Honoring Internship Site During National Disability Employment Awareness Month

He can be whatever he wants to be,” says Gail Blackman, referring to her son Keith.

Keith is always on the go. He attends AHRC New York City’s Bronx Day Hab Without Walls, takes classes at Lehman College as he works toward his high school equivalency/associates degree, or working. He also attended AHRC NYC’s Melissa Riggio Higher Education Program at HOSTOS Community College in the Bronx. His learning never stops.

A paid internship at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum proved especially meaningful for the 30-year-old history buff from the Bronx. Keith stood out among the many candidates and was awarded the internship.

Keith, who has autism, is among five people supported by AHRC New York City who have worked for 10 weeks at the museum. “It was a wonderful experience, and I learned a lot about 9/11, when the twin towers came down and nearly 3,000 people lost their lives,” Keith says.

Describing himself as “a work in progress,” Keith says he displayed his strong work ethic and willingness to help visitors at the museum. “I wanted to work there because I wanted to be a part of it and give back and let people know we are strong and we are going to fight for our freedom and justice,” he says.

Adapting Recruitment for Neurodiverse Candidates

The five-year partnership with AHRC NYC is made possible through generous grant funding from the FAR Fund. The 9/11 Memorial & Museum has provided employment opportunities to neurodiverse interns. ACCES-VR is recognizing the 9/11 Memorial & Museum with a National Disability Employment Awareness Month regional award for its ongoing work in providing opportunities for people with disabilities. SBM, a building messenger service in Manhattan, and Macy’s in the Staten Island Mall are also being honored for providing jobs for people who receive support from AHRC NYC.

In a place where nearly 3,000 people were killed indiscriminately in the 1993 and 2001 terror attacks, one way we can demonstrate resilience and hope is by providing opportunities for those with disabilities and under-represented groups,” said Lindsay Watts, Director, Volunteer & Internship Program at the museum. “AHRC NYC has provided us with outstanding candidates, support during the onboarding process and coaches who support the interns in their jobs. It has also helped us to understand how to adapt our recruitment process to best support neurodiverse candidates. AHRC NYC’s support and partnership is invaluable for us realizing our goal providing an inclusive work environment.”

The staff have learned about the needs, behaviors, and reactions, of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. “With this knowledge, the 9/11 team provides whatever accommodations a person with I/DD needs to have a successful interview and have a positive working experience in their museum store,” says Tony Angeline, Corporate Account Developer with AHRC NYC’s Employment & Business Services. “It as if they are another department at AHRC NYC.”

Stephanie Vasquez, Assistant Sales Manager in the Retail department, who supervised Keith, says he was shy at first, not interacting much with the team. “Over time, he seemed to get past that and was able to interact with the staff and our guests,” she says. “Keith was a great addition to our team. He was so helpful when it came to guest service and sharing product stories with guests. Keith also supported the back of the house, doing shipment and inventory. He got along so well with the team.”

Importance of Education

Growing up with five brothers and sisters, all of whom attended college and are pursuing careers, provided Keith with great role models, says his mom, Gail. Her voice reflects her pride in Keith, who didn’t speak until he was 5.  “I love that he’s working and striving to be the best he can be,” she adds. She encourages her son to “reach for the stars.”

Like his siblings, he is eagerly pursuing an education. Kecha sometimes works with him on his studies toward his high school equivalency. “I encourage and remind him that making a mistake doesn’t mean you’re a failure,” Kecha says. “You never fail unless you stop trying. We learn from our mistakes.”

Gail instills the importance of education. “Knowledge is the key to everything you need to conquer,” she says.

While working in the museum retail department, Keith interacted with visitors from across the globe, who were interested in learning about 9/11 and what happened at the World Trade Center. He gained an insight into their country and culture.

I learned that we are all the same,” he says.

Keith enjoys the sense of independence he gets from working. Today he works at Old Navy in the Bronx. His experience at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum is one he will never forget, especially how comfortable the staff made him feel.

One day Keith would like to work with people with autism. He has plenty of wisdom to share. “Just because someone has a disability doesn’t mean they can’t work,” he says.