

To give him greater independence, ADRS-Lakeshore Certified Driving Instructor Craig Rogers worked with Ronald to assist him in re-obtaining his driver license to operate a car with hand controls.

Ronald receives personal care through SAIL’s Personal Choice program, which gives him more flexibility in managing his care. He chooses how much to pay his attendants and is able to roll the savings into an account for necessary expenditures when the need arises.

“That’s a real game-changer,” Ronald said. “Personal Choice is a great option for people with disabilities.”

SAIL Waiver Case Manager Sherrita Williams said she admires Ronald’s response to difficult circumstances.

“He lost his mobility. He had a baby. He moved out of his mother’s house. He was unemployed,” she said. “With what happened, he could have responded so differently. I’m so proud of him because of what he has accomplished and what he’s overcome.”

Ronald, in the meantime, has nothing put praise for ADRS.

“ADRS is my family. They are my go-to people. I can call anybody in that office and tell them my problem and what’s going on. They’re going to make sure that it’s taken care of.”

And he said he couldn’t imagine life without his new “extended family.”

“Where do I see myself without the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services? I honestly don’t know. I’d probably be somewhere balled up in a corner or something, still mad at the world.”

This story is part of an occasional series – entitled Success17 – highlighting the accomplishments of ADRS consumers. It and subsequent stories in the series will appear in the 2017 ADRS Annual Report.

Business Relations Administrator Peggy Anderson’s retirement reception (photo gallery + video)

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Members of the Rehab Family gathered Sept. 29 to honor Business Relations Administrator Peggy Anderson for her more than 35 years of loyal service to Alabamians with disabilities. Friends, family, community partners, and colleagues as well as founding ADRS Commissioner Lamona Lucas gathered to celebrate Anderson’s many contributions as a passionate advocate for the creation of the department and a founding member of the ADRS Executive Leadership Team.

At the retirement reception, Lucas personally gave Anderson the Lamona Lucas VIP (vision, innovation, and persistence) Award, the highest honor presented to staff by the department. Anderson is the eleventh recipient of the award, which was last given to Carl Nowell in 2011.


Leslie Dawson readies for Business Relations administrator role

Incoming Business Relations Administrator Leslie Dawson trains with Peggy Anderson, outgoing business relations administrator
Incoming Business Relations Administrator Leslie Dawson talks with Peggy Anderson, outgoing business relations administrator

With the Oct. 1 retirement of Statewide Business Relations Administrator Peggy Anderson, Leslie Dawson is preparing to fill some very big shoes.

In August, ADRS Commissioner Jane Elizabeth Burdeshaw named Dawson to succeed Anderson as the department’s business relations administrator and a member of the Executive Leadership Team (ELT).

“I’m honored and humbled,” Dawson said about her new role. “Peggy – she’s a legend here at ADRS. I’ve been working closely with her for the last 15 years or so, and I’ve learned a great deal about her philosophy and approach, which I’ll continue.”

Dawson has been with the department since 1997 and has been a working in the business relations program – known as READI-Net – since 2005. Before joining the business relations team, Dawson served as a VR counselor in the Tuscaloosa office.

Dawson is welcomed in a symbolic "changing of the guard" by fellow ELT members during their Sept. 18 meeting
Dawson is welcomed in a symbolic “changing of the guard” by fellow ELT members during their Sept. 18 meeting

“I worked a general caseload in VR,” Dawson said. “I also served as a transition counselor to rural areas in and around Tuscaloosa County. To be a successful counselor in that area, I quickly learned the value of job development. Because I saw those business connections as playing a critical role in getting people employed, business relations was a natural fit for me.”

Dawson describes her leadership style as stemming from the power of divergent thinking.

“I want to empower the individual to work and think outside the box,” said Dawson. “I firmly believe you have to think out-of-the-box if you want to adequately support people with disabilities. All difficult problems have a solution, but sometimes it takes a creative solution to solve that problem. My goal is to believe in my team’s ability to creatively solve difficult problems, which in turn will effectively grow their skill level as team members to better support the team.”

Leslie Dawson
Leslie Dawson

Dawson said that one of her first orders of business will be to look more closely at the three different methods proposed to measure Indicator 6 – effectiveness in serving employers – under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

The first approach tracks retention rates with the same employer and addresses efforts to provide employers with skilled workers. The second method looks at repeat business customers and addresses efforts to engage the employer and establish mutually productive relationships within the business community. The third method examines the employer penetration rate and looks more globally at programs’ abilities in providing services to all employers and sectors within the state.

“Obviously the end goal is putting consumers to work,” Dawson said, “but the three proposed approaches to gauge critical workforce needs are quite different, so we will have to explore new trends in the data to select a measure to accurately determine our performance in the business community.”

Dawson takes detailed notes while meeting with her predecessor
Dawson takes detailed notes while meeting with her predecessor

Before working with Assistant Commissioners James Myrick and Curtis Glisson to set the department’s sixth indicator, Dawson said she is greeting employers with the same level of enthusiasm that Peggy Anderson used in growing a nationally lauded business relations program.

“When I’m meeting businesses, and I see that light bulb go on,” she said, “the possibilities are endless. Having an employer who gets it is the difference, and I’m honored to be that person who pulls it all together and makes those connections for our consumers. It’s an opportunity to make Alabama better, one job at a time.”

Together Success: Madelynn Pierce (featured story + video)

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When you live in extreme rural Alabama, it can be difficult to find a true sense of community.

