Barry shared a common goal with many of WOU’s clients and, for that matter, with the majority of the world. He wanted to be independent. While independence means different things to different people, in Barry’s case, he simply wanted to earn his own money through meaningful employment. Though he faced challenges that prevented him from doing so in the past, he had the drive, determination, and the right partner to help him finally reach his goal.
In July of 2020, Barry and his brother Paul connected with Work Opportunities Unlimited (WOU), an organization that helps those with barriers find job opportunities in which they can thrive. During an introductory Zoom call, Career Resource Specialist Miriam Young of WOU’s Montgomery County office in Maryland learned a great deal about Barry. For starters, she learned that in addition to having cerebral palsy, Barry is non-verbal, meaning he does not speak, but instead relies on an electronic communications device to get his messages across. Second, Barry wanted to break free from being supported by his family and earn a living on his own, maybe through a job in photography or as a stock clerk.
As Barry’s biggest advocate, Paul accompanied Barry to his subsequent meetings with Miriam and helped bridge the communication gap. Miriam knew, though, that she would have to be able to figure out how to communicate directly with Barry in order to help him achieve his goal. She had to think outside the box, and she found success by sending videos to Barry on her iPhone. His electronic communications device would read the message back to Barry in voice recordings, and Barry would then respond via typing or using an automated message. “We’re now at the point where I finish his sentences before he has a chance to finish them and we both laugh about it,” said Miriam.
Next, Miriam set out to find Barry a job. Barry had shared that he had a passion for photography, and as a fellow photographer, Miriam was able to line up a one-time photography gig for him through a contact. She continued to assist Barry in applying for stocking positions and in just a little over three months of their working together, Barry landed two interviews in one week, one of which was with Macy’s department store—a retailer that prides itself on accommodating people with disabilities.
Miriam worked with Paul to prepare Barry for the phone interview and assisted him with setting up pre-recorded messages on his communications device. Miriam commented, “During the interview, the hiring manager asked Barry all the routine interview questions and Barry did great answering them. After the interview was finished, the hiring manager put us on hold for a few minutes, and when he came back on the phone, he offered Barry the job!”
Miriam was beyond excited to call Paul and her supervisor to tell them the good news. “It’s no surprise that, with a light that radiates from his personality and a willingness to be part of his community, Barry got the job on the spot,” she said.
Barry started as a sorter where he straightened items in the Men’s department and replenished stock. He later moved into the shipping department, where he used a scanner to ship items. He proved himself to be a great worker with a great attitude, and, Miriam commented, “All the staff loved him, and he inspired some of them to learn more about sign language.”
Although Barry’s seasonal position with Macy’s came to an end in April of 2021, he left in very good standing with a request that they would like him back in the future. He is currently training to become a full-time Retail Sales Associate at CVS, and Miriam continues to serve as Barry’s job coach to assist with communicating. She is so proud of how he is succeeding, commenting, “Barry literally surprised everybody at Macy’s and he has changed people’s impressions of those with disabilities.”
Barry’s brother Paul is equally as proud. He decided to share Barry’s success in a Facebook post, which garnered 275 likes and over 100 comments. Barry even has his own hashtag: #belikeBarry.
Miriam believes the lesson of Barry’s story is that, with the right support system, barriers get broken down and people like Barry have the opportunity to thrive.