Brian Denny wanted a job. In his mind, this was no easy feat. With a C3-4 spinal cord injury, the Columbia, South Carolina resident has no use of his arms and uses a sip-and-puff mechanism to operate his power wheelchair. While his resume boasted an impressive background in commercial sales and the construction industry, that was before the workplace injury that paralyzed him in 2010.
Beginning the job search after spinal cord injury
Three years after his injury, Denny started looking for positions online. “My friends encouraged me that I could do something related to my past experience because of the knowledge I had,” he said. Despite hours of searching on the computer, doors just weren’t opening for him. “When Brian first came to see me, he seemed to think we wouldn’t be able to help him,” said Nikki Ostrander, Client Services Specialist with the South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Department. Yet Ostrander wasn’t easily put off. Once she started talking with Denny, she was excited about the prospects.
“It’s not the injury that holds people back from employment; it’s the attitude and the motivation and Brian had both of those.”
Then Charlie Weston came into the picture. Weston is the owner of Guardian Fence Suppliers, a commercial and residential fencing company. He met a friend of Denny’s at a professional function, who urged him to consider Denny. Weston will be the first to admit that the idea of hiring someone with a high level spinal cord injury outright scared him.
“I really had no idea of what Brian was capable of doing. What if it didn’t work out and I had to let him go? There was a real fear of the unknown."
Because Denny came so highly recommended and his work history spoke for itself, Weston was willing to explore the possibility of employment. Then Vocational Rehabilitation got involved. “My role was easy,” Ostrander said. “I had a team of people that came in and worked with us.” The team included Vocational Rehabilitation’s rehabilitation technology staff, who recommended tools Denny needed to succeed in his job.
Getting the necessary accommodations in place
Working at an adjustable height desk, Denny can answer and make calls with a hands-free headset. He uses a mouse stick to type onto an iPad. An app on the iPad controls his laptop, which is mounted on an adjustable height stand. Working through the iPad allows him more flexibility than using a laptop alone. Vocational Rehabilitation set up a Skilled Workforce Apprenticeship Training (SWAT) for Denny. Through the SWAT program VR staff could monitor his progress and assess what was needed for his continued employment. Initially Brian’s job included sales, customer service, and some staff training. “The longer I was there, the more Charlie realized what I could do,” Denny said. He was asked to learn Zoho, a new customer relationship management program. Denny’s success with the Zoho software earned him more responsibility for training sales and support employees. He has since been included on the development of a marketing campaign.
Working between 25 and 30 hours a week, Denny became a changed man from the one who was struggling to adjust to life after injury.
“I feel like Brian got his confidence back. It was easy for me to see that he was a shoo-in for the job; it took him a while to see that he was a fantastic fit."
“I don’t worry about him now,” says his wife Jessica. “Everything about him is lighter now. He has something to do, somewhere to be. And it’s good for our kids to see that Daddy still intends to provide for his family.” Denny agrees. “I have a more positive outlook on life and I feel productive.”
His two children are also thrilled. “Daddy is still a Daddy,” proclaimed 12-year-old Kendall. Ten-year-old Copper has his own enthusiastic perspective, “Over the summer I got to go to lunch with him and he would take me into the warehouse out back. It was awesome.”
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