But that’s exactly what Tony and Rhonda Pierce – who live in unincorporated Lawley in Chilton County – found at the CRS office in Selma.

The couple’s granddaughter, Madelynn, has Warburg micro syndrome, a rare autosomal syndrome with characteristics of microcephaly, microphthalmia, optic atrophy, and significant developmental delay.

Tony came to the CRS office armed with questions about his granddaughter’s condition. He left with answers, advice, and a strong and supportive network of professionals to help Madelynn succeed.

After initial genetics counseling at Children’s of Alabama, Madelynn received services through Alabama’s Early Intervention System and attended orthopedic; seating, positioning, and mobility; and feeding clinics with CRS.

"Success Seventeen" - The official graphic for ADRS success stories for FY 17
Success Seventeen – ADRS success stories for FY 17

“The first time I went to a clinic, I felt like I was at home,” said Tony. “You don’t realize how different it is until you have child with a disability. CRS has given me so many helpful ideas on several things I would have never even thought of, like putting different food textures on the bottom of the spoon.”

Helpful tips on little things – such as teaching Madelynn vowel sounds – might seem insignificant, but little things often yield a big result.

“Early Intervention has really taught me the benefits of play,” Rhonda said. “We’re trying to learn vowel sounds right now. A-E-I-O-U. Just any way to communicate. We’re trying to learn her language, whether that’s hand signals or watching her facial expressions. We used to watch TV at night, but now we’d rather sit, watch, play, and enjoy our time with Madelynn.”

Early Intervention and CRS have joined the Pierces in celebrating many of Madelynn’s little victories, like being able to sit upright for several minutes.

Tony said CRS is currently working with Madelynn to help her stand. With enough push – and devices like AFO leg braces – he feels she’ll soon be on her feet.

“One of the best things about CRS to me is they are always looking ahead to the next step,” Tony said. “CRS keeps us on our toes and our wheels in motion.”

One of the most-recent steps was installing a pool. When Madelynn unexpectedly took to the water on a recent beach trip, Tony consulted with CRS staff on the benefits of water therapy for her. They agreed it would help.

“She’s come out of her shell in the last eight months,” said Tony. “CRS is there for us 110 percent, not just for today or tomorrow, but months and years from now. I wouldn’t know the first thing about therapy without them. With CRS on my side, I know she can accomplish a lot more.”

With Madelynn completing her care through Early Intervention, the next big step for her is enrolling in the public school system. It’s a step that Tony and Rhonda feel Madelynn is now ready to take.

“Madelynn means the world to me,” Tony said. “She gives me a reason to get up in the morning. I want to see her be able to have the things other children have and do the things other children do.”

With the Pierces and ADRS backing and supporting Madelynn, success is sure to follow.

This story is part of an occasional series – entitled Success17 – highlighting the accomplishments of ADRS consumers. It and subsequent stories in the series will appear in the 2017 ADRS Annual Report.

CRS offices celebrate summer with events for families (photo gallery)

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Children’s Rehabilitation Service offices throughout the state have hosted a number of family-focused events this summer.

In Opelika, families from Chambers, Lee, Macon, Montgomery, Randolph, Russell, and Tallapoosa, counties celebrated the end of the school year at the School’s Out Bash. The annual event –  jointly sponsored by Opelika CRS, VRS, Computer Services, and the Lee County Achievement Center –  featured music, food, resources, entertainment, and fun activities.

On the other side of the state, staff from the Bank of Tuscaloosa volunteered to clean wheelchairs as part of the United Way Day of Action.

In north Alabama, the Huntsville CRS office sponsored the Summer Blast, with state Rep. Bill Holtzclaw (R-Madison) stopping by to visit with CRS staff and the children and families in attendance. The event included wheelchair washes and tuneups, food, games, therapeutic animals, art and crafts, and door prizes.

Families from the Shoals area braved excessive heat to attend the 3rd Annual Special Needs Carnival, which featured carnival games, train rides, food, and a dozen exhibitors.


VR consumer gains work experience with man who saved his life

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Two-and-a-half years after a surviving a horrific car crash, a Bibb County man is building work experience by volunteering at the fire department his family credits with saving his life.

Dustin Rowe was ejected from the sunroof of his vehicle and thrown into a ravine when his car was side-swiped along a particularly bad portion of Bibb County Road 13 on Jan. 10, 2015.

“That day will always stand out in my mind because it was also my birthday,” said Joseph Hall, the Green Pond Fire & Rescue paramedic who responded to Rowe’s crash. “When we found Dustin, he was unconscious with snoring respirations (because his tongue was blocking his airway). Making matters worse, he was also in a spot that wasn’t easily accessible. It took six people to get to him so he could be airlifted him to UAB’s TBI trauma center.”

In addition to sustaining a traumatic brain injury, Rowe broke both clavicles, his neck, and several ribs and ruptured his adrenal gland in the crash.

Doctors at UAB told Rowe’s family that the actions taken at the scene of the crash more than likely saved his life. Rowe’s father penned a heartfelt letter of appreciation to the fire department which is framed and displayed at the station.

ADRS began working with Rowe following his three-month stint at the Spain Rehabilitation Center in Birmingham. TBI Care Coordinator Tammy Lovell worked on cognitive remediation with Rowe, provided resources to his family, and referred him to ADRS Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist Craig Rogers for a driver evaluation – which he passed.

