Helping People With Disabilities Succeed

PRIDE Industries Fort Bliss Mac

Mynor “Mac” McCray joined the PRIDE Industries team at Fort Bliss, TX in 2009 as a Distribution and Inventory Manager. Mac has a form of Macular Degeneration, a condition that causes the center of the retina (the macula) to degenerate. This area of the eye makes possible the central vision needed for reading, driving, recognizing colors and other daily life activities.

Mac is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran. He served as an inspector/instructor of a Reserve unit during the Gulf War. His eyesight worsened after separating from the military. Mac coped with his vision loss and continued to look for employment to support his family. He landed a job but says; “I had to lie about my vision during the interview. If I had mentioned it, it would have scared away the employer knowing that I was legally blind.” With the help of a few adaptive devices such as magnifying glasses, Mac was able to complete his tasks and managed to keep his job for 14 years. As the years passed, his eyes worsened. “I truly became fearful for my ability to perform up to my standards,” Mac says.

Despite efforts to continue life as normal, his eyesight increasingly became a concern. Mac recalls the moment his eyes drastically worsened: he was driving on a California freeway and had to pull off the road to avoid an accident because of his inability to see clearly. Mac visited an ophthalmologist who diagnosed a hereditary type of Macular Degeneration. “While this was a scary time for me,” Mac says, “I learned to adapt to the new method of getting around with the assistance of my wife who does the driving.”

In an effort to be closer to family, Mac, his wife, and children decided to relocate. He resigned his position and moved to El Paso, Texas where his wife is originally from. “It was a hard decision to make. Not knowing how long I would be out of work and having to support a family,” Mac says. Starting over in a new city is never an easy task, especially with a disability. His determination and willpower were tested Mac says; “I searched for a job day in and day out, I made it my job to find a job.” Fortunately, Mac was referred to PRIDE Industries at Fort Bliss, TX; he interviewed and was hired.

To help him succeed, PRIDE provided Mac with computer accessibility software. Without the ZoomText program, Mac would not be able to do his job. The software magnifies everything on the screen. It also has a talking feature that reads everything he does on the computer. A ZoomText keyboard was also provided, which features larger than average keys.

As the Distribution and Inventory Manager on PRIDE’s, facilities maintenance contract at Fort Bliss, Mac is responsible for two warehouses and three storage rooms located on the base. Mac and his team of 22-issue parts to PRIDE technicians, store frequently used items and receive special orders. He and his team are responsible for purchasing all materials required to keep PRIDE’s machines running in good order. They manage all fleet vehicles and equipment on the base. Together, they support PRIDE Industries’ 480 employees with the items required to perform their daily tasks. Mac always strives for improvement. He is currently working on becoming a Certified Purchasing Manager (CPM).

As a father of three young daughters, Mac feels fortunate to be able to provide for his family despite his disability. “I am able to send my children to great private schools, and they can participate in activities that would otherwise be unaffordable,” Mac says. “PRIDE Industries has afforded me the opportunity to work in an awesome environment.”

For nearly 50 years, PRIDE Industries has been providing support services and opportunities for those most often excluded from employment:  people with disabilities like Mac. “I need not worry about hiding my disability as I have in the past. PRIDE’s mission is one of compassion and one that I feel very excited to be a part of.”

“The best part about working for PRIDE Industries is the comfort in knowing that I do not have to be embarrassed about my vision or feel that I cannot contribute,” Mac says. “I can honestly say that this is the best company I have ever worked for.”

Assistive Technology Program Helps Individuals With Disabilities Advance

Assistive technology can make a significant impact on opportunity creation for people with disabilities. Assistive Technology is any tool or computer program which helps individuals with disabilities at work. PRIDE Industries’ Assistive Technology Program uses a wide array of tools and computer software enabling individuals with disabilities to succeed in jobs that would otherwise be unavailable to them. PRIDE Industries Foundation’s Assistive Technology Program purchases items such as tablets, hearing aids, and computer accessibility software to help our employees succeed in their careers. Recently, two PRIDE Industries employees were supported through the Foundation to obtain hearing aids, and have shared their stories with us.

Joseph Beccera

Joseph Becerra joined PRIDE Industries in 2011 as a Maintenance Trades Helper at PRIDE Industries – Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. He has bilateral hearing loss and a prosthetic right eye. With the help of hearing aids, he is able to hear loud noises such as the beeping of a truck backing up and sirens; however, his primary form of communication is American Sign Language. PRIDE’sJoseph Becerra_01 Rehabilitation team at Fort Bliss is particularly well-equipped to support employees with hearing impairments – all job coaches are quad-lingual (English, Spanish, American Sign Language, and Mexican Sign Language). With these supports and a lot of hard work and determination, Joseph was promoted to a General Maintenance Worker.

