Stacie Ann Sparks, a client of
the Tennessee Division of Rehabilitation Services (TDRS), was
diagnosed with severe scoliosis at age twelve, which
necessitated an operation that completely fused her spine from
neck to tail bone. This resulted in inability to lift over ten
pounds, limited standing and sitting tolerance, the inability to
turn her neck, and a great deal of daily discomfort. Her range
of motion is drastically limited; she can bend her back
marginally at the waist and has little flexibility her trunk.
The surgery left her with a permanent disability.
Due to the extreme arthritis, bursitis, and knots that resulted, Ms. Sparks had the metal instrumentation removed in two separate surgeries. These surgeries were required because of continuous pain and inflammation in her back due to the metal rods and screws rubbing against tissue and muscle. Again, she was cut from her neck to tailbone. The pain decreased, but the physical disabilities described above remain.
The Tennessee Division of Rehabilitation Services provided funding for tuition and books at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville (UTK) and the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga (UTC). In both programs, Ms. Sparks received assistance from the university programs for students with disabilities, including special equipment in the rooms and extra test time provided in an accommodated setting. The UTC and UTK disabilities programs also provided explanation to her instructors about her disability and provided guidance in career development and tutoring services. Ms. Sparks coordinated book carriers, van services, and classroom and testing accommodations through the programs.
The Counselor, Lynn Finnell of the Chattanooga office, states that this case is a unique one for a myriad of reasons and reflects the merit and pure determination of this young lady. Despite the adversities of overcoming physical disabilities and life threatening surgeries, Ms. Sparks was able to graduate in three years from UTK with a 3.5 grade point average and a resume full of extracurricular activities and awards. She again defeated all odds in entering a challenging Master’s program at the UTC, completing a Master’s of Business Administration (a 2 1/2 year program) in only one year, maintaining honors with a 3.75 grade point average. In addition, she worked throughout her undergraduate and graduate studies at part time employment, developing her skills and business knowledge, which led to a sought-after career with a Federal agency. She was able to obtain a competitive salary and position in a competitive field, an impressive accomplishment for a 23-year-old woman overcoming physical disabilities, limitations, and adversities.
Ms. Sparks is a program manager for the Information Technology Security Communications, Awareness, Training, and Education Programs at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). She has helped to start a program that will train over 13,000 employees on how to better protect the government’s information assets. This program and training contribute to compliance for TVA in regards to the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) as supported by the Homeland Security Act and Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Ms. Sparks is quoted as saying, “My job is on the cutting edge of technology and I enjoy staying current with the government’s direction of security today.”
Today, Ms. Sparks is a self-sufficient businesswoman, contributing productivity and efficiency to the community and government that provided her a head start on reaching her goals. She said, “Without Vocational Rehab funding, I would not have been able to finish college because of the amount of burden in medical expenses my parents incurred and the daily challenges I would have faced in obtaining accommodations on my own. The monetary assistance, supported accommodations, and tutors really prove that with assistance, physically handicapped individuals can overcome the odds and become self reliant. More support for these programs is needed by our state and federal representatives. What a difference a helping hand can make in providing education and a ‘step up’ for kids like me!”