2007 Journalism Contest
2007 South Carolina Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities Journalism Contest winning essay.
Rose is Rose:
The Story of a Disabled American
Who is Ready for the Global Workforce
by Sean Timothy Gruber
Dorchester Academy, St. George, SC
Rose Williams screams as she lies on the ground, her body burning with pain, “I felt like someone set me on fire, and you couldn’t put it out.”
For all her pain she can’t shed a tear. She can just scream.
Just moments before, Rose was a fourteen-year-old hanging out with some friends. A drive-by shooting and a bullet meant for someone else changed all that.
Rose’s aunt screams at her, “Get up! Get up!” Rose tries, but she can’t move. She loses feeling in her body; shock sets in. Everything blurs. She is barely conscious on the way to the MUSC Children’s Hospital. During surgery, Rose dies twice on the table.
The next day, Rose wakes to find herself on a bed that moves and spins and holds her in place. “I was confused. I had no idea what was going on. I was thinking ‘Why do I have all this stuff hooked up to me? Why can’t I move? Why does my back hurt?’”
The doctors come into the room and stick her legs with pins. She can’t feel them. When they tell her she is paralyzed from the waist down and will never walk again, Rose wants to die.
“I was a teenager, and I could not walk. I was ashamed of myself. I stopped taking my medicine. Infections grew in my wounds. When I started therapy, I wore a bag over my head. I just couldn’t understand it. I wanted to die.”
Even with encouragement from her mother, family, doctors and nurses, Rose’s downward spiral continued. “I was rebellious and stubborn,” Rose said. After her doctors explained that she would have to be fed through a tube if her behavior continued, Rose decided that enough was enough. She would start to live again.
“Whenever you go through therapy, you are like a newborn baby and have to relearn things that you already knew how to do.” After a year in the hospital, Rose was released. “I felt wonderful!”
Rose overcame her depression and began to reestablish her relationships with those around her.
After one and a half years of home schooling, she re-entered the school system. She went to dances. She went to assemblies. She reunited with old friends. Then the struggle returned.
“My mother passed and I went to live with my aunt. Her apartment wasn’t equipped for me.
She lived at the top of a flight of stairs. It was horrible.”
With her mother no longer around to help her, Rose learned to dress herself, to cook without standing and to clean and move furniture. Although it was not easy, she forced herself to adapt.
With her family’s help, Rose finally moved into her own place. “I just loved it. I didn’t have to wait on somebody to move me around. I was free to go outside because of the elevators. It doesn’t matter where I live now, I’ll make adjustments so that it is comfortable for me.”
Rose is Rose—back to the young woman she thought she had lost years ago. She had an apartment. She had independence. But she didn’t have a job.
When Rose’s home medical supplier suggested that she contact the South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Department (SCVRD), she was ready to meet that challenge. From getting her first job as a receptionist in the Columbia office, to working at the Walterboro Training Center making and boxing tape, the SCVRD has been a valuable resource for Rose Williams. The department arranged interviews for jobs. They provided her with transportation to those interviews. They helped Rose obtain her G.E.D. They taught her how to use computers. “They helped me realize that I could do anything I wanted to if I put my mind to it.”
Most of all, the SCVRD gave Rose the means to live her life free from the stereotype of disability. She can work, live and raise her family on her own.
The life that Rose once thought was not worth living has turned into a life of success and dreams. Today, Rose Williams is a student at the University of South Carolina Salkehatchie, majoring in criminal justice. She wants to be a lawyer. She has two children and plans to be married in March. Rose continues to work at the Walterboro Training Center during college breaks.1
Rose Williams is only one of the 43,992 disabled clients the South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Department helped in 2005-2006. Of these, 8,475 have been “rehabilitated” and employed by a variety of industries. Each one of these employed clients will return $2.89 in taxes for every $1 spent on their vocational rehabilitation and will repay the cost of rehabilitation in an average of 5.4 years.2
“The programs provided by the SCVRD put people to work. They are paying taxes instead of getting money from the system. They are helping themselves and their self-esteem because for forever they have been told they can’t do things,” Michelle Stockman, Career Planning and Employment Specialist at the Walterboro office, said.
Services provided by the SCVRD are individualized. “Anything that a client may need in order to find or keep a job, I can teach,” Stockman said. “We provide career exploration for people who aren’t sure what they want to do. We help prepare clients for technical school training or college admission. We teach pre-employment classes on how to search for jobs, how to fill out applications, what to do in a job interview—the common interview questions and how to answer them,” Stockman said.3
Clients also benefit from hands-on experience in the training centers. As they produce products for business partners, clients learn skills in computer, construction and manufacturing.
The Walterboro Training Center manufactures pallets for USCOA, Inc., in St. George, SC.
“They build an excellent product at a fair price. We work well with the SCVRD. They have a good, professional staff,” Plant Manager Clark Herring said. “The price and quality is outstanding. The pallets last longer and there is less down time when we need them repaired. Whenever we need them, they can build them.”4
Despite the success of these programs, people with disabilities are still one of the largest unemployed groups in America. Thirty percent of the 49.7 million5 Americans with disabilities are unemployed. Surveys show that employers have become increasingly apathetic toward potential workers who have disabilities. Although 73 percent of employers report that their disabled workers needed no form of accommodation, 40 percent of employers continue to believe that it can be “difficult or costly to accommodate disabled workers.”6
Stockman sees this attitude in employers every day. “All disabilities are not created equal,” she said. “Whenever I call an organization trying to get a job for a client, they know I’m trying to find a disabled person a job. I have to explain to them almost every time that all of our clients are completely prepared and that we do have clients that are capable—fully capable—of doing the job.”7
But all of this has not discouraged Rose Williams, who continues to remain optimistic about her future and the future of others like her.
“People think we want them to feel sorry for us or that they have to wait on us hand and foot. If you’ll give us a chance, we’ll show you what we can do. We are still human. We can do the same things you can do,” Williams said.8
Rose is Rose. People are people. They’re ready to live. And they’re ready to work.
1. Williams, Rose. Personal interview. January 11, 2007.
3. Stockman, Michelle. Personal interview. January 8, 2007.
4. Herring, Clark, Personal interview. January 15, 2007.
6. The Center for an Accessible Society, Employers reluctant to hire workers with disabilities, says new survey. January 13, 2007.
7. Stockman, Michelle.
8. Williams, Rose.