A Change in Vision Gives Dennis Lopez a New Career Path

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Vocational Rehabilitation provides new opportunities for the New Year

Dennis Lopez at work

Dennis Lopez at work

It was tough leaving my job of 20 years and going to school. But it all lined up for me, like the universe was behind me

According to the 2014 American Community Survey Estimate, there are more than 2.4 million Floridians age 16 and over who have a disability. Of those, only 18%, or 443,570, are employed.

Florida Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), a federal/state agency that helps people with disabilities find and keep jobs, is tasked with increasing that number each year. In fiscal year 2014-15, VR helped 5760 Floridians with significant disabilities find or keep jobs. However, the goal is not only to place people with disabilities in jobs — VR also provides education and training to help them continue to advance in their careers or even pursue entirely new opportunities.

Dennis Lopez, who has Attention Deficit Disorder, was facing a new year and was ready for a new opportunity. He had been working for Publix for 20 years, and although he liked his job, he didn’t have many chances to move up within the company. He wanted to try something new, something better, but he wasn’t sure how to enter a new career.

Then he learned about VR. Dennis shared his goals with VR Counselor Matthew Lane, and the two created a plan for Dennis to pursue a new career.

The problem was that Dennis didn’t know which career path he wanted to take — so Matthew offered counseling and guidance along with a work evaluation to see what jobs Dennis would be qualified to do. In the meantime, Dennis had the opportunity to job shadow at a friend’s optometrist office and really liked the idea of becoming an Optometric Assistant.

But that meant going back to school. He started the Optometric Assistant training program at McFatter Technical College and says going back to school was an interesting experience. “Before, I think I had a learning disability or something because I didn’t do very well, so it was good to go back to school and the school was great, “ says Dennis. “ I did really well. I went every day, and I didn’t want to leave. I was determined not to mess this up.”

With the college making accommodations for him and VR paying for his tuition and books, Dennis quickly completed the program. Dennis then moved into a job at Pediatric Ophthalmology Consultants of South Florida. He started training with staff supervisor, Michelle Bats, at their Boca Raton office.

Michelle is very happy with his progress. “He works hard and does exactly what he’s supposed to do,” she says.

Michelle also offers advice to employers who may be considering hiring a person with a disability. “Be patient and make sure he or she writes everything down. Dennis does that, and it’s a big help. He follows his list and gets the task done,” says Michelle.

Matthew is also proud of Dennis. “At first, he didn’t know very much about VR, but as he learned what we could do, it gave him more confidence and boosted his self-esteem,” says Matthew. “He never missed an appointment and never missed a day of class, and a lot of that is why he was successful.”

Dennis is grateful for his progress and the people who have helped him along the way. “I like to tell people about the VR program. I think it’s great! I want people to see that if I can do it, anybody can do it, “he says. “If you have good help, you can do it. I see people who are going through the same things I went through, and I tell them that with help, they can do it. They need to get in the program.”

“It was tough leaving my job of 20 years and going to school. But it all lined up for me, like the universe was behind me,” he continues. “It was amazing how everything just fell into place for me, and it’s all because of the program.”

About Vocational Rehabilitation
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 5,760 Floridians with significant disabilities find or keep a job. For more information about VR and its services, call (800) 451-4327 or visit http://www.Rehabworks.org.

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Rachel Smith
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