My young friend Steve has good looks, personality, a big smile, and a disability you cannot see. His “normal” outward appearance masks his intellectual disability, caused by a genetic condition.
When disabilities are easy to spot, it’s easy to be kind. But people like Steve, high functioning with mild cognitive impairment, need a little kindness too.
Steve has been working full time for seven years at a car dealership, washing and waxing cars. He loves cars. Knows everything about them. He even knows how to drive. Not bad for a young man who cannot read or write.
So when a new human resources manager joined the company, she challenged a disability she could not see or understand:
How could he know which products to use if he can’t read labels?
How could he enter his time if he can’t write?
How could he pass online safety tests if he can’t use a keyboard?
How did he graduate from high school?
The answers are simple: reasonable accommodations. Thank you, Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), celebrating its 25th anniversary this week.
That’s how he’s able to do more than anyone imagined he could.
He passed his driver’s test by listening to a friend read him the study guide over and over. Little by little, he came to understand traffic laws. Road signs became visuals for navigating. And operating a vehicle? “I’m a natural,” Steve smirks.
The road test was the easy part, but he was nervous about the online exam. Headphones enabled him to listen to questions and multiple-choice answers, and a touch screen helped him pick the right answer when he heard it, proving there’s more than one way to appraise someone’s knowledge.
At work, products and labels are visuals to him. He knows the blue window cleaner by its look and smell. Same for the pink soap. The wax? “Now that’s obvious,” he grins. “Take a look and a whiff. That’s wax! No doubt about it.”
Entering his time “is a piece of cake,” according to Steve, who can tell time and write numbers, a brain process quite different from decoding letters. That's why some of us are better with numbers, and others with words.
Because of his disability, Steve learns in a different way than most. Accommodations at school and work, however, have indeed enabled him to learn to his full capacity and become a productive and proud adult.
Oh, by the way, how did he graduate? With a mile-wide smile on his face as he walked across the stage and accepted his diploma, just like everybody else.