Lovell worked extensively with Rowe for more than a year to rebuild his confidence and stamina and prepare him to re-enter the workforce. As Rowe and Lovell were driving through Bibb County discussing potential places to get his volunteer work readiness training, the pair drove by the Green Pond fire station, and Dustin mentioned his desire to work there as a way to thank them for what they did for him.

They approached Fire Chief Shannon Taylor, who recognized Rowe’s name from the letter hanging on the station’s wall. He agreed to let Rowe work as a volunteer, performing tasks ranging from checking and maintaining the trucks to washing and cleaning around the firehouse.

“I think it was God’s plan for Dustin to find work there,” said Lovell. “He’s got a good heart, and there is something really sweet and special about seeing him work side-by-side with the same people who rescued him two years ago.”

Rowe said the best part of his work experience is arriving on scene in the fire truck when responding to an emergency.

“It’s really fun and exciting when we’re going out on calls,” said Rowe. “I haven’t taken part in anything major, but I have been out in the truck six or seven times now. It’s huge, because I feel like I’m giving back and helping out for all they have done for me. I wouldn’t be here if not for them.”

Rowe has volunteered five-hour days at the fire department, two or three times a week, since March. He meets with Lovell this week to discuss his next steps to again finding permanent employment.

“I love Miss Tammy to death,” Rowe said. “She’s helped me out in so many ways. With her help – with VR’s help – I know I’m on the right path.”

EI partners with Alabama reading initiative to ‘prescribe’ books to kids

Children wear sunburst hats for a group photo at the Rx for Summer Reading kickoff event in Selma
Children wear sunburst hats for a group photo at the ‘Rx for Summer Reading’ kickoff event in Selma

A new partnership between Alabama’s Early Intervention System (AEIS) and Reach Out and Read Alabama is encouraging early learning through reading by offering books to children when visiting their pediatrician.

"Sometimes I Feel Sunny" by Gillian Shields is the book being prescribed by pediatricians throughout the summer
“Sometimes I Feel Sunny” by Gillian Shields is the book being prescribed by pediatricians throughout the summer

The program – Rx for Summer Reading – works by identifying pediatric offices in Alabama’s counties of need. In turn, these doctor offices “prescribe” and distribute books to families to engage in reading and conversation with their children.

“AEIS is helping Reach Out and Read Alabama distribute an additional 2,000 books this summer,” said Jeri Jackson, AEIS rehabilitation specialist. “We’ve always been focused on early childhood development, and this program aims to change the trajectory of children’s lives through early language development, one book at a time.”

Since 2006, Alabama’s pediatric health care providers have prescribed more than 1.7 million new books to the state’s youngest and most underserved children through Reach Out and Read Alabama. The prescribed book – “Sometimes I Feel Sunny” by Gillian Shields – comes complete with a written doctor’s referral encouraging children to participate in their local library’s summer reading program.

“The book was specifically chosen because of the positive social-emotional message it shares with little ones,” Jackson said. “Each book contains a bookplate with information to help families identify early developmental milestones and also to contact us for various services and supports.”

A volunteer reads aloud to children at an event held at West Alabama Pediatrics
A volunteer reads aloud to children at an event held at West Alabama Pediatrics

The Rx for Summer Reading program kicked off at a special event held at Pediatric Adolescent Medicine in Selma in mid-June. The initiative will continue at pediatric offices throughout Alabama through the end of August.

Reach Out and Read is the only early literacy national nonprofit organization that focuses on early literacy. It was founded in 1989, with its first program at Boston City Hospital (now Boston Medical Center). By 2001, the Reach Out and Read model had grown to include all 50 states. Today, the program distributes 6.9 million books annually to combat the effects of income inequality.

Jackson said that pediatricians who have previously participated in Reach Out and Read have indicated an increase of nearly six months in the reading readiness of children.

“We’re excited to be involved in with Reach Out and Read Alabama,” said Jackson. “A six-month increase in reading readiness is huge, and especially for children with special needs, that is an awesome statistic.”


VRS summer programs teach students skills for college, work life (photo gallery)

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Dozens of transition students from throughout the state have gained exposure to work and college life through a number of programs sponsored and presented by Vocational Rehabilitation Service this summer. The programs, held at various locations around Alabama, are designed to prepare students to transition to work and/or post-secondary education.



Together Success: Pete Petro (featured story + video)

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Though Duchenne muscular dystrophy has made life a constant battle for 22-year-old Pete Petro, he has never once allowed it to tamp down his dreams or ambitions.

Rather, thanks to assistance from VR and SAIL, his visions of success have only grown more substantial.

"Success Seventeen" - The official graphic for ADRS success stories for FY 17
Success Seventeen – ADRS success stories for FY 17

“Without ADRS, I don’t know if I would have been able to complete college,” Pete said.

Pete didn’t just complete college, he excelled at it, graduating from Samford University’s Brock School of Business in May at the top of his class. In the fall, he plans to return to Samford to work on his master’s degree and prepare for the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Exam.

SAIL Senior Rehabilitation Counselor Carla Harper, who has been monitoring Pete’s success in college for the past two years, said she expects to see Pete as an accountant at a top-notch agency or firm in the near future.

“Pete is an overachiever,” she said. “I have every faith and I believe he will succeed in whatever he does.”

In the months leading up to his graduation, Pete had an excellent opportunity to put all of those accounting classes to use when he was hired as an intern at the Alabama Family Trust (AFT), a Vestavia Hills-based organization that provides special needs trusts to individuals with disabilities and the elderly.

