Dive instructor with a disability feels weightless in the water

Paul Voegerl photo

Naples, FL – Paul Voegerl feels right at home on the water. Whether it’s diving, swimming or sailing, he enjoys being around the ocean. “When I’m in the water I can move around and have full range of motion,” Paul says. He gets to do what he loves as a dive instructor at Aquatic Obsessions, but it wouldn’t have been possible without a little help. As a disabled combat veteran, Paul knew he may have trouble finding a job, so he turned to Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), a federal-state agency that helps people with disabilities get or keep a job, for guidance.

Paul met with VR counselor Greg Devine to decide which direction he should take his career. “It was really great working with Greg. I walked into his office, and he asked what he could do to help me,” Paul says. “He was very positive about everything, and he helped me look at what I can do.”

Greg and Paul agreed that being a dive instructor was the perfect professional path. VR was able to assist Paul financially to make that goal a reality. “VR paid for training to be a diving instructor, which included multiple steps,” Greg says. “The training also included a number of dives that he had to take. We were also able to purchase the equipment he needed for the job.”

Paul’s favorite part of his job are the people he instructs. “You introduce them into a new world -- a completely different universe,” he says. “People who have never dove before go down and see a whole new life, firsthand. They see plants, rocks, and ships, and it has a major impact on their life seeing it for the first time. Offering people that opportunity is wonderful!”

He also likes to show other people who are disabled the freedom water can provide. “When you have disabilities and go into the water, you are weightless,” Paul says. “One time, we had a veteran who lost an arm in an explosion go diving, and he felt whole again.”

Over the next few years, Paul and his wife dream of opening their own one-stop-shop diving service. “We are looking into my wife becoming a captain, so I could do private lessons,” he says. “It’s a future goal of ours.” Greg is very proud of everything Paul is doing. “He always had an interest in the water,” Greg says. “Perseverance and desire to be able to take care of his family and himself has led to his success.”

Paul has found a job that is perfectly suited to his strengths and abilities at Aquatic Obsessions. He is glad his employer gave him a chance, and encourages others to do the same. “I would like to tell employers not to judge people by their disability, because you never know what they will bring to the table.”

Florida’s Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) is a federal-state program committed to helping people with disabilities become part of America’s workforce. The employer-focused website, https://abilitieswork.employflorida.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 90 offices across Florida, and last year helped 5,194 Floridians with significant disabilities get or keep a job. For more information about VR and its services, call (800) 451-4327 or visit http://www.Rehabworks.org.