Vocational Services uses creative approach during pandemic

Vocational Services employees check a television that features co-workers and other details from within the organization.

LIBERTY — Vocational Services, Inc. operates three workshops in Liberty and North Kansas City, providing employment for people with developmental disabilities. Communication between shops is important, especially when delivering consistent and timely communications to employees with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Executive Director Randy Hylton has sought communication solutions for over five years, but now has an answer: VSI TV.

“Basically it’s a television station that goes between all of our shops,” Hylton explained. “We can share people getting awards, important messages, you name it.”

Assistant Executive Director Kimbal Mothershead and IT Director Derrick Griffel worked to implement the network-based system. Although it was operational earlier, it became invaluable during 2020, they said.

“We’ve had programs on everything from what it means for employees to get their temperatures taken to wearing masks,” Mothershead explained. “With 13 screens at all three locations, we can send a message to all of our employees almost simultaneously – break rooms, entry points, you name it.”

This year, that capability became critical as employees came back from quarantines with anxiety about wearing masks and other COVID-related procedures.

“It helped break that apprehension down, and they saw other shops were doing the same things, too,” Mothershead said. “We had a program on what it means to social distance. We could show it to everyone.”

The messages are often delivered in graphical format. Before Christmas, social distancing was illustrated with “a reindeer’s space” between other people. Awards and other events showing employees are also popular.

Staff members have messages, too, including praise from parents and guardians. Sometimes staff even gets in on the act.

“Randy (Hylton) demonstrated how to put on gloves while he was wearing his cowboy hat,” Mothershead said. “That was a big hit.”

In “normal” times, the system plays other roles. When customers visit, the sets can be programmed to show extended presentations on the customer’s work. During a tour by the North Kansas City Business Council, VSI TV broadcast a special welcome message geared to the organization. Similar messages were broadcast for Clay and Platte County SB40 board members during their visits.

Some results are surprising. Mothershead and Program Services Manager Sherry Summers noticed a foreign-born employee paying an unusual amount of attention to TV programs heavy in text messages. They realized she was learning to read English.

“That was something we hadn’t expected,” Mothershead concluded. “Sherry and I were watching and realized that when she saw a word she didn’t know, she would ask other employees. It was remarkable.”

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