by Nathan Rubbelke

Letisha Wexstten used YouTube videos to show the world what she was capable of doing without arms. Now she's determined to help other disabled workers make a similar case to the world. Here's her story.

Letisha Wexstten stood behind the video camera. In her sights was David Carnahan, sitting at a computer, typing.

It was a mundane activity that, considering the stories of both Wexstten and Carnahan, was anything but mundane.

Wexstten, 36, was born without arms and a condition that made one leg shorter than the other. Carnahan, 42, survived a self-inflicted gunshot 10 years ago that left him blind, with facial deformities and speech impairment.

Their conditions make them different from the rest of the workforce, enough that employers might question, without exploration, things like whether a blind man can navigate his way across a keyboard. So in filming this moment, Wexstten was attemping to do for Carnahan what she'd already succeeded in doing for herself: Build a career.

Ten years ago, Wexstten struggled to secure work as a graphic designer and began publishing videos of herself completing daily tasks. The videos brought national attention and job offers, eventually turning her into an entrepreneur as founder and CEO of V15able (pronounced "visible"), a St. Louis startup that launched in 2019 with a mission to create an online platform connecting employers to disabled job candidates, like Carnahan.

V15able helps disabled workers create online profiles that showcase their abilities while connecting them with employers. It's starting to attract employers onto its platform at a time when companies are showing signs of recognizing the potential of tapping into the disabled workforce.

A tight labor market, with historic levels of open jobs, has forced employers to give greater focus on recruiting and retaining individuals with disabilities, a group that experts say has long been a "hidden" talent pool. In 2021, only 19.1% of people with disabilities were employed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That compares to 63.7% of able-bodied workers.

Some of St. Louis' largest employers are also addressing the issue. Maryland Heights-based technology consultancy World Wide Technology and St. Louis-based financial services giant Edward Jones — Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, among the region's largest privately held companies — in the past year made moves to offer more resources for disabled workers while also hiring for new roles specifically focused on accessibility.

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Edward Jones has hired a director of disability inclusion and accessibility, Monica Reha, who will be in charge of implementing a disability strategy for Edward Jones' employees and clients.

World Wide Technology also has recently hired an accommodations specialist, a newly created position.

Like Edward Jones, WWT, which provides technology products and services globally for large businesses and government entities, is sharpening its focus around disability inclusion. In 2021, the privately held, $14.5 billion firm formed a new employee resource group, called WWT Able, and in July announced it inked a partnership with Inclusively, a St. Louis company that has developed a workforce inclusion platform to help companies find disabled workers.




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