AFT Chief Financial Officer Doug Marshall said that even though his organization serves people with disabilities, AFT had never hired an employee with a disability, and so they wanted to ensure they could properly accommodate the young man.

“At Alabama Family Trust, all we do is serve those with special needs, but this was the first time we had an employee with special needs. We were a little apprehensive at first, questioning ‘How is all of this going to work?’ ” Marshall said. “Clearly our first concern – and really our only concern – was the desk. We knew our desks were not going to work for him, and we wanted him to have everything he could to do well here. Pete assured us from the beginning that ADRS would be all over it.”

ADRS Rehabilitation Technologist Bynum Duren was consulted to provide accommodations for Pete, including the construction of an adjustable-height desk of his own design.

With the desk, Pete was able to prepare and file more than 800 tax returns for persons served by Alabama Family Trust.

“This work opportunity definitely made me feel good about myself in that I was able to work for an organization that helps people with disabilities and the elderly,” said Pete, “and it’s definitely something that I need to continue doing.”

Marshall said that working with ADRS opened his eyes to the many valuable services the department provides to individuals with disabilities.

“We greatly value our relationship with ADRS. There are so many programs that ADRS has to serve the residents of Alabama with disabilities and their families,” Marshall said. “This experience added an entirely new dimension to our partnership with ADRS. Having Pete here was really special. Here we are, serving those with special needs, and – for the first time – a valuable part of our team is also someone with special needs.”

Pete said it is reassuring to know that ADRS is in his corner.

“It just makes me feel really good that ADRS is there looking out for me and helping me live the life that I want to live. As long as I put in the hard work and effort, I know that I will achieve what I want to achieve in life.”

This story is part of an occasional series – entitled Success17 – highlighting the accomplishments of ADRS consumers. It and subsequent stories in the series will appear in the 2017 ADRS Annual Report.

2017 YLF delegates target leadership, success (photo gallery + video)


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The 31 graduates of the 19th annual Alabama Governor’s Youth Leadership Forum (YLF) left Troy University better equipped to take charge of their own lives following the five-day event that focused on self-esteem, self-advocacy, career exploration, independent living, and assistive technology.

“YLF provides an opportunity to empower young people with disabilities to fully realize their potential to lead,” said Karen Jenkins, YLF coordinator. “Witnessing the transformation these delegates undergo in a matter of days is such a positive experience. We empower youth to become involved in all aspects of society.”

Delegates are selected through a statewide competition that seeks students with disabilities who have leadership potential. The group reflects the state’s demographic makeup in terms of geography, gender, ethnicity, and types of disabilities. To be eligible to participate, students must be a junior or senior in high school, be between 17 and 21 years of age, and have a disability.

Emphasis at the forum is placed on composing a Personal Leadership Plan (PLP) to assist delegates in becoming leaders in their communities. While the majority of the forum’s activities take place in Troy, the group also spends an entire day in Montgomery touring the Capitol – meeting state leaders, learning about state government, and seeking advice from successful adults with disabilities at the Angeline Pinckard Mentor Luncheon.

Again this year, Timothy Alexander, the student-athlete with a disability who helped lead the push to reinstate the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s football program, served as guest speaker at the mentor luncheon. Alexander was a highly recruited football prospect when he sustained a spinal cord injury in a October 2006 car accident. With the help of Vocational Rehabilitation Service, Alexander was able to realize his college and career goals despite his injuries, and his inspiring story was featured in the 2015 ADRS Annual Report.

YLF is a program of ADRS. Troy University provides the facilities and other logistical support for the event. Additional funding for this year’s forum was provided by the Alabama Department of Education, the Alabama Department of Mental Health, the Alabama Council on Developmental Disabilities, and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.

“The amount of preparation for YLF is immense – it takes many meetings to get everything pulled together,” said Jenkins. “When you reach graduation day, you realize just how meaningful all of the preparation is. This latest YLF class was one of the most talented groups I’ve ever encountered in my years with the program, and I expect great things to come from them in the future.”

YLF delegates and guest speaker, Tim Alexander, talk about the importance of leadership and how it affects their lives.

Video by Paul Dunbar

Board holds quarterly meeting at ADRS Lakeshore (photo gallery + video)

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The Alabama Board of Rehabilitation Services held its recent quarterly meeting at the ADRS Lakeshore office.

Paige Hebson, field supervisor at ADRS Lakeshore, spoke to the group about the services provided through her office. Also addressing the group was Beth Curry, who works at the nearby Lakeshore Foundation.

Following the meeting, the board as well as members of the ADRS Executive Leadership Team met and spoke with ADRS Lakeshore staff and toured the historic facility.

JeffCo high schoolers begin Career Journey with stop at UAB (photo gallery)

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More than 120 high school students from 30 Jefferson County schools are participating this week in “Money Express” at the Collat School of Business on the campus of the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

The ADRS youth transition ambassadors pose for a group shot
The ADRS youth transition ambassadors

“Money Express” was developed by Stephanie Yates, an associate professor in the UAB School of Business and director of

the Institute of Financial Literacy. Over four days, students learn about money management by attending classes on budgeting, credit, college and student loans, saving, investing, shopping wisely, and charitable giving.

The four-day workshop is the first component in the three-part Career Journey 2017, which began Monday and wraps up in late July. The second component, “Are You Job Ready?”, focuses on preparedness for work and will be June 12-15 at Lawson State Community College. After completing the first two sections, students will be placed in paid work internships at job sites throughout the Birmingham area.

