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Success Story

Written by Brenda Criswell, Vocational Rehabilitation Employment Specialist, Iowa Department for the Blind

Ben’s association with the Iowa Department for the Blind (IDB) began in May of 2007. Ben is from a small town in southeast Iowa. He began working with Susan Howard, one of the Rehabilitation Teachers at the department. He worked on basic cane travel techniques and attended community-based trainings, which emphasize independence in the home through the use of blindness skills, such as home economics and Braille. Once he successfully completed that program, Ben toured IDB’s Adult Orientation and Adjustment Center. He decided this would be a good opportunity for him to better learn the skills of blindness, and yet knew it would be sometimes difficult. Ben was from a large family, and because of his degenerative, genetic condition they were very protective of him.

Ben has Neurofibromatosis, more commonly known as Elephant Man’s disease, and he was not expected to live past the age of eight. Thus, he only received a third grade education, and then learned vicariously through his brothers and sisters, who were home-schooled. Ben’s family, however, supported him in his decision to come to the Center, because everyone felt it was what Ben really wanted.

In March of 2008, Ben became a full-time, residential student, and took all of the required classes, including working toward his GED; something Rebecca Swainey, the Center Communications Instructor, engineered. Ben’s favorite class was Travel, and he was fearless when it came to assigned routes. Ben approached it with enthusiasm and the willingness to face a new challenge. Ben’s employment goal when he entered the Center was Homemaker, but he soon realized that he wanted to obtain employment outside of the home, given his youthfulness and desire to work. His only work experience consisted of household chores and cleaning for his church, but the strong work ethic was definitely in place.

Ben started job shadowing some professional cooks near the end of his training, as he had a strong interest in this field. He was in the process of doing this when an opportunity arose at the West Lakes Hy-Vee store in West Des Moines. The HR representative called his VR counselor and said they had heard about the receptionist positions that were being created at various stores across the state. They were in dire need of this service in their store. This particular store had the highest volume of calls in the Des Moines metro are and definitely felt a receptionist was justified. Ben interviewed and accepted the job offer. Technology was ordered, which provided the telephone and audible prompts, as had been the case in the previous 3 stores.

Fast forward 3 years and you will now see Ben as a “seasoned receptionist.” As you place a call to West Lakes Hy-Vee store, you will likely hear Ben say with a smile, “Thank you for calling the West Lakes Hy-Vee, how can I direct your call?” He does it with professionalism and the utmost of courtesy, so as to promote Hy-Vee’s primary mission of excellent customer service. This particular store still has the highest volume of calls in the Des Moines metro area, with 5 incoming lines, and at least 15 to 30 calls per hour; that is not counting the numerous paging and answering of repeat calls when a customer is not able to get through to a particular department the first time. Ben welcomes the challenge. When he does have a moment in between calls, he does shredding, assembles and disassembles signage in plastic sleeves, three-hole punches paper and separates coupon packs. In the slower part of the year he works a minimum of 30 hours per week, but in higher volume periods, 35 to 40 hours per week is common. HR Director, Nancy Richardson, simply smiles and says, “He’s not too hard to keep in line.”

Ben says his health is stable and that he has plans on the horizon to move to Urbandale where he hopes to experience that “good old neighborhood feeling,” much like it was when he was growing up. When Ben is not working, you can find him at Java Joe’s on open microphone night, going to church, and spending quality time with family and friends. Ben does not let his disability stand in his way of experiencing life to the fullest. He has achieved and continues to maintain success in a competitive business world.