In February 2014, Joseph asked to relocate to PRIDE’s Fort McArthur site in Los Angeles, CA to be closer to family. PRIDE approved the transfer, and Joseph now works as a Grounds Maintenance Laborer at Fort McArthur in Southern California. Other staff members soon noticed that Joseph continued to struggle with hearing. They found out that he was using a friend’s old hearing aids because he could not afford his own. These hearing aids were not molded to his ears, or prescribed for his type of hearing loss. Joseph was also unable to qualify for financial assistance from the California Department of Rehabilitation.

PRIDE Industries Foundation stepped in to help fund new hearing aids. Joseph said that the new hearing aids have changed every area of his life – he is now less dependent on his wife, children, and co-workers for communication assistance. He is thrilled to continue as a PRIDE Industries employee, especially since he now has much more autonomy and can communicate with co-workers and customers.

 

Soledad Rosal

Soledad Rosal_01Soledad Rosal has worked as a custodian for 15 years at PRIDE Industries’ Travis Air Force Base location. Her duties include general cleaning and building maintenance. Before joining PRIDE, Soledad worked as a food preparer for a restaurant. She is hearing-impaired and struggled in the job because her employer did not provide accommodations such as sign language interpretation. Fortunately, the California Department of Rehabilitation referred Soledad to PRIDE Industries. Soledad is thriving in her job at PRIDE – Travis AFB where she is provided with supportive training and a sign language interpreter or Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) – ASL when needed. “I really like my job and the opportunity to work in a team environment,” Soledad says.

PRIDE Industries Foundation funded new hearing aids for Soledad, which will help her communicate more easily with co-workers and customers. “I want to thank you for the hearing aids, Soledad says. “Now I will be able to communicate more effectively with others, including being able to respond when someone calls my name or hearing a knock on my door.”

Assistive Technology and Accommodation at PRIDE

PRIDE’s program goes well beyond reasonable accommodations, including equipping conference rooms with an Audio Loop System. The system enables individuals who wear a hearing aid to connect by blocking distracting noise in the environment except for the speaker. Also, some of PRIDE’s employees are provided with devices such as smart phones with two-way communication capabilities for real-time ASL translation. These tools enable individuals to advance into positions where – without the technology – completing the essential tasks of the job could be a challenge.

A few technologies used at PRIDE Industries include, Tobii PCEye an eye-tracking tool that allows people with severe physical disabilities (such as Cerebral Palsy, spinal cord injuries, and Lou Gehrig’s disease) to control a computer with their eyes instead of a mouse. Dragon NaturallySpeaking is a speech-to-text software tool for individuals who have jobs that require computer use.

Candace MC02Earlier this year Candace McCain was diagnosed with MS (Multiple Sclerosis) and has been battling the affects since. “It has caused me to go blind in my left eye,” Candace says. “I am not sure if I will ever get my vision back, but thank you PRIDE for installing the ZoomText program on my computer.” Without the program, Candace would not be able to do her job. “It helps by magnifying everything so I can see with my right eye. It also has a talking feature which reads everything I am doing.” Computer accessibility software helps PRIDE Industries employees succeed in their careers. “The program is awesome. I do not know what I would do without it.”

PRIDE’s Assistive Technology team works closely with our vocational counselors and case managers to identify potential accessibility needs. Technology guru, Robert Lao, keeps PRIDE up-to-date on advancements in technology to best serve the needs of our employees. PRIDE provides Assistive Technology services to people with disabilities at all of our locations across 14 states and Washington, D.C.

Assistive technology changes the way individuals with disabilities access and contribute to the workplace. These tools create opportunities for people with disabilities otherwise not available to them. The benefits go beyond the job. The ability to communicate is priceless.

Want to learn more about Assistive Technology? View the video below.

National Autism Awareness Month

Laura Lance Autism

April is National Autism Awareness Month. In an effort to increase awareness and highlight the unique abilities and stories of individuals at PRIDE, we bring you a special autism blog series.

To kick-off the month and to celebrate World Autism Awareness Day, April 2, we share with you the story of Laurel and Lance, and how assistive technology has changed their world.

Laurel Petersen is a Contract Administrator at PRIDE, the mother of an autistic child, Lance, and a board member of the UC Davis MIND Institute, a collaborative international research center, committed to the awareness, understanding, prevention, care, and cure of neurodevelopmental disorders.

At PRIDE Industries, we employ a variety of assistive devices to support individuals with a wide range of disabilities. Laurel wanted to share with us how a simple smart tablet and apps have changed her son’s life. Here is her story.

How did we ever live without an iPad?

As a mother of an 8-year-old boy with Autism, the iPad quickly became a mainstay in our daily routine. My son, Lance uses his iPad at both school and home. At school, he is able to use specific apps (i.e. math, vocabulary, etc.) to work towards his IEP (Individualized Education Plan-Program) goals. The beauty of this is that most Autistic kid’s love technology and learning is easier when in an electronic format, rather than pencil and paper. In fact, Lance lacks the fine motor skills to be successful in writing, and it has always been a source of frustration for him. With the iPad, he can touch, swipe, or type, which is easier for him. Therefore, it is a win-win for the teacher and student resulting in fewer behaviors and meltdowns!

