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photo of Betty receiving award

Photo description: Betty receiving award at Ability Works Award Ceremony.
October, 2015

Abilities Works Award: Betty Berry is State Winner!

The annual Division of Rehabilitation Services Ability Works Awards honors one outstanding candidate from each of the agency’s six districts, coinciding with National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October. Of the six, there is one state winner. This year the state winner was Betty Berry of the Beckley District. Way to go Betty!

Finding a Job

People who work closely with Betty Berry immediately use words like strong work ethic, persistent and hard worker to describe her.

Betty works as a quality assurance associate at the Food Lion in Beckley. Finding a job wasn't easy for her, but now that she has a job that she loves, Betty hopes to keep it for a long time.

Betty has been deaf her entire life and has low vision that has progressively gotten worse over time, which puts her in the category as someone who has deaf-blindness.

Betty uses American Sign Language to communicate. She attended the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind, graduating in 1996.

Finding work was always something Betty wanted. But, it became obvious that it wasn't going to be an easy goal to accomplish.

West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services

Betty approached the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS) to help her. Her first attempt was unsuccessful. But, she was persistent. According to Alyce Almond, Betty's vocational rehabilitation counselor, after reapplying for services with DRS, her job search took about two years, but Betty didn't give up.

"Globally, people probably think her deafness is her biggest barrier because she requires an interpreter for some things like meetings," explained Almond. "But, Betty I believe, did not see her deafness as her biggest barrier, it was her vision loss."

According to Betty, she uses sign language or writes notes to communicate with people. But when it comes to her vision, "I have to have about four feet to talk to people ... I can't see past that."

Working with DRS, Betty received a multitude of services, including vocational counseling and guidance throughout the process, as well as assessments to help identify her interests and abilities.

During this time, Almond teamed up with Ken Harer, an employment specialist with Mountain State Centers for Independent Living, which provides community rehabilitation program services to some DRS clients.

Employment Services Division, Mountain State Centers for Independent Living

Harer worked directly with Betty, helping her with her job search and identifying potential employment opportunities for her. According to Harer, "The first thing we do is meet with the consumer and find out what their needs are ... to build a relationship with them and understand them, so that when we place them, they are doing the kind of work they want to do."

Harer helped Betty with her résumé and with her job interviewing skills. And, he began approaching local businesses about potential job opportunities for Betty.

"Harer probably went to 20 different employers and advocated for Betty," said Almond. All the hard work paid off when he met Don Smith, Food Lion's store manager. After Harer and Smith met, things started coming together for Betty.

Smith interviewed Betty and things progressed from there. "I had an interpreter with me at the interview and Don did say, ‘I have a feeling that I think I'm going to hire you,'" explained Betty. "And I said, 'Wow!' The reason why, I told the interpreter, is that sometimes people are close-minded."

That wasn't the case with Smith. He worked very closely with Almond and Harer to determine what accommodations Betty would need in the workplace.

One thing Betty insisted on was having a name badge that indicated to customers that she was deaf. She did not want people to assume that she was rude when she didn't respond because she couldn't hear what they were saying to her.

Almond also contacted the Helen Keller National Center, which specializes in working with individuals who are deaf-blind. One of their experts visited Betty's worksite, providing recommendations on things like assistive technology devices, enlarging the print on work materials and lighting in the store that would help her do her job.

Betty worked with a job coach to help her learn her responsibilities and they enlarged Betty's task list to make it easier for her to see. According to Smith, one of his employees who worked with Betty to train her, picked up on signing and learned to communicate very well with Betty. Later, she decided to leave the company and Betty took over her role at the store.

Betty's quality assurance responsibilities include making sure the store and its perimeter are clean and neat looking. This involves everything from cleaning the windows to the parking lot and the employee break room. Her job is a lot of work, but she does not complain.

Everyone involved in Betty's case also believed her safety in the workplace had to be taken into consideration. The natural supports Betty has developed with her coworkers are her biggest safety measures. Her fellow associates watch out for her and someone will alert her in the event of a real emergency.

While Smith believes he has a store full of good associates, he refers to Betty as his "go-to lady for quality assurance.”

Almond believes Smith's open-door policy in working with DRS played a huge role in Betty's success at Food Lion. "I have never worked so closely with an employer out of all of the clients I have worked with," said Almond. "He let us come in anytime we needed to. He would call me up and say we have something going on, can you come down here and we can address it as a team? "

Employer of the Year

Smith and his store were recognized by DRS as Employer of the Year for the Beckley District in 2013 because of his work with Betty and DRS.

Almond also believes that Betty is an asset to Food Lion because she puts all of her energy into her work. Betty likes to clean and she likes to do a good job.

Harer believes that Betty's willingness to face her challenges head-on speaks volumes to those who work with and interact with her at the store. He hopes that her strong determination and work ethic serve as an inspiration to her community.

Betty is grateful for the assistance that she received from Almond and Harer. "They tried to encourage me and to change my life for a better future," said Betty.


Mountain State Centers for Independent Living