OKLAHOMA CITY – Each October, the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services chooses a spokesperson for National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
Linden Robertson, age 25, is a successful DRS Vocational Rehabilitation client with dyslexia. He is now in training for an inbound and outbound shipping lead at DHL in Fort Worth, Texas.
DHL is a logistics company specializing in international shipping, courier services and transportation.
Robertson has ties to New Orleans and Arlington, Texas as well as Oklahoma Panhandle State University in Goodwell, Oklahoma. He attended OPSU on academic and football scholarships, and earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial technology.
Robertson learned about DRS’ Vocational Rehabilitation employment program from his mother Linda Robertson when he was as a college sophomore.
Linda Robertson was familiar with the Oklahoma program through her job with Disability Rights Texas, an agency that serves children, adults and families with disabilities and partners with Texas Department of Rehabilitative Services.
His VR counselor Carol Holland provided career planning and assisted with education expenses not paid by his scholarship, including tuition, books, fees, supplies, housing and meal tickets. She arranged appointments with a specialist for an evaluation and follow-up to a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan for a knee impairment.
“Carol Holland from VR focused on my skill development and utilized all the assistance available to me through VR like academic assistance, reading comprehension skills and meeting with professional educators to help develop my academic competence and my confidence,” Robertson said.
“And thanks to DRS, I will end up finishing school and not have much debt, thanks to the help I received.”
Robertson’s mother, two brothers and one sister were displaced from their New Orleans home by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 when he was in the fifth grade.
They experienced culture shock during moves to Houston, later to Cedar Hill and Arlington. Today, Robertson lives in Fort Worth and his family is nearby in Crowley, Texas.
“We liked Arlington -- the slower pace, same rhythms, same patterns and not as busy,” Robertson said. “It reminded us of home (in New Orleans).”
Yet, when he was recruited to play football at Panhandle State University, Robertson accepted the scholarship and moved 440 miles away from his family. He chose a rural Oklahoma community to complete his post-secondary training and accomplish his educational goals.
“What kind of grabbed me was the small town vibe,” Robertson said. “You’d be driving and people would wave to each other, and when you go somewhere, everybody recognizes you from the campus.”
As a young man with a desire to get ahead, he took full advantage of opportunities for educational and personal growth at Panhandle State University.
“There are not many distractions,” he said. “You can come here, play football, get your degree and go on to what it is you want to do without having a lot of the distractions that come with city life.
In addition to playing linebacker and later safety on the football team, Robertson competed at the national level for OPSU’s Phi Beta Lamda chapter of Future Business Leaders of America. Those competitions took him to California, Chicago, Atlanta and other major cities.
“PSU and FBLA allowed me to step out of my comfort zone in a sense because I was meeting new people and traveling to different places and learning new things,” Robertson said.” They prepared me for my future in ways that I couldn’t expect.”
“Dr. Sara Hitch, who worked with Phi Beta Lamda at PSU, asked those important questions that I really didn’t ask myself because I was just playing football and in that moment,” he said. “I wasn’t really into my degree field… she made me think of that and developed a plan for me for the next four years.”
Hitch is department chair and associate professor of business administration at OPSU.
Robertson likes getting in on the ground floor. He joined DHL only three months ago at the new Fort Worth office, which the company relocated from New Jersey only six months ago.
“I’m being trained for the evening lead position that trains the rest of the crew on the second shift,” Robertson said. “Right now, corporate (employees) have been here working with us to make sure everyone is trained properly, safety regulations are in process and everything goes as smoothly as it’s supposed to.”
His industrial technology degree prepared Robertson to work in logistics with computerized receiving, tracking numbers and transferring quantities of products, but metal, automotive and woodshop classes gave him additional skills that are in demand.
“We might have something warped that needs to be unwarped or wood laying around like pallets that we need to rebuild for shelves to put the shipments on,” he said. “I’m able to build something like that as well as (handle) the computer side.
As National Disability Employment Awareness Month spokesperson, Robertson has advice for others with disabilities.
“I would tell them if you are sulking in your struggles, reach out. Someone is there to help you and would like to see you do better for yourself. Don’t think you are in this alone. There’s always fun to be had, lots of adventures, new challenges, and there’s always a new day.”
As far as his disability goes, Robertson said, “I would define it as a daily challenge, something that is not a barrier to hold you back, but something to challenge you to push forward.”
In Oklahoma, 16.1 percent or 643,400 of the non-institutionalized population of all ages has disabilities, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 American Community Survey.
The survey indicates that 36.6 percent of working-age Oklahomans with disabilities, ages 21-64, are employed, compared to a 37.3 percent employment rate for the same population in the U.S.
In 2018, the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services served 83,540 Oklahomans with disabilities through career planning, employment, independent living, educational programs and the determination of medical eligibility for disability benefits.
DRS’ Vocational Rehabilitation program and Visual Services employment programs helped jobseekers with disabilities reduce or eliminate their need for disability benefits and government assistance.
VR and VS staff served 10,082 Oklahomans and helped 1,560 successfully go to work. VR’s new taxpayers earned an average of $22,146 per year and paid $3,332 in average yearly taxes. Those who found employment through VS earned an average of $23,846 and paid $3,577 in taxes.
For more information visit http://www.okdrs.gov or phone 800-487-4042.