Young Man with Disabilities Helps Others Find Balance

Jon Viera photo

BRANDON, FL – When Jon Viera, who has muscular spinal atrophy and uses a power chair, first met with Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Counselor Karen Wilkinson to discuss his career goals, he knew that he wanted a job where he could work with people and make a difference in their lives. Now, as an Independent Living Coordinator for Self-Reliance, Inc, Jon is living his dream as he helps others find their way. “I love it. I absolutely love it,” Jon says. “It’s exactly what I wanted to do.”

Jon teaches independent living skills, provides peer mentoring, and organizes community activities. Isabel Gonzalez, Jon’s supervisor, says that Jon’s disability makes it easier for him to interact with and relate to the customers he serves. “Jon is the perfect person for this job,” she says. “The work that he does, he was absolutely meant to do.” Recently, Jon led a ten-week workshop designed to help people with disabilities live a healthy, full life by teaching them how to set goals, stay physically active, balance their lives, and maintain that balance.

When she was working with Jon, Karen saw his motivation to work, but employers turned him away because of inexperience. Seeing Jon’s frustration, Karen knew that VR’s On-the-Job Training (OJT) program would give him the skills and hands-on experience he needed. With the On-the-Job Training program, VR reimburses employers for the trainee’s salary, training costs, and any accommodations needed. It’s a win-win situation for both the business owner and the employee. After a 16-week OJT with Self- Reliance, Inc, Jon was hired permanently. He was thrilled to finally get the opportunity. “If it wasn’t for the OJT program, I would never have been able to get hooked up with Self-Reliance,” says Jon.

To help Jon transition to Self-Reliance, VR provided a computer and voice-activated software so he could convert paper documents to a digital format, along with a wireless key fob to access the building and a specialized headset so he could answer and make calls. VR also paid for modifications to Jon’s home, providing a shower chair and a specialized door opener. Jon said that those were the little things that make him successful. “Now I don’t have to wait for someone to be home to get in and out of my house,” he says.

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 to 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.

Jon said the support from Karen and VR was instrumental in helping him find the perfect job. “Karen was awesome,” he said. “She helped me get so many different tools that literally make me almost completely independent at work.” Jon hopes to continue working and eventually take on more responsibility. He said that coming to VR is a two-way street that requires hard work from both sides, but was definitely worthwhile. “If you’re willing to put the work in,” he says, “VR is an amazing asset to have behind you.”

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 to post available jobs. VR has 111 offices across Florida, and last year helped 5,018 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.