Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services Success Story
In 2004, the Texas Rehabilitation Commission (TRC) was consolidated into the state agency now known as the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS). The following Success Story comes from the TRC period.
James Skains is a very extraordinary man! He does just about anything any other 38-year old guy does. He works and supports himself and his family. He drives himself where he needs to go. He hunts, fishes, mows and edges his own yard, swims, dives off the high diving board, races remote cars, and the list goes on.
So what’s the big deal? Skains was born with no legs, only one arm and three fingers.
“From the first day I saw James,” said Keith Stanford, area manager in the TRC Waco field office, “he was an inspiration to me. He rolled into the TRC office in 1981 in an old raggedy wheelchair he had picked up at a garage sale. After our meeting, he went out to his pickup truck, transferred himself to the tailgate, lifted the wheelchair into the bed of the truck, swung himself up on the side and around into the cab - and drove off! I couldn’t believe it. I knew right away that this was a ‘can-do’ guy.”
Skains’ high school counselor had told him about TRC so he went in to see if he could get help transitioning into college. TRC paid for his training as a machinist at Texas State Technical College (TSTC) and ordered him a new wheelchair. He received the chair just prior to traveling to Washington D.C. to accept an award as “Handicapped College Student of the Year” by Vice President George Bush in 1983.
“I asked him if he wanted to practice rolling this new direct-drive wheelchair,” recalls Stanford. “He transferred from that old garage-sale chair onto the new chair, he took off into the parking lot, spun a few wheelies, and said, ‘Hot dog! I’m going dancing tonight.” Skains danced all the way to DC and back.
When Skains graduated from TSTC, in 1983, he and his new wife headed to San Antonio where he accepted a job as a machinist at Kelly Air Force Base. He worked there for five years and was named “handicapped employee of the year” three years in a row.
After five years and a divorce, James left his job at Kelly and moved back to Waco so he could raise his son near his family. James never anticipated the difficulty he would face getting another job. Most prospective employers didn’t know how to deal with his disability. It took a full year, but one company took the gamble and it paid off big.
He is a great employee and he works as well or better than anyone else,” said Ronnie Gibson, Skains’ supervisor at Huck Fasteners. “I may come to work feeling bad, but when I see James, it completely turns my day around. He makes me realize that I have a lot to be thankful for.” Gibson says he sometimes forgets that Skains has a disability so he has to be careful not to give him something that he cannot do safely. “No matter what I give him to do,” said Gibson, “he figures out a way to do it.”
Skains works the late shift at Huck Fasteners where he has worked for 13 years. He makes a comfortable living and plans to work there until he retires or can’t work anymore. According to Skains, the key to his success is that his family didn’t treat him differently.
“The doctors told my mom that if she wanted me to be a normal person, treat me normal and give me a whipping when I needed it,” Skains smiled. “And she sure did.”
Skains remembers helping in the garden, playing with his brothers - who showed him no mercy - and the neighbor kids.
“My brothers even put me in the dryer when I was a kid, so I had to learn to hold my own,” said Skains. “I got around on a skateboard so most of the kids couldn’t even keep up with me. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even know I was different until I was six years old and started school. As far as I’m concerned, if you’ve ‘gotta’ do it, you just do it,” says James.
With that attitude and some support from TRC - he’s doing it!