Ep. 10: Inclusion Benefits All – The Case for Employing Neurodiverse Individuals [TRANSCRIPT]

Abby Rose Esposito, MediSked (00:11):

Welcome to the MediSked Podcast. My name is Abby Rose Esposito, and I’m a senior marketing strategist at MediSked, a technology partner to health and Human Services organizations across the country. We are so excited to welcome two special guests to the podcast today! They’re going to discuss the business case for employing neurodiverse individuals, how advocates and circles of support can assist individuals with their employment goals and a personal employment success story. So let me first introduce Ackeem! Ackeem Duggan lives in the Manhattan area of New York City, though originally coming from Jamaica with his family at the age of six, he graduated from Thomas Edison Career and Tech High School in 2011. Ackeem has attended various programs, including Prevocational and Dayhab with agencies such as Lifespire and Queens Centers for Progress. He has had various jobs throughout his career, including the Boys Club in Flushing, where he assisted with supporting children with various activities.

Abby Rose Esposito, MediSked (01:13):

His most recent employment has been with the New York City Police Department, where he currently holds the title of Administrator to the Commissioner with Future Movement into the role of Detective third grade. He volunteers at several places like the local environmentally friendly group called Green and Blue Eco Care, the Carriage Suite, a woman, black owned business, and the Bowery Mission Homeless Center. He is a member of Partners Health Plan and has served on their Volunteer Advisory Committee for three years. Now I’m gonna introduce Karleen. Karleen Haines is a nonprofit executive with 24 years of experience in the field of human services. Prior to joining Partners Health Plan in December, 2014, she was director of Vocational and Employment Services at AHRC Nassau, supporting several hundred members through programs such as day rehabilitation, supported employment, and prevocational. She was instrumental in developing and growing affirmative business models that support gainful work for adults with disabilities.

Abby Rose Esposito, MediSked (02:14):

Karleen has participated on education and workforce development committees for various disability advocacy groups, served as a diversity and inclusion facilitator, and worked as an adjunct faculty at Nassau Community College, teaching an IDD studies course. Ms. Haines recently transitioned into her role overseeing member satisfaction and advocacy for those served by Partners Health Plan and Care Design, New York. After serving in various positions with PHP, including Chief of Care Coordination and Chief of Community Relations and Outreach, she is a licensed, licensed health agent in the state of New York. Serves on OPWDD’s, DD Advisory Council, subcommittee on Housing, and holds an undergraduate degree in psychology and a master’s in management from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. So let’s talk about employment outlook. The employment landscape has changed in the last few years since the start of the pandemic. The unemployment rate for those with disabilities is higher than those without a disability. More than double employers will need to continue to be creative in how they recruit, retain, and en enhance their workforce. Community partners, advocates and employers should work together to be more open and inclusive to a neurodiverse hiring pool. So, Carlene, what are some of the barriers for a company or business when considering hiring an employee with a disability, specifically a developmental disability?

Karleen Haines, PHP (03:37):

Thanks, Abby Rose, and thanks for having us on the podcast today. We’re very excited in talking about barriers for the employer and what are some of the issues that they might encounter when thinking about hiring a diverse workforce. I think one of the things is a lack of awareness, right? And so I think employers, human resource departments, recruiters, they often have a lack of understanding of the type of candidates or the pool of folks that are out there that they can actually recruit. And so recruitment practices tend not to be as inclusive as they should be because they’re not thinking, you know, we could expand this to include folks who, you know, have no diversity. Also, I think there’s a lack of knowledge and education on the impact to their business. So, you know, we talk about, you know, if I’m a small business owner and I am thinking about what the hiring practices might be, if I was to hire a person with a disability, are there special accommodations that I will need to take part in training for that person, the new employee and, and their fellow employees?

Karleen Haines, PHP (04:51):

For example, what types of daily support will they come with the job coach? Or, you know, what are, what are some of the intricacies of, of expanding it? And sometimes that task just gets so overwhelming that it, it ends up being a, you know what, nevermind <laugh>. We’re not going to, you know, dive into that sort of end of the pool, if you will. And so lack of knowledge and education is a big part of this, as well as the fear of possible additional impacts, for example additional costs. So if I have to, you know, do some more training or some level of accommodations for this new employee you know, am I doing everything right? Will it be a cost to, to me as an employer? Might there be some labor risks labor relations risk? Am I opening myself up to say, lawsuit or something if I don’t provide the employee, the team member with everything that they may need to be successful? So again, I would say those are some of the major barriers for employers when they’re looking at diversifying.

Abby Rose Esposito, MediSked (06:02):

Right. Now what are some of the positive outcomes for a company when employing people with a disability?