Probably the biggest benefit of Lance’s iPad is as a communication device. Lance is minimally verbal. Using an app called ProLoQuo2Go ™, he is able to touch pictures to form sentences, which are then spoken by the iPad. This has opened a whole new world for him as he is now able to have his needs and wants addressed simply by requesting items with his iPad.

His iPad also offers an amazing array of other programs to help with the behavioral and cognitive issues that Lances faces. For instance, he has an app called Calm Counter, which includes simple visual and audio cues that talk the user through the process of dealing with feelings of anger and frustration, and offers easy-to-follow instructions on calming down, including counting backwards from 10 and taking deep breaths.

In addition, Lance has various social stories on his iPad that can be customized through an app called Stories 2 Learn ™. This helps him in various situations, such as going to the dentist, doctor, or blood lab. He even has a social story to help him prepare when he has to fly on a plane. His iPad also serves as a visual schedule, which is so important to children with autism, as they often think and learn through visual pictures or cues. He is able to understand simple “first this, then that” scenarios. These social stories and visual schedules are key to eliminating the “gray areas” and allowing him to know what to expect during his day.

Lastly, the iPad serves as an amazing tool for Lance’s teachers, therapists, caregivers, and me. Using an app called Autism Lite ™, the entire team can record on his iPad everything from moods and behaviors, to food choices and health items, such as his daily sleep and potty training statistics. Graphs of the data are automatically created for days, weeks, or months, to track his patterns/progress and can be shared with the whole team via email.

The iPad has undoubtedly changed our life, and it is a blessing to the entire Autism community to live in this era of technology. I cannot imagine life without it!

Eye Control Devices for Individuals with Motor Impairments

The ability to control a computer using only your eyes is now a reality with Tobii PCEye.

Mark Kaebnick of Tobii ATI visited PRIDE Industries last week to give us a demonstration of just how this system works. Sharon Mendy, VP of Rehabilitation, and other key personnel were on hand for a test run. It took only a minute for Sharon to get calibrated for this system; within minutes, she was manipulating the PC – opening up applications using only her eyes. It’s a remarkable technological device that could be utilized here for PRIDE employees who lack motor skills.

Today, Tobii PCEye is one of the most advanced stand-alone eye control device on the market for the standard computer. It’s easy to use, highly accurate and portable. It’s compatible with a wide range of software for access to any personal computer. Tobii PCEye translates eye movement to a mouse cursor on a screen. It is primarily designed for those needing an alternative method for controlling a mouse and a computer, such as individuals with impaired motor skills. By simply attaching the device to a computer screen and connecting the USB cable, users can control their entire computer through gazing, blinking or dwelling on an item with only their eyes.

Assistive and adaptive technology is changing the way individuals with disabilities can access and contribute to the workplace with minimal cost. This system works best when used in conjunction with Dragon Naturally Speaking to speed up the input of Word and email documents. Robert Lao, PRIDE Industries’ Business Systems Analyst focused on Adaptive Technology will be testing this system to see how, and where, it can be developed for PRIDE employees.

Creating Opportunity

Charles Perkins says there’s nothing special about him – but we beg to disagree.

Deaf since the age of two, Charles struggled with securing and keeping a job despite his obvious motivation and enthusiasm to work. People who are unaccustomed to working with individuals with sensory impairments can have misconceptions about communication and its impact on an individual’s skills. Although Charles had a series of temporary or part-time jobs, he could not find employment that would support full independence – until he found PRIDE.

Charles joined PRIDE in 2009, referred by Louisiana Rehabilitation Services (LRS). During the interview, he was provided with an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter. This was the first time a potential employer had provided even this simple accommodation in order to learn more about him. His resume pointed to some experience with carpentry and plumbing, and a strong aptitude for electrical work. He began as a Maintenance Trades Helper on PRIDE Industries’ contract providing base operating support services to Ft. Polk. He was promoted within three months to General Maintenance Worker in the Electric Shop.

Given time and a chance to prove his skills, it was clear that Charles’ expertise in facilities maintenance was much more diverse than we knew. He excelled at his work, earning a folder full of awards including Most Improved Employee of the Quarter, 2011, Most Improved Employee of the Year, 2011, and numerous recognition awards for positive customer feedback over the years.

He was provided with an ASL interpreter early in his employment with PRIDE, but found it unnecessary. He excels at reading lips, and makes effective use of TDD lines for phone communication, as well as e-mail and texting – a very simple accommodation. Advances in assistive technology are occuring at a rapid rate, and have opened up opportunities for individuals with sensory impairments that didn’t exist even a few years ago. Smart phones and tablets enabled with text-to-speech, speech-to-text, and video relay services free individuals with disabilties to work in the field, and communicate directly with their peers and customers.

In June 2012 Charles earned promotion to Quality Control Inspector. “He is a real go-getter,” his supervisor says. “He arrives early and you just can’t stop him. He likes to be hands on and in the field.”

During National Disability Employment Awareness Month, we celebrate successes like Charles who have moved from dependence, to independence with the help of a few tools, support and training – and most importantly, the opportunity to prove what he could do.