When Libbi Watson marked the box on her job application to the Health Care Authority (HCA) that she had a disability, she didn't know what to expect when she was hired.

Libbi suffered a stroke at birth, leaving her left side weak. She had to relearn how to use her arm, hand, and fingers as she grew up. She lived a normal childhood, her parents never treated her differently than others. At school, no one noticed she wasn't using her left side as much. Except, that is, in her 1994 high school typing class.

The limited dexterity in Libbi's fingers makes it hard to type on a typical keyboard. Her school couldn't afford to buy her a keyboard for one hand use. Technology was so new and expensive, not many options were available to her. Even if the school could afford it, they didn't know anyone who could teach her how to use it. They ended up only requiring her to take one typing class, and passed her with a ‘D’.

“Looking back, it's kind of funny,” laughed Libbi. “Funny, but also not funny.”

After high school she worked as a medical biller, typing with one hand, at multiple medical practices in the Olympia area for roughly 10 years. In that time she met her husband and had a baby. She attempted to go back to school in hopes to find a career that would require less data entry, but she wasn't able to take on a full-time school schedule and care for a newborn. She stayed home with her son until he was in school full time.

When she was ready to reenter the workforce, she had heard there were more technological advances and options available help her. Libbi contacted the DSHS Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR), which offers job counseling and technical assistance to people with disabilities and their employers. DVR serves people with disabilities who want to work, but face a significant barrier to finding and keeping jobs.

“Having only use of one hand, I knew I would need help. I had never had assistive technologies before, so I didn't even know what possibilities there were,” said Libbi.

Her previous employers didn't offer Libbi much help for accommodation. She felt like a burden on employers, even though she could have DVR assistive technology installed at her workstation at no cost to them. They didn't want a state agency in their office, or contribute time or money to her needs.

Libbi continued to look for other jobs. She was an experienced medical biller now and knew a lot about health care. When a position opened up in HCA’s Medical Assistance Customer Service Center, she applied, and got the job. When she started her position at HCA, she was astonished at the level of accommodation she received. It was like nothing she had experienced before.

She contacted Human Resources staff to ask for a reasonable accommodation assessment. They started the process right away to get her the proper keyboard and Dragon Speak, a talk-to-type device. The wellness coordinator came to her desk for an ergonomics assessment to make sure her desk was in the best position possible given her needs. IT staff were readily available to help with any tech issues and device training. She was given time to learn how to use her new technologies, and flexibility in her schedule to allow for frequent breaks to rest her hand.

“I feel like everyone here just wanted me to succeed. No matter what they had to do, they would find a way,” said Watson. “Having the section manager stop by my desk to ask personally if I needed anything meant a lot to me.”

The ongoing support has made a big impact on Libbi's life and happiness. Because of the availability of assistive technology, she is able to work at a job where she can make a living wage and have health insurance, so she can provide a good life for her and her son.

She's extremely grateful for the technology advancements that have made it possible for her to work. In the not so far away past, when assistive technology wasn't so readily available, she thinks she would have had a hard time finding a job at all. She would have had to live off social security.

Libbi is glad she had the experience at other employers, though. Without encountering those barriers, she wouldn't have had the motivation to look for better opportunities elsewhere and found her job at HCA.

HCA has an active diversity program and welcomes the talents of all people, including those with disabilities. It’s a critical part of building the culture of an inclusive workplace. For all employees, HCA has sit-stand adjustable desks at every workstation, offers flexible schedules, a fitness room, and wellness activities to keep employees happy and healthy.

“This agency should be really proud of the accommodations it provides to employees with disabilities," said Libbi. "To have these things available not just to me, but to everyone, is amazing. This is the best place ever.”

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