This year’s Career Journey for the first time includes 11 student ambassadors who completed last year’s program. The members of the group – comprised of nine high school graduates and two rising seniors – have received specialized training on self-advocacy and leadership and are serving as mentors to the current crop of students. When the classroom portion of this summer’s program wraps up, the ambassadors will participate in a second paid work experience.

The ADRS youth transition ambassadors pose for a group shot
The ADRS youth transition ambassadors take a moment from their duties to show off their staff T-shirts






Project SEARCH programs statewide hold commencement ceremonies (photo gallery)

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Project SEARCH, the Alabama program launched in 2012 to provide students with significant disabilities professional work experience, held 10 graduations at different program sites statewide throughout the month of May.

In total, 85 students across 10 Project SEARCH locations graduated this year. Of those 85, 62 had already accepted job offers by graduation day.

The program is a total immersion, business-led, school-to-work plan for young persons with significant cognitive and physical disabilities. Before ADRS helped launch the pilot in Alabama five years ago, the program had a long history of success at more than 200 locations across 40 states, said Tina Dortch, supported employment coordinator.

Nationally, program statistics show that persons with disabilities who participate in the program have a 67 percent rate of employment, which is significantly higher than the rate for persons not participating in the program, she said.

“Clearly, Project SEARCH works. These students are gaining much-needed and necessary skills before going out into the real world. When the 2017 class of graduates already has an employment rate of 73 percent at graduation, you know you’re doing something right. More will likely find jobs in the weeks ahead, and that’s further proof that this program works so well,” said Dortch.

Project SEARCH is a collaborative effort among ADRS, the Alabama Department of Mental Health, the Alabama Department of Education, and the work sites and local school districts that support the program.

EI Update draws professionals, families (photo gallery)

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The 16th Annual Early Intervention Update was May 23 at University Church of Christ in Tuscaloosa. The daylong event was sponsored by Three Rivers Early Intervention District VII Coordinating Council, the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services (for Alabama’s Early Intervention System), and Auburn University Montgomery.

The morning began with Lauren Wilson, the parent of a child with a disability, whose general session topic was ‘And The Doctor Said … A Family’s Story from Birth to Adulthood.’

The mini-conference also featured nine distinct breakout sessions with topics such as abnormal and normal feeding for infants and toddlers, pediatric sleep patterns, strategies to enhance social-emotional development in young children, the importance of followup for preemies, and common visual impairments in infants and young children.

Deaf Services celebrates 30th anniversary of annual training

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VRS-Deaf Services recently marked the 30th anniversary of their annual training retreat at Alabama’s 4-H Center in Columbiana.

Commissioner Jane Elizabeth Burdeshaw joined the group for day two of the three-day training, where she provided an update to staff on departmental activities and led a mock interview session for 33 juniors and seniors from the Alabama School for the Deaf.

ADRS, Easter Seals open new Tuscaloosa facility (photo gallery + video)

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Easter Seals West Alabama (ESWA) and the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services (ADRS) recently hosted a ribbon-cutting celebration for their new state-of-the-art facility.

The new building – located at 1400 James I. Harrison Jr. Parkway Drive East – features 56,000 square feet of office space and houses all four major ADRS programs – Alabama’s Early Intervention System, Children’s Rehabilitation Service, Vocational Rehabilitation Service, and State of Alabama Independent Living – under one roof, in addition to ESWA.

ADRS joins ESWA in a unique public-private partnership to increase current services to individuals of all ages and disabilities, expand workforce development efforts in the region, and create new opportunities for employment for persons with disabilities.

Video by Paul Dunbar

Photos by Ryan Godfrey and Kathleen McGehee

‘Early Intervention Week’ celebrates impact of services for children with disabilities

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The seven districts of Alabama’s Early Intervention System (AEIS) held several special events for the week of April 17-21 to celebrate the vital role early intervention plays in the success of children with disabilities or developmental delays.

The celebrations were part of “Early Intervention Week” in the state of Alabama. Former Gov. Robert Bentley signed a proclamation in late March to set aside a week to honor the thousands of children and families assisted by AEIS each year.

“We are excited to promote the importance of the first three years of life and the impact of services and supports to Alabama’s babies and families,” said Betsy Prince, statewide AEIS coordinator. “Quality early intervention services can change the outcomes for our young children with developmental delays.”

Studies indicate that 85 percent of a child’s brain develops in the first three years of life and that investing in early childhood programs increases the effectiveness of public schools, develops better educated workers, and reduces crime.

As part of the commemoration, Prince said that each AEIS district focused in on local resources, day care facilities and Public Health offices to increase awareness of the benefits of early intervention. Each district also hosted a “Family Day” on Friday, April 21, where families wrote letters to legislators to share their personal stories of the impact Early Intervention has had on their lives.

Together Success: MacKenzie Reeves (featured story + video)

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When Pamela Reeves was pregnant with her daughter MacKenzie, her obstetrician noticed that her legs were not forming as they should.

“We didn’t fully understand the issue until after the delivery,” said Pamela. “I felt blindsided when I was told MacKenzie had PFFD.”

"Success Seventeen" - The official graphic for ADRS success stories for FY 17
Success Seventeen – ADRS success stories for FY 17

PFFD – proximal femoral focal deficiency – is a rare, non-hereditary birth defect that affects the pelvis, particularly the hip bone, and the proximal femur. In addition to PFFD, MacKenzie was also born with a cleft palate and had several issues with her heart.

Pamela was referred to Alabama’s Early Intervention System and Children’s Rehabilitation Service (CRS) when MacKenzie left the NICU at three months of age.

