Brian is an outgoing, energetic individual who is known to always have a smile on his face. Brian has built a full life between work, volunteering as a youth group leader at his church, and keeping stats for Valley Christian basketball and Oshkosh West baseball. In his free time, he loves traveling, watching sports, and going to concerts and festivals.
Brian’s Lakeland Care Manager shares, “Anyone who has the pleasure of meeting Brian knows what a joy it is. He will surely make you laugh and have a story to share. Brian’s outgoing lifestyle brings him in contact with many interesting people and situations.”
Brian is an exceptional listener and enjoys using this skill paired with his creativity to produce social media messages to attract new business for the companies he supports through his employer, 44° North in Oshkosh. Although he has lived in Oshkosh most of his life, he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Illinois but remains a dedicated Wisconsin sports fan.
After college, Brian worked with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) and Lakeside Packaging Plus to assist him in finding employment. His employment journey began in 2017 when he interned as a research assistant for a local politician. Brian went on to digital sales for a well-known radio station which he enjoyed but they didn’t have the budget to bring him onto the team. It wasn’t until late 2018 that Brian connected with 44° North. Owner, Diane Penzenstadler, says she wish she would have brought him on sooner!
“Brian plays an important role. He does social media for a particular client along with random jobs without question or complaint and he always does a good job.”
He began with 44° North as an intern through a temporary work experience program through DVR with the support from Lakeside Packaging Plus. Brian received support on-the-job for a short period of time to help bridge the gap between Brian and his employer to ensure proper communication during his training period. Brian was hired on after his internship ended and shortly after, the support through DVR and Lakeside Packaging Plus became unnecessary and concluded.
If you see Brian around town you will notice that he is in a power wheelchair due to his limited mobility. Because he relies on others for personal cares, he only works part-time shifts so cares can be provided outside of work hours. Brian’s disability has created barriers for him throughout his life, but it wasn’t until after college that he lost all ability to speak. Brian is an outgoing guy who loves to socialize with others. This was challenging for Brian and he had to adapt to a new way to communicate using technology.
Brian uses a variety of accommodations to assist with his communication barriers and limited mobility including using an adaptive computer mouse, a word prediction program, and applications on his iPad and computer. Being nonverbal does not stop Brian from his charming sense of humor. Diane shared that during his interview, she asked him the question “In a year, if I asked you ‘I’m glad I took this job because ______’” Brian quickly shot back, “I have a great boss”.
Despite the barriers and disability, Brian has persevered, accomplished goals, and built himself a full life which he is proud of. Having a disability does not mean that expectations are lowered for Brian- just that the way he accomplishes a task might look different. Diane explains that she holds Brian to the same standard as all her employees and keeps expectations high because she knows that he can meet them. As part of the team at 44° North, Brian receives support from his supervisor for typical support that any employee receives such as proofreading and quality checks as needed. The team is also happy to help Brian if he needs his glasses cleaned or drops something which he needs someone to pick up for him.
Brian is happy to share his story and how he was able to achieve the success in his life. Brian shares, “I would encourage people with disabilities to never give up on finding employment. Especially in this day of technology, there are more viable opportunities than ever for people like us. And I would encourage employers to not focus in on what we CAN’T DO, but rather what we CAN DO, our abilities, and what we could bring to the organization.”
Diane shares her message to the community and employers that it is important that we come together to see past a person’s disability so we can see their abilities and offer opportunities for employment. 44° North and other employers who have hired people with disabilities share that they have enjoyed diversifying their workplace, broadening perspectives, and welcoming skills and talents that they struggled to find. Hiring people with disabilities makes business sense, it helps the bottom line, AND it is the right thing to do.