On the Road Again! Paralysis Reroutes Career but Doesn’t End It

Joe Parker photo

Old Town, FL – For Joe Parker, driving was his life! He’d spent the last four years as a semi-truck driver and loved being on the road. That’s why it was so devastating when an accident in his pickup truck paralyzed him from the waist down.

“When I had my accident, the first thing that went through my mind was that I wouldn’t be able to drive anymore,” Joe explains. “But then I had the idea of driving a pilot car, and I realized I could still be on the road.”

The problem was getting from idea to actual business. He had heard about Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), a federal-state agency that helps people with disabilities get or keep a job, and decided to give it a try. “He came in and said, “This is what I want to do,”” says VR Counselor Kasandra Knopp. “He had already gotten the hand controls on his truck, and his medical care was handled through Social Security, so we sent him to meet with Certified Business Technical Assistance Consultant Dan Wooten so they could figure out if the business would be viable.”

Kasandra wanted to make sure Joe was serious about this new venture, so she gave him a couple of tasks to get started. “Before she would do this [self-employment], I had to get my certification,” says Joe. “The class took eight hours, but it took two weeks to get my certification.”

Dan and Joe created a business plan, income plan, and mission statement. They also figured out how he would operate the business and what he had to do to keep it going. VR bought the pilot car equipment – flags, cones, lights, and signs for the front and back bumpers.

Joe already had the connections for potential clients through his previous experience as a truck driver. “He said, ‘I know these people. I’ve worked with these people, and I can get jobs,’” says Kasandra. “He liked semi-trucks and wanted to continue working with them, and this was the closest he could get, since he couldn’t drive them anymore.”

He launched his new business in October 2016, and it continues to grow and flourish. “When I first started, I had two contacts and after just six months, I have around 12,” says Joe.

Kasandra is thrilled that Joe’s business has taken off. “Joe worked very hard on this and has made his dream a reality. He was always positive and an inspiration to me. He even traded in his truck for a new van that’s all set up with the necessary equipment to accommodate him on the long journeys.”

Now, if you see a yacht or super load driving down the interstate, it may be Joe leading the way. “I specialize in the big, mega super loads that are very high. I like to do the high loads. The number one thing I move is yachts,” he says.

Joe faced the end of his semi-truck driving career and found a way to keep his dream alive. “I have to come home every few weeks to get my supplies, but if I didn’t have to worry about that, I’d be out here all the time. I love it out here, and VR and Kasandra helped make that happen.”

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.