“At that moment, we had God right there watching over us,” Pamela said. “I knew there was nothing I could do to change any of this, so I just asked myself, ‘How can I help her?’ Our journey brought us to ADRS.”

Early Intervention responded to the Reeves’ needs by providing speech, occupational, and physical therapies for MacKenzie, and a strong support network for Mom.

CRS first served MacKenzie’s mobility needs by providing her with a power wheelchair when she was a year old. MacKenzie was also provided with a manual chair when she was capable of maneuvering it on her own.

“Some people may think it’s dangerous to provide a power chair to a child so young, but it’s quite the opposite,” said CRS Occupational Therapist Lynn Bates. “Mobility is really important, because it’s how kids learn. They explore their environment, and they learn about what’s going on by interacting with it.”

Following a double Boyd amputation of MacKenzie’s feet, CRS now serves MacKenzie’s mobility needs by providing her with a 7-inch walker custom-made for her by CRS staff. Such an item is not commercially available, but was needed to assist MacKenzie’s strengthening process for artificial prostheses in the future.

“CRS watches her to see how she moves,” said Pamela. “I know that they are here for her benefit and to help make her mobility better. Her confidence builds as her mobility improves. I want her to be able to not look at her disability and say, ‘I can’t do that.’ She can do anything she wants to do, and she does.”

CRS is also working with Early Intervention in preparing MacKenzie for the next step of entering Morgan County Public Schools. CRS will coordinate with the local school system to set an Individualized Education Program (IEP) in place so MacKenzie can maintain her therapy services while being enrolled in public school.

“She’s mine, and I’m just happy,” Pamela said. “I know she will be something in her life. I know she has a purpose. She makes my day and makes me want to be a mom. It gives me a smile on my face to just watch her grow and move and be able to play and laugh and be a normal 2-year-old. Early Intervention and CRS are there to push her and to push me to help get her ready, and I’m so thankful.”


This story is part of an occasional series – entitled Success17 – highlighting the accomplishments of ADRS consumers. It and subsequent stories in the series will appear in the 2017 ADRS Annual Report.

Summit unites families, professionals as ‘partners in care’ (photo gallery + video)

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More than 100 attendees came to Prattville’s Marriott Legends at Capitol Hill Conference Center for the seventh annual Family Voices Partners In Care Summit, April 20-21.

The two-day family/professional development workshop aims to strengthen networks between families and care professionals and spotlights current challenges to developing quality systems of care for children and youth with special health care needs and their families in Alabama.

Employment training conference brings ‘Carnival of Careers’ to Andalusia (photo gallery + video)

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The Covington County Committee on Employment of Persons with Disabilities (CCCEPD) hosted its 11th annual Employment Training Conference for area youth April 11 in Andalusia.

The one-day training connected more than 240 high school students with disabilities from 10 area schools with different and exciting employment opportunities to explore and expand their horizons within the community.

Jobs in public service were a focus in this year’s event, dubbed “The Carnival of Careers.” Instructors included Covington County Sheriff Dennis Meeks, Andalusia Police Chief Paul Hudson, Interim Andalusia Fire Chief Russell McGlamory, City of Andalusia Human Resources Director Deborah Spivey, and Andalusia Manor Health and Rehabilitation Human Resources Director Emily Cain.


Kids Wish Network honors Tuscaloosa CRS consumer (photo gallery)

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Ashlyn Wilson, a CRS consumer from Tuscaloosa, was named April’s Hero of the Month by the Kids Wish Network.

To celebrate the honor, staff in the Tuscaloosa CRS office sponsored a party for Ashlyn and her family, complete with pizza and cupcakes.

Ashlyn, who has Down syndrome and bilateral hearing loss, loves cheerleaders and cheerleading, so CRS staff worked with Varsity Athletics Spirit and the ACE Cheer Company to bring cheerleaders from area schools, including the University of Alabama, Shelton State Community College, ACE Cheer Company, UCA Cheer Camp, Holy Spirit High School, North Ridge High School, Tuscaloosa Academy High School, and Tuscaloosa County High School.

Varsity Athletics Spirit also donated a gym bag filled with goodies for Ashlyn and will be providing a custom-made cheerleader uniform for the youngster.

The Hero of the Month program honors children between the ages of 3 and 18 who have faced and overcome difficult circumstances. Hospitals and child care facilities throughout the entire country participate in the program.

Older Alabamians learn IL skills at Camp SAVI (photo gallery)

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Seven seniors with visual impairments are attending Camp SAVI (seniors adjusting to visual impairments) at E.H. Gentry in Talladega this week. The camp, in its seventh year, teaches skills that help the participants remain independent in their homes. The program also features sessions to educate the relatives of the seniors about issues faced by people with visual impairments. The five-day camp – sponsored by ADRS, the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind, and E.H. Gentry – kicked off Monday and will wrap up with a special ceremony Friday morning.

Floyd is ADRS’s new software development manager

Beverly Floyd leads her first staff meeting since being named the department's software development manager
Beverly Floyd leads her first staff meeting since being named the department’s software development manager

ADRS Computer Services recently promoted a familiar face to be the department’s new software development manager.

Beverly Floyd assumed her post, previously held by Clay Weaver, on March 16.

“Right now, I’m really serving dual roles,” Floyd said, “Not only am I taking over for Clay, I’m also still wearing my project management hat. I’m busy, but it’s also exciting. I’ll be working closely with each division of ADRS to make sure the software we develop is taking care of our staff’s needs.”

