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Staff Photo by Jake Daniels/Chattanooga Times Free Press Spann Cordle, left, talks with fellow associate Alyssa Sprayberry at the Walmart in Trion, Ga. Cordle was named the Careers and the Disabled Employee of the Year in May.

TRION, Ga. -- As soon as Spann Cordle spots customers, he wheels himself over and asks if they need any help.

Sometimes he points them to the right DVD or tells them where they can find CD players. Other times he talks to them about cell phone plans.

But what he enjoys most about his job as a sales associate at the Trion, Ga., Walmart is helping customers find what they need, said the 52-year-old Summerville native.

"He's probably the most outgoing person here," store manager Jeremy Lightsey said. "He's always smiling."

Often Cordle does it with the help of his friend and service dog Finn, a 7-year-old black Labrador retriever.

If he drops something, Finn is there to pick it up. At home, Finn helps with the laundry, helps Cordle get dressed every morning and, most importantly, gives unconditional love.

Cordle was born 21/2 months premature and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. An injury to the cerebrum before, during or shortly after birth can affect a person's ability to move.

Almost four years ago, Cordle started to work for Walmart as a store greeter. The sight of Finn always attracted customers, but Cordle's aspirations were higher, and he was transferred to the store's Connection Center, where cell phones and their accessories are sold.

In 2008 he went to the company's shareholders meeting in Arkansas, where he networked, Lightsey said.

That meeting was the beginning of Cordle's disability awareness campaign with Walmart.

Cordle has talked to groups of Walmart managers about how a service dog can change someone's life. He said he wants to make sure the world's biggest company is disability-friendly and complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"When I go to a store, I don't want to sit there in the parking lot and think, 'If I take Finn into the store, do they know what they are supposed to do? Are they going to question me about whether I can bring Finn or not?'" he said. "I want to know for a fact that any store I go into, they are going to be disability-friendly and comply with ADA standards."

His goal, Cordle said, is to reach the disabled community as well as those who don't have disabilities. He wants to prove people can accomplish their goals if they focus on what they can do instead of what they can't.

He also has a website, Spann's World, where he shares his story and provides information about life with disabilities.

And trying to make sure everyone at Walmart knows the rules is the first step, he said.

Cordle said he has always considered himself to be just like anyone else, although he realizes his disability sets him apart. When asked about overcoming obstacles, he pauses.

"If you grow up with a condition, you don't see the obstacles that ordinary people see because you do it every day," he said.

"It's like people ask me today, 'Don't you miss playing baseball? Don't you miss playing football or basketball?' No, because I've never done it so I don't know what I've missed," he said.

All he can say is that he has played the cards he's been dealt and done the best he could with what he has.

Cordle considers himself to be blessed because his parents never treated him any differently from how they treated his older brother.

He graduated from Jacksonville State University in Alabama with criminal justice and public administration degrees. He worked as a probation officer in Tennessee, Georgia and Texas, where he lived with his wife of three years.

When he got divorced in 2000, he moved back to Summerville. Because jobs as a probation officer are hard to come by, he decided to apply at Walmart, where he realized he was skilled at talking to people.

He was named Careers and the Disabled Employee of the Year and represented the store in Boston on May 6 last year during the company's annual summer expo and in October was featured in Walmart World Magazine.

He has discovered a new love for traveling. He said he'd like to see Alaska next because the pictures look beautiful.

He wants to go to the Walmart stores in Alaska, talk to people and make sure they are disability-friendly, he said.

Contact Perla Trevizo at or 423-757-6578. Follow her on Twitter at