Karleen Haines, PHP (06:08):

Well, we may be preaching to the choir, if you will, with folks who are taking in this podcast about, you know, being open to these possibilities. But the positive outcomes in having a, a diverse workforce for, for any employer is to enhance the working experience or their, the, the rest of the workforce as well. You know, this isn’t just about, okay, hiring that one person who has the disability, but what, how will that affect positively their coworkers and meeting a new person and, and being exposed to, you know, a diverse group of, of coworkers. So there’s some positives there for the, the rest of the personnel that are on staff. Expanding the pool of candidates to fill various positions also helps in removing bias from recruitment processes and really finding untapped talent, right? So if employers, their human resource departments and recruiters, if they tend to look at this is a, a great pool of candidates that we may be able to tap into you are going to start to look at different types of processes and, and be able to remove bias from those processes.

Karleen Haines, PHP (07:22):

In other words, well, where are we advertising our open positions? How are we advertising our op in open positions when we interview? What types of questions are we asking these types? And when we write job postings, how are we listing the job postings? And what types of things are we putting in there? And of course, other, another positive outcome for the employer could be, of course, meeting corporate goals around diversity, equity, inclusion and, and belonging, or DEIB, many corporate goal corp–even nonprofits have some level of DEIB goals. And they’ve written into their mission statements, vision statements, for example. Their board members might might say, you know, we wanna focus on inclusiveness and and opening up your employment pool helps companies to meet that goal as well.

Abby Rose Esposito, MediSked (08:17):

Yeah, totally. Now, what are some of the positive outcomes for an individual with a disability when they have a job?

Ackeem Duggan, NYPD (08:27):

Financial gain and better stability, independence, professional and personal growth, inclusion, community belonging and friendship, improved mental health and sense of personal achievement.

Abby Rose Esposito, MediSked (08:47):

Yeah, for sure.

Karleen Haines, PHP (08:49):

We wanted to also share the social determinants of health. And we know that when we, we talk about supporting individuals with disabilities or anyone, any of us for that matter, that social determinants of health or S D O H, they have a major impact on our overall wellbeing and our quality of life. And so what we’re talking today about arose is, you know, having gainful employment and what that does for a person’s life. <Laugh>, like Ackeem had mentioned, a feeling of independence, feelings of self-worth but going into social determinants of health, it also can mean safe housing. The ability to have transportation to live in a safe neighborhood to be free from discrimination and violence, to have access to education and money, right? Because if you are employed, that assists you in having some level of security with, for example, paying your rent or being able to buy groceries and keep your refrigerator stocked with, with items that you need for your overall wellness and health.

Karleen Haines, PHP (10:00):

And those are just basic things, right? In, in, in the context of, of living. And then you talk about access to proper healthcare, being able to go get to the pharmacy, being able to pay for medications, things like that. And in the realm of disability many folks do lean on insurance companies or Medicaid and Medicare, for example, to assist in some of those supports, but you may need to supplement those with other income. And so a job for a person with a disability, I think, to the outside world seems just like an extra thing. It would be nice to have a job for, for people with intellectual disabilities. Oh, it’s nice that that person gets a job. And, but we, we we’re here to kind of say we wanna expand folks knowledge base on this subject, because it, it’s not just only a nice thing, <laugh>, that someone has a job for, for many, it includes the ability to live safely and have the things that they need in their life. We know that the population at large is underemployed or unemployed of folks with disabilities. So, but we wanted to mention social determinants of health, because it does play into the larger aspect of independence and employment.

Abby Rose Esposito, MediSked (11:19):

Absolutely. If having a job is so important to everyone else, then of course it’s gonna be just as important to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. So thank you for bringing that up. Now, what are some ways that business owners and organizational leaders can advocate?

Karleen Haines, PHP (11:35):

Well, I think if you, if you are a business owner, if you are a CEO, if you’re a human resource director folks who have those level of positions of authority and can enact change, we really want folks to start to reflect on how you may be able to hire employees with disabilities in the future. You know, speak to your human resource team regarding what the hiring practices are, set measurable goals that can reflect your dedication to achieving more diverse workforce. With something like this, you can’t, it’s, it’s nice to talk about it, <laugh>, it’s nice to put it in your vision statement for sure, and goal set. But you really need to have detailed steps and measurable metrics on reaching that goal. You, you understand more, less anecdotal to some extent, and really act on what are we doing here?

Karleen Haines, PHP (12:29):

And reflect, reflect on what needs to change. I would also say educating, be educated on the value to diversifying your workforce in this matter. In other words, it’s not just enough to say, I mean, you might get there with one or two hires if you say, well, we wanna, we have a goal and we wanna put this in our vision statement, and we want to ensure that we diversify our workforce, but you really need to figure out the why. In other words, why, why are we doing this? Are we doing this just to meet some goals? So the board gives us a thumbs up, you know, are we doing this just to put an article in a newsletter? Or are we doing this because it’s, it’s something that is now going to be incorporated and embedded in our overall mission now and in the future.