Floyd joined ADRS in January 2000 as an entry-level programmer serving Early Intervention. Over the years, she worked her way up to be EI’s lead programmer, playing an instrumental role in the development of GIFTS, the program’s case management system.

Floyd also developed software for Vocational Rehabilitation from 2012 to January 2016.

“In her 17 years with us, she has proven herself to be competent. She has a strong work ethic and truly cares about our consumers and about what we do as a department,” said Dave Rainey, director of ADRS Computer Services. “I’m confident in Beverly’s abilities. She is a tremendous asset — not only to Computer Services — but to our entire department.”

Floyd tells her staff to always give their best so the field employees can be their best for our consumers
Floyd tells her staff to always give their best so the field employees can be their best for our consumers

As software development manager, Floyd oversees all projects by Computer Services’ team of software developers. This includes managing the Scrum process Computer Services switched to last fall. Floyd said the Scrum methodology is working well for the developers. (See related story for more information on Scrum)

“We’ve only implemented Scrum for six months now, but it’s going well, and we’re getting a lot of work accomplished,” she said. “While we still need to finesse the process a bit, I’ve noticed numerous improvements compared to our old approach. Of course, a lot of that is just having a great team, and we have a great work environment. Our staff is knowledgable, has a strong skill set, and if anything comes our way, we’ll figure it out.”

Floyd said that she strongly feels a vested interest in our department’s success, and she strives to instill in staff the same level of pride and commitment to the department’s mission that she feels.

“Computer Services staff don’t get out and visit clients, but we need to maintain that same level of professionalism,” said Floyd. “We need to be our best, because the people this department serves always deserves our best. That’s our theme, and that’s my personal goal. If we’re serving our staff in the best way possible, then they have the tools they need to go out and best serve our clients.”


BRC teams with library to find gold at end of ‘Beautiful Rainbow’

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When the Beautiful Rainbow Catering Company and Garden officially opened its doors inside the Gadsden Public Library on Valentine’s Day, it was a cause of celebration for everyone involved.

The library café is the latest component of a larger garden-to-table education curriculum for adolescents and young adults with significant cognitive disabilities in the Gadsden City Schools. In addition to operating the area’s only vegetarian eatery, the program also operates a kitchen laboratory, classroom, and organic garden which grows vegetables year-round.

The Beautiful Rainbow logoChip Rowan, the director of the Beautiful Rainbow Project, connected with the Gadsden library through ADRS Business Relations Consultant Daniel Spencer in July 2016. Rowan and his students had previously served customers with an after-school and summer venture, and Spencer knew he was looking for a more permanent location.

Spencer said he first connected with the Gadsden Library at a ribbon-cutting ceremony more than a year ago. He forged a strong partnership with library staff by hosting several trainings on disability.

Those meetings soon led to the successful placement of Amanda Sigler, a VR consumer, into employment.

“I reached out to the library to show them what we can do,” said Spencer. “I taught them about the many benefits of hiring people with disabilities. We made a successful placement and we also brainstormed about unique ways to fill this large empty space in the library.”

Today, that space has been completely transformed, with a dozen tables and seating for 50 patrons.

And while a visit to the Beautiful Rainbow is a treat for any customer, it is, perhaps, most meaningful for the employees who greet you behind the counter.

“Students working at the Beautiful Rainbow have an opportunity to receive co-op credit for the experience,” Spencer said. “That co-op credit enables these kids to graduate with a high school diploma, not just a certificate of attendance.”

Spencer said he will share his experience with other BRCs at their next quarterly meeting to see if this type of program can be replicated in other areas of the state.

“As a BRC, I worked to introduce Vocational Rehabilitation to the library,” said Spencer. “Call it connecting. Call it community. The difference is they now know what we do. By putting that nugget in the mind of businesses, good things will grow and flourish with a little legwork up front.”

The café is operated by the Gadsden City Schools. Local business partners, including King’s Olive Oil and Back Forty Brewing, provide additional funding. In addition to ADRS and the Gadsden Public Library, other program partners include Gadsden’s Project SEARCH program and the ARC of Jackson County.



ADRS partners with AIDB to offer Structured Discovery program in Birmingham

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The Alabama Freedom Center for the Blind recently opened its doors as the first Structured Discovery program offered in the state of Alabama.

Located at the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind (AIDB) Regional Center in downtown Birmingham, the nine-month training program offers people who are blind or have low vision an alternative to traditional independent living skills training.

In addition to cane travel skills, students enrolled in the program learn other skills useful for independent living, including Braille, technology training, and home management skills.

The training program is a residential immersion learning environment. Students live in a nearby apartment, and much of the instruction occurs in the living space instead of a traditional classroom.

“Structured Discovery is different because it is a completely non-visual method of learning,” said VR-Blind and Deaf Services Assistant Commissioner Curtis Glisson. “Students wear blindfolds to block out residual sight during instruction. Other methods allow participants to rely on residual vision cues, but Structured Discovery won’t allow you to rely on vision at all.”

Structured Discovery also uniquely allows for orientation and mobility (O&M) specialists to be blind. In fact, because the training method is non-visual, blind instructors often have an advantage over sighted O&Ms.

Glisson said that ADRS began offering a Structured Discovery cane travel option to interested consumers more than five years ago.

“The facility we used was in Ruston, La.,” he said. “AIDB had a strong desire to bring this training home to Alabama, and we thought that was a good idea.”

