ST. LOUIS — Looking for a job is tough for anyone, but there are additional unique challenges that exist for job seekers who have disabilities.
One woman who was born without arms is helping job candidates with disabilities connect with employers using a cutting-edge platform she created.
Letisha Wexstten is the founder and CEO of V15Able (pronounced 'visible').
“The struggle was getting through the door and helping them as an employer know that I am capable of doing the job," she told 5 On Your Side.
Getting the job done is nothing new to Wexstten, though she may just do it a little bit differently than most people.
She was born without arms and at an early age had to learn how to do everything with her feet. Wexstten has inspired people around the world through her YouTube channel Tisha UnArmed, where she makes informational and witty videos of her daily life without arms.
She chuckled and shared, “Seeing someone without arms can be shocking at first. But once you get to know me and understand who I am, you quickly almost forget that I don’t have arms."
Wexstten said she’s been on the receiving end of that shocked look many times — especially when searching for work.
“It turned out that all of these interviews that I went to didn’t really amount to anything because I felt like they had a lot of questions that they weren’t asking," she explained.
She feels employers had questions like whether or not her disability would prevent her from being able to do the job.
Recognizing that other people with disabilities experienced the same obstacles, she created V15Able in 2019. The '15' in V15Able represents the 15% of the global population with disabilities. She built the job portal website, where people with disabilities can connect with employers, while studying at UMSL in 2019 through the Entrepreneurial Quest Accelerator (EQ) program and won a $15,000 grant.
“You can upload information about your career goals, your skills, other information, any experience you have. But, we take it a step further by asking you questions about your disability and what accommodations you need, what equipment you would need to work," Wexstten said.
"We have a feature where you can upload a video of you working or driving. When employers pull up your V15Able account they can learn more about you and see you’re capable of doing those jobs,” she added.
V15Able won a $50,000 St. Louis Arch Grant later in 2019. In 2020, V15able partnered with St. Louis startup studio Sigla to build the first iteration of its platform, which made its debut in March 2021.
V15Able is all about creating a safe space where questions get answered and opportunity can come knocking.
“They either feel more comfortable asking you questions during your interview or can understand you more and learn how they can accommodate you in the workplace," Wexstten shared.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the unemployment rate in 2020 was the highest its been in seven years.
Wexstten said a big part of the staggering employment gap is a lack of understanding.
“Our tagline is ‘Changing the world one hire at a time.’ We love that because the more people with disabilities who are in the employment industry, the easier it will be to hire the next person with a disability. I’m hoping that maybe 20 years from now, V15Able won't be needed because there’s more understanding, there’s more education around what a disability is and how to accommodate it.”
Right now V15Able is in phase one, where job seekers can create their own profiles on the site. Wexstten and the team said they're eager to move to phase two, where employers can create profiles to share the accommodations they offer in the workplace. V15Able is in need of investors to get to that next phase.