Karleen Haines, PHP (13:16):

The other thing is also understanding the spectrum of the types of developmental disabilities, Abby Rose, right? Because I think it’s important to note that you might have someone with one type of disability who may be perfect for assisting in office work, right? Yet you have another who may be able to work in an IT department because of their special skill set. So it’s important while, while looking at this, not to just put all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in one bucket, right? And say, well, we have this, the maintenance job, and then maybe we’ll look at folks just to fill those maintenance jobs. I think you need to, if you have a need as an employer, what is that role? What needs to be filled? And then how can you know, these recruits sort of fill it as opposed to looking at it in one wide brush, if you will.

Karleen Haines, PHP (14:20):

And I would say also tapping into local resources and disability networks, such as the Arc, UCP, some of these larger national groups, wherever you are locally to understand how to connect, right? And where, where would I find folks with disabilities who are looking for jobs? New York State, for example, has a special website that employers can go on to look at how to hire folks with disabilities and, and, and things like that. So there’s resources out there. So as folks are educating themselves, I would say to look at which networks you can tap into.

Abby Rose Esposito, MediSked (15:00):

Awesome. Now, Ackeem, if you’re an advocate or other circle of support member, how can they advocate?

Ackeem Duggan, NYPD (15:08):

Listen to what the education and employment goals are for those that you support. Develop personalized and realistic goals. Assist in finding local resources to achieve goals. Be supportive and compassionate along the way. Always be networking. Be creative whenever possible. Think outside the box. Be bold and take a chance.

Abby Rose Esposito, MediSked (15:45):

Ah, thank you.

Karleen Haines, PHP (15:46):

I, I think what we wanna we want everybody to know here is when advocating to, to some of the points that Ackeem just made about be bold. You know, think outside the box, get yourself out there. He’s gonna talk a little bit more in a minute about his own journey, but we talked about how could your, you know, those around you advocate. How can business owners and leaders in, in, in different companies, how can they advocate? I think in general, that all of us need to remain open-minded to the various possibilities. We need to raise our voice, raise questions and concerns. I think you don’t have to be a C E O or a human resource director to, to speak up and say, you know, I think there’s others who can fill these roles, or we’d like to add to our team in this way.

Karleen Haines, PHP (16:41):

Stay educated on topics affecting citizens and, and, and folks in your neighborhood and, and, and who are near you, who may be marginalized your friends and neighbors who are adversely affected by outdated and biased systems. And this can include schooling, education, job readiness, employment practices, for example. You know, we, we do, many companies do have diversity, like I said before, diversity, equity, inclusion practices. But it’s, it’s interesting because when we, when you hear themes in and around the D e I you know, conversation, it, you know, you talk about, let’s say gender issues age issues, LGBTQ plus issues racial components, things like that. It, but neurodiversity or disability is largely on the outskirts of that, or it’s lower on the list. And I think that’s what we’re kind of trying to get <laugh> with, with our little talks that we’ve been presenting on this topic and others and today’s podcast to sort of get out there that we need to be educated on this topic as well in the diversity scope. And one of the other things we wanted to say is vote, right? Know your legislators in your area what they support share your voice on the issues that you feel are important. And we appreciate all the advocacy along the way.

Abby Rose Esposito, MediSked (18:11):

Absolutely. So, Ackeem, let’s hear your experience with this. We’d like to learn from your employment journey. So first, why don’t you tell us about your care manager? How has she helped you achieve your goals? I understand that part of your goals for independence were to move into your own apartment. Can you tell us about that?

Ackeem Duggan, NYPD (18:30):

Yes. So my care manager, she actually really helped me see the world now. You know, she, she went so far to advocate for me to the program that I attend, and told them, look, he wants to move out and this is how we’re gonna do it. And I, I was so happy, <laugh>, even she, she did, I have to give her the credit. She did all the legwork, <laugh>, and I, I mean, you know, she, she did all the paperwork and, you know, it was, it was hard. But, you know, she, she got it done, <laugh>.

Abby Rose Esposito, MediSked (19:25):

That’s incredible. I hope that she gets to hear this so that she knows how much you appreciate her. I’m sure she would be so pleased.

Ackeem Duggan, NYPD (19:34):

Yeah, she, she is like, I, I told Carlene this. I actually always say she’s like my lawyer. <Laugh>.

Abby Rose Esposito, MediSked (19:43):

Oh, <laugh>.

