Good advice: Disabilities no excuse for failure
By Jon Hawley
Sunday, November 4, 2018
On Friday, Elizabeth City's Vocational Rehabilitation office hosted a “Disability Mentoring Day,” but they offered pretty good advice for everyone: hone your talents and channel them into your passions.
The VR office hosted the event as its capstone to observing “National Disability Employment Awareness Month,” which was October. The event, co-hosted by Elizabeth City State University and held at the K.E. White Center, drew high school students from disabilities from across Pasquotank, Perquimans, Currituck, Dare and other counties, bringing them to educational resources, potential employers, and various guest speakers, including Elizabeth City Mayor Bettie Parker.
The event also brought in William Ross, regional director for the N.C. Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services. Ross praised the event, explaining it was valuable for helping students with disabilities succeed in the world of work. His 33-county region serves more than 7,000 individuals with “individualized plans for employment.” The region's VR staffers work to show employers how people with disabilities may need some accommodations, but can still be valuable, productive employees.
“If they look at what they can do, they'll see what they can't do doesn't relate to the world of work,” he said.
He also said the VR division serves people with a wide range of physical, sensory or mental disabilities.
Seth Steele-Pardue, a graduate of N.C. State University with a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering, is one person VR staffers helped. A featured speaker Friday, he explained he has dyslexia, and the VR office helped him with accommodations – chiefly extra time for tests – for his language-based learning disability.
In an interview, Steele-Pardue said his disability made middle and high school hard. It made learning difficult – teachers didn't always understand or adapt to his disability – and so he often acted out to keep other kids from making fun of him.
He also shared with the students that he had a mechanical aptitude and, after a friend lost part of his leg in an accident, he was inspired to pursue the field of prosthetics.
He offered simple advice to the students present: pursue your passions, and don't accept excuses for failure. He said he struggled sometimes even at NCSU, but he didn't want to let down his family and friends, including his parents, and the VR staffer who helped him, Angela Ferebee.
The gathering also featured a short performance by the Dare2Care OBX Shredders, a Special Olympics band. Lisa Davis, a radio broadcaster who introduced the band, said it brings together people with disabilities and greatly builds their confidence.
Zach Nelson, of Kill Devil Hills, plays keyboard for the band. He works now at a Dunkin Donuts, but said he'd love to one day start his own band.
Technology also keeps evolving to compensate for disabilities, according to assistive technologist Gloria Jinks, who ran one of the booths at the event. One example is a small, pen-like voice-to-text sensor that can help with reading, and is even programmed with a dictionary and thesaurus, she said.
One of the main organizers of Friday's event was the VR office's business relations representative, Tameka Gibbs. Deeming the event a success, she estimated it brought 100 attendees, and offered thanks to its various sponsors, some of whom included Adkins Catering, Pepsi, Jersey Mike's Subs, and Dunkin Donuts.