When Rise was forced to close down most of its direct support services due to the COVID-19 crisis and individuals were told to stay home, Tom Erickson was having a hard time. He lives alone, his sister recently had surgery and is unable to visit him, and his county social worker is no longer allowed to make home visits.
Because Tom is DeafBlind and uses tactile American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate, he is very nervous about other people washing their hands. He was also having difficulty finding basic essentials like toilet paper, gloves, sanitizer and Kleenex. So Rise stepped in to make sure Tom had all the supplies he needed.
“We didn’t want Tom to worry during this difficult time so we helped him get these protective supplies,” said Jennifer Sawyer, a Rise occupational communication specialist (OCS) with Rise’s Day Training & Habilitation Sensory Support Team. “We wanted to make sure Tom would not be afraid to leave his apartment.”
Tom, who is 55, has been working at Rise Spring Lake Park since 2005, primarily on assembly production subcontracts. Before this global crisis hit, Tom and Jennifer were in the midst of a job search for a competitive position in assembly, recycling or cleaning in a work environment that understands people who are DeafBlind and would be supportive of him.
Even now, they continue to meet once a week in hopes of finding just the right position for him. On this warm and sunny spring day, Tom and Jennifer met in a park near his home to go over possible job leads. Tom has been working with Rise’s team of OCSes to develop his skills through the team’s janitorial training program. He is also working on identifying transportation options, developing his email communication skills, and further honing work relationships.
With Jennifer’s assistance in interpreting, Tom says that working is important to him because it gives him a sense of self-worth. Tom believes he has a lot to contribute to the community and would like the opportunity to show everyone he would be a great co-worker in a competitive position.
“I so admire Tom’s tenacity and work ethic,” said Jennifer. “I think this quote from Robert M. Hensel best describes Tom: ‘I have a disability, yes that’s true; but all that really means is I may have to take a slightly different path than you.’
A self-reliant guy, he’d also like to increase his income to cover his rent, food, and clothes, as well as go out to eat periodically.
This time of shelter-in-place can be tremendously challenging for us all, including Tom. There is no one in his senior living complex in Spring Lake Park who knows ASL, so he enjoys his weekly connection with Jennifer and especially appreciates being able to continue with his job search.
Tom is a huge Twins fan and has tickets for a May game. He also enjoys walking outside and feeding the ducks at the park, going out to eat, and keeping up-to-date and discussing everyday topics with co-workers and friends.
“Tom continues to break down barriers,” Jennifer added. “I know he would be a great asset to any company. Rise will continue to support him in reaching his employment goals however we can.”