After agreeing to open an Alabama Structured Discovery program, Glisson said there were lengthy discussions as to where to place the facility in the state.

“With AIDB in Talladega, that was certainly an option,” said Glisson, “but I personally feel that downtown Birmingham is a better choice for this type of program. It’s an urban environment. It has public transportation. For people learning cane travel, there are important skills you might need that you would likely miss in a small town.”

Jointly funded by AIDB and ADRS to specifically teach ADRS consumers, the Alabama Freedom Center has the capacity to train up to 10 students for each nine-month training. Six students are currently enrolled.


Lee County parent joins ADRS board

The Foster family. From left, Dr. Allen Foster, Maggie, Penny, Katie and Taylor Grace.
The Foster family. From left, Dr. Allen Foster, Maggie, Penny, Katie, and Taylor Grace.

A Lee County woman has been appointed to the Alabama Board of Rehabilitation Services.

Penny Foster, an Auburn resident and Tuscaloosa native, will represent the 3rd Congressional District. Foster is the mother of three daughters, including 13-year-old Maggie, who has Down syndrome. Foster was appointed to the board by Gov. Robert Bentley and confirmed by the Alabama Senate.

ADRS Commissioner Jane Elizabeth Burdeshaw said she is pleased with Gov. Bentley’s choice.

“Mrs. Foster’s personal experience as the mother of a child with Down syndrome provides her with a unique perspective on disability services in our state,” Burdeshaw said. “She has been a vocal and tireless advocate for her daughter and other children with special needs, and I applaud Gov. Bentley for appointing an individual to our board with such a strong voice of unwavering support for people with disabilities.”

Foster is the founder of The Journey School, a nonprofit inclusive preschool, as well as a co-founder of TEAM 21, a networking group for parents of children with Down Syndrome; and Blessings on the Plains, a nonprofit day program for adults with disabilities now known as the Exceptional Foundation of East Alabama. She also played an instrumental role in the creation of a Sunday school class for children with special needs at Auburn United Methodist Church.

“I am excited to take an active role in promoting disability and rehabilitation issues through this appointment,” Foster said. “I know first-hand the challenges faced by the parents of children with special health care needs. My journey started with my own child, and as I learned to deal with my own challenges, I filled the void in my community by helping those around me.”

Foster will join board members Stephen Kayes, District 1; Board Chairman Jimmie Varnado, District 2; Andrea Collett, District 4; Eddie Williams, District 5; Roger McCullough, District 5; and Mitch Strickland, District 7.

About the Alabama Board of Rehabilitation Services

The Alabama Board of Rehabilitation Services consists of seven members, one from each U.S. Congressional District. Board members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Alabama Senate. Alabama law requires that three members be individuals with a disability, selected from consumer disability organizations; one member be the parent of a child with a disability; and three members be from organizations of business and industry within the state.

The board oversees the department’s operations and is the governing authority of programs administered by ADRS. Duties carried out by the board range from appointing the ADRS commissioner to establishing rules and regulations for the provision of its services. The board directs and supervises legislative appropriations, shares information that concerns and promotes interest in disability and rehabilitation issues, and takes action to guarantee the rights of and services to people with disabilities.

ADRS, AIDB, and AIDT collaborate to offer accessible Ready to Work program at E.H. Gentry

A recent meeting of professionals from ADRS, AIDT and AIDB has led to E.H. Gentry housing the only accessible Ready to Work program in the state
A recent meeting of professionals from ADRS, AIDT and AIDB has led to E.H. Gentry housing the only accessible Ready to Work program in the state

Alabama’s Ready-to-Work (RTW) program provides a career pathway for adults who have limited education and employment experience through 66 sites at 22 institutions.

One of those sites – E.H. Gentry in Talladega – is now fully accessible and operational, representing the culmination of a two-year partnership between ADRS, Alabama Industrial Development Training (AIDT), and the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind (AIDB).

The RTW curriculum is designed by AIDT to build skills based on demands of local businesses and industries along with a nationwide growth in technology, computer knowledge, and employment availability. In addition to soft skills, other areas of focus for RTW trainees include computer skills, workplace behavior, manufacturing, job acquisition, leadership, and problem solving.

“Because Gentry is already a full-service education and rehabilitation facility for people who are deaf and blind, it was the most logical place to house the Ready-to-Work program,” said VR-Blind and Deaf Services Assistant Commissioner Curtis Glisson. “Gentry converted to RTW as a standard curriculum, but there were some issues getting some of the program materials Braille- and JAWS-ready.”

ADRS Statewide Accessibility Specialist Jason Martin was tasked with adapting the current RTW curriculum for use at Gentry. Glisson said that modifications to the curriculum will be used at other RTW sites, but Gentry would remain the only completely accessible site in the state.

“Ready-to-Work is exciting for a number of reasons,” said Rehabilitation Specialist Denise Holmes. “What it all boils down to, though, is that it is going to help our consumers become more marketable in the workplace, and ultimately help them get better and higher-paying jobs.”

Individuals who successfully complete the RTW program earn an Alabama Certified Worker (ACW) certificate and a National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC).

Glisson said RTW is a “big deal” and great response to the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

The landmark WIOA legislation is designed to strengthen and improve our nation’s public workforce system and help get Americans into high-quality jobs and careers and help employers hire and retain skilled workers.

“Using the same curriculum at Gentry that is used at other community colleges is huge,” said Glisson. “It’s an equalizer and levels the playing field, so send us your people.”