Ryan Willis: How a Positive Attitude — And DRS — Helped This Ability Works Winner Reach His Employment Goals

Home » Ryan Willis: How a Positive Attitude — And DRS — Helped This Ability Works Winner Reach His Employment Goals

Ryan Willis: How a Positive Attitude — And DRS — Helped This Ability Works Winner Reach His Employment Goals

For Ryan Willis, a positive, can-do attitude helps him handle his job and personal challenges.

Ryan was born with spina bifida, caused when a baby’s spinal cord fails to develop correctly in the womb, and it resulted in Ryan’s legs being paralyzed. 

He grew up in Piedmont, located in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle. He attended Keyser High School, graduating in 2012, and attended Potomac State College.

Ryan’s mom works for the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS), so she referred him for vocational assistance when he was in high school, explained DRS Branch Office Manager Sherry Faulk. According to Faulk, Ryan has been a DRS consumer on more than one occasion since high school, and he has received various services, including vocational counseling and guidance, job placement, and transportation assistance.

DRS first assisted Ryan with getting a job. Later, DRS helped him with job retention services, which involved modifications to his wheelchair-accessible van so he could continue getting to work.

Ryan is a store manager at Hampshire County Special Services Center.

Hampshire County Special Services Center is a Community Rehabilitation Program, which DRS frequently utilizes to provide certain assessment and training services to consumers, and it also offers employment opportunities in various areas.

According to Jillian Valentine-Bell, a Hampshire County Special Services Center representative, they operate a store that sells new merchandise, and that is where Ryan works.

Valentine-Bell described Ryan’s responsibilities as running the cash register, pricing and stocking merchandise, cleaning merchandise display areas and providing customer service.

Ryan’s favorite tasks are pricing merchandise and getting to know the customers.

Faulk explained that Ryan only needed a little training for the job. “Ryan is a quick learner and can do pretty much anything you throw at him,” she said.

Valentine-Bell agrees with that and credits him with being able to train others in the store.

Faulk believes Ryan is effective at his job because he is good at working with people. “He has a great personality and can get along with just about anyone,” she said.

Ryan feels his most significant accomplishment, thus far, is living to be 30 because doctors advised his mom that he would not make it that far. He has survived a MRSA infection, kidney failure and a blood clot that went through his heart and into his lungs, causing him to code for about 20 minutes. 

As for plans for his future, Ryan intends to go with the flow. He has never let his disability stop him from doing what he wanted. He just has to go about it a different way sometimes.

According to Faulk, Ryan is easygoing and adaptable and can accomplish whatever he wants. “He has always just picked up and went and did what he wanted to do and doesn’t let anything hold him down,” she said.

Are you ready to reach your employment goals? We can help! Connect with DRS today.

Ryan Willis was selected as an Ability Works Award Winner in 2023. The annual Ability Works Awards honor one outstanding consumer from each of the agency’s six districts, coinciding each October with National Disability Employment Awareness Month.