Young Man with Disability Inspires Students

Jesse Riddle photo

Kissimmee, FL The unique group of high school students listens attentively to the young man standing before them. Not long ago, Jesse Riddle, who has a learning disability, had been sitting where they are right now. But with drive and determination, he is living his dream of helping people with disabilities find employment, and in the process, has become a role model and inspiration for the students of Osceola County.

Jesse works as a Technician for the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), helping VR counselors with scheduling appointments, interviewing potential customers, filling out paperwork, and assisting them with the day-to-day operations. He first came to VR when he was a senior in high school through the VR School to Work program. Early in his life, Jesse had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and was looking for help to complete his career goals. The School to Work program helps students with disabilities plan and prepare for life after high school, and that's just what Jesse did.

VR Counselor Angie Lugo arranged for VR to pay for Jesse's tuition and books at Valencia Community College, where he received his AA degree. He then attended the University of Central Florida where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in Health Services Administration. He graduated with excellent grades and over 200 hours of volunteer time at local elementary schools and nursing homes.

Due to office staff reorganization, Jesse's case was transferred to VR Counselor Johana Gonzalez who continued to offer him guidance and counseling. "Jesse is very motivated, eager to learn, eager to meet challenges," she says. "He is very serious about continuing to learn, and he's also a very happy person, so you definitely notice him."

When a position became available at the local VR office, Johana thought it would be a good opportunity for Jesse to put to use his new bachelor's degree. She encouraged him to apply for the position and coached him on interviewing techniques. Jesse's hard work paid off with a new job.

From the beginning, Jesse has made a positive impact on his co-workers. "He is really good at working with everyone," says Johana. "He's the kind of person that will go above and beyond. If he doesn't have something to do at the moment, he will ask if he can help you with anything. He is really there for everybody."

"Jesse has turned his disability into a positive thing," says his supervisor Gladys Sella. "He pays more attention when doing his job. He's a hard worker, but also very easy going." She says that she often hears from people he comes in contact with about how helpful he has been, especially the schools. The teachers tell Gladys that the students can identify with Jesse because he's still so young. Jesse enjoys talking to the students and encouraging them to follow their dreams. He is a perfect example of how a young person can have a disability and an exciting career, too!

Jesse attributes his success to his mother and his counselors at VR. "My mother helped mentor me through middle school and high school, and has been there to point me in the right direction," he says. "VR was also very helpful. They [his counselors] guided me where I needed to go. My life has improved dramatically since I came to VR. I don't know where I would have been without it."

Jesse's future plans include pursuing his master's degree in Rehabilitation Counseling, so he can further his career by becoming a VR counselor. He's currently looking at graduate programs in the area. His co-workers have confidence that Jesse will go far in his new profession, and they wish him every success.

Florida's Vocational Rehabilitation program is committed to helping people with disabilities become part of America's workforce. Our employer-focused website, FLJobConnections.com, allows businesses to search at no charge for employees who are ready to go to work, as well as post available jobs. VR has 111 offices across Florida, and last year helped 3,874 Floridians with significant disabilities find or keep a job. For more information about VR and its services, call (800) 451-4327 or visit Rehabworks.org.