All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for January 2004

Doerfer wins multiple sclerosis employer of the year

Jan 1, 2004
Charles Emerick
The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier

Julie Nordman is thankful for her job as a receptionist at TDS Automated.

Nearly 20 years ago Nordman was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a chronic autoimmune disease of the central nervous system that causes muscular weakness, loss of coordination and other disturbances.

In Nordman's case it began with diminished vision. Later her legs went numb.

"Twenty years ago there wasn't a whole lot anybody could do," she said. "Now they have made a lot of progress. But what happened 20 years ago they can't bring that back."

Keeping a job, let alone finding one, was once difficult.

Nordman sent dozens of resumes. A few interviews resulted, but she still couldn't find work.

With a bachelor's degree in accounting from the University of Northern Iowa and a master's degree in social work from the University of Iowa, finding a job should not have been so troublesome.

"There was one (interview) that I was very aware that (the disease) was an issue," she said. "I was overqualified for the position. I just didn't get any response from what I was telling them. I never did hear anything back from them. So obviously there are people that don't want to mess with that."

However, Nordman's luck changed when she found Doerfer Cos. in April 1999.

The Cedar Falls company had a temporary position available for a receptionist. Nordman was hired through Kelly Services. Two months later she was offered a permanent job, which she happily accepted.

"She's a very fun person to have around," Doerfer Cos. President Dave Takes said. "She a very pleasant person. You come in the door and she's one of the first people you encounter."

But Nordman, who uses a wheelchair as she has been unable to walk for years, found it difficult to get around the facility. Getting in and out of the front entrance proved problematic. Access to the bathroom was also strenuous.

Finding a new job that accommodated her needs was something Nordman could neither afford nor wanted to do.

Fortunately, Takes and coworkers stepped in and made her life easier.

"Julie was an addition to our team, and that meant taking steps to help her join the team," Takes said. "Those steps may be different than what we do for others, but we felt it was necessary for her to have adequate access and be able to come in and do the things she needed to do."

Company engineers also ordered a hand-cranked bike for Nordman and customized it, making it more convenient for her to move inside the building.

"These engineers here love playing with toys," Takes said. "They assembled it and had to give it a test drive around the parking first."

Changes were soon made around the building. She was given a parking space next to the front door. The sidewalk leading to the entrance was adjusted to a more gradual and easier incline. A small lip, which made it difficult for Nordman to move through the front door, was removed. And a wider doorway to the bathroom was installed.

"The people there were great," Nordman said. "They made it nice to work there.

"One of the guys came in one day and told me that one of my tires was low and it's something I would have never noticed. My rearview mirror fell off and one of the guys got some glue and put it back on. If the snow was bad they would shovel out to my vehicle," she recalled.

Then Nordman's condition caused her eyesight to worsen. The commute from Waverly to Cedar Falls became increasingly difficult. Nordman contemplated quitting the Doerfer job.

Again, Takes was there to help.

Shortly after Doerfer acquired TDS Automated in June 2003, Takes moved Nordman's receptionist job to the Waverly facility, just one mile from her home.

"I think if I would have stayed at Doerfer I wouldn't be working today," Nordman said. "It's harder for me to drive that far. It's not that far, but on snowy and bad days it's nice to only have to drive a mile. This move has really prolonged the length I can work."

After providing her with a great deal of assistance, Nordman searched for ways to show her appreciation to Takes and Doerfer. About that time she came across the Iowa Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Every year the chapter gives out its Employer of the Year Award, presented to a business that goes above and beyond to accommodate workers with MS.

Nordman nominated Takes. And in October, he was presented with the award.

"He took me in when I was quite visibly handicapped," she said, "which I don't know if a lot of places would do that. I was looking for something to acknowledge the extra things they did to make it convenient so that I could do what I needed to do. I thought this would be a good way to let others know that he has taken that extra step to make it convenient for his employees."

The award nomination was a nice gesture, Takes said.

"It was nice that she wanted to show some appreciation," he said. "We just did these things because we felt it was necessary if we wanted her on our team."

Linda Hansen, programs manager at the Iowa Chapter of the NMSS, said Nordman's story deeply touched the panel of judges, most of whom also have MS. The chapter received about 10 nominations.

"They did a lot of kind and helpful things," Hansen said, referring to Nordman's nomination letter. "They really did take good care of her. We like to honor people who do these kinds of things. This is how we should work with people of all disabilities."

© Copyright 2004, The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier