By John Marchioro, Illinois Department of Human Services, Division of Rehabilitation (DHS-DRS)
Allen Sugar is a man of many talents and interests. He loves to cook, read and has been a fan of chess his whole life. A dedicated and devoted husband and self-employed business man, Allen seems like he has it all. But it’s what he doesn’t have that makes this story of success so much more intriguing.
Allen was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, in the 1940s. He was born deaf due to a disability known as Ushers Syndrome. With little to no supports in the public school system, Allen’s parents made the decision to send him to St. Joseph’s school for the deaf in St. Louis, Missouri. Allen always returned home for the summers and spent time with his family.
Upon graduation from high school, Allen began working full time at his family’s steel warehouse business. It wasn’t too long into his tenure that he began to notice that his vision was significantly deteriorating. Discouraged but determined to make sure he would maintain as much of his independence as possible, Allen left for New York to attend the Helen Keller Center for Deaf–Blind Youths and Adults. While there, Allen gained the skills necessary to remain independent at home and in the community without the use of sight or hearing.
Upon his return from The Helen Keller Center, Allen attended Prairie State College in Chicago Heights, Illinois, where he earned a degree in Accounting. Determined to seek out a new career, Allen leveraged the assistance of the Illinois Department of Human Services, Division of Rehabilitation Services (DHS-DRS). DRS counselors reviewed his skills and matched him with a training program specifically for individuals who are blind and visually impaired know as the Business Enterprise Program for the Blind, or BEPB. BEPB allows blind individuals an opportunity to be trained on how to run and eventually operate a successful vending business.
Allen’s background in accounting, as well as his family business, made this self-employment venture a terrific match, and in 1995 was recognized as the first Deaf-Blind graduate of the Business Enterprise Program for the Blind. In 2012, Allen was recognized by his fellow BEPB vendors as the “Vendor of the Year,” a prestigious award for continuing to go above and beyond expectations in job performance.
Allen has come a long way since his graduation. He now employs one staff member, who also is deaf, and owns 12 different vending machines in two different federal buildings in Chicago. Allen is in charge of ordering inventory, replacing inventory and maintaining all of the bookkeeping and revenues. Allen communicates with his vendors through the use of assistive technology that transfers his brailed information into a computer program readable by others. He also has a currency counter that transfers the tallied revenue into a brailed report that is then formatted by Allen into a spreadsheet report.
Allen says he is a firm believer that people with disabilities should contact DRS to help them be successful in obtaining or maintaining employment just like they have done with him. He also believes that employers should partner with DRS when looking to hire new employees. “If I can do it, so should others.”
DHS’s Division of Rehabilitation Services is the state’s lead agency serving individuals with disabilities. DRS works in partnership with people with disabilities and their families to assist them in making informed choices to achieve full community participation through employment, education, and independent living opportunities.
To learn more, call 1-877-761-9780 Voice, 1-866-264-2149 TTY, 312-957-4881 VP, or visit them at drs.illnois.gov/success.
Photo courtesy of Illinois Department of Human Services