Ackeem Duggan, NYPD (19:43):

She funny story, long story short, when I had gotten my you know call to from my NCE to that and move in and everything, and it was done at the main office, we went there, I went with her and we sat with the, the person that’s in charge of the residential case. And he was like, okay, you know, this is the application. My care manager, she got the paper, she started and she was just like, yes, no, yes, <laugh>. And I’m like, what are, I’m like, what are you doing? You know? And some of the stuff she didn’t even ask me, she already like, already knew.

Karleen Haines, PHP (20:41):

I think this is a testament from a care management perspective that you, you know, we said this before as we were chatting earlier, that you need a good advocate on your side. All of us do, right? Regardless. And in Akeem’s case, his care manager understood and actually was benefited with the use of MediSked, for example, to understand Akeem’s case. And so mm-hmm. <Affirmative> when, when it came down to real time action and he needed to fill out paperwork and answer questions about his move into this new apartment and, and was precarious. You know, you’ve gotta be quick when some of these apartments come available. She had her stuff together, right? She had all of the information she needed to know on him his case what his needs were, you know, his doctors, all of the things that where, you know, his transportation needs everything that would benefit him. And she knew that from utilizing the tools properly to build a good case and information to then help him when it was necessary.

Ackeem Duggan, NYPD (21:49):

Yeah. And it wasn’t even like, I didn’t know how to do it. I, she just came and she was like, let me do it. You know, I was like, okay, awesome. <Laugh>, you know, she’s really great.

Abby Rose Esposito, MediSked (22:04):

So your first job, tell us a little bit about your experience. How old were you? Where did you work? How’d you get the job? What was your title?

Ackeem Duggan, NYPD (22:15):

I think I was like 18 or so. <Laugh>, I think <laugh>. I, I started, I had worked at Applebee’s and you know if you can jump, jump in Carlene I had worked at Applebee’s and I had gotten fired and it was a, a teaching moment for me.

Karleen Haines, PHP (22:44):

Yeah. We talk about as a young person, you know, when you have your first few jobs or working experience and kind of what that does for you based on, you know, your, your track, you know, what happens next for you as an adult and where you go to your feelings about your employersyour future education and goals as well as your self-esteem, right? And, and so in Ackeem’s casehe was looking for a job, young man 18, and was able to connect with the,what job coach type of, of per of position. And that job coach was really great, got to know him and helped him out with finding a local job that was walkable because he does live in New York City. Uthat was walkable and it ended up being this Applebee’s. So the job coach goes to this particular Applebee’s, speaks to the employer, which is often the case in the field of intellectual disabilities where job coaches are sort of canvasing,employers in the local neighborhoods to try and get them to bite and say, sure, let, let me give your person a chance.

Karleen Haines, PHP (23:54):

And this job coach gets this a successful connection. And so Ackeem gets, you get this job, right? And so tell the folks what your title was.

Ackeem Duggan, NYPD (24:05):

Silverware roller <laugh>.

Abby Rose Esposito, MediSked (24:07):

Oh my gosh. <Laugh>.

Ackeem Duggan, NYPD (24:08):

Yeah. Mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. Now a lot of my coworkers, cuz they’ve been there before me, and they, you know, they’re pros, waiters, waitresses, bartenders and all that. And they looking at me and they’re like, so what’s your, what’s your title? I said, silver Roller. I said, what? Literally one, one of my coworkers was like, what? I’ve never heard of that. <Laugh>. Yeah. There’s no such thing. Cause you know, you hear of like C O C O O and all that stuff. And so, you know the manager just came up with that, you know, just help me.

Karleen Haines, PHP (25:01):

So, and I think one of the things we talked about with this we don’t wanna squander the opportunity. We’re thank, you know, at the time I think you were sort of thankful that, okay, yes, I have this job and you were relying on this the paycheck and it was all, all positive. But, you know, when you think about the overall experience, the fact that you were not able to have a chance on another type of role, I think it’s what we’re trying to say, Abby Rose, right? Is that Yeah. You know, he didn’t have the opportunity to fill a role that was, or that anyone else would fill, right? We, we made this special title for him. Yeah. And then to share with the group Ackeem, when he was actually rolling the silverware into napkins, right? <Laugh>, he, they, they had him in the kitchen and at the time it was summer and at the kitchen’s hot.

Karleen Haines, PHP (25:47):

And so he had a very, a very poor experience as an employee that not only was I not in, in front of house and able to sort of engage, engage with customers. Here I am also kind of, sort of literally put to the back in the, in the heat in the back of the kitchen. And, and long story short he comes in one day without any warning and is told by the manager that we no longer will be needing you, you know, not to show up the next shift. And so that experience certainly is something that burns into your memory for sure. But he was not afforded the opportunity, even with the job coaches, advocacy to have what other employees might have. For example, if you’re or performing, your supervisor should let you know that, right? And then give you the opportunity to be educated, trained and improve with pointers and tips and support and which did not occur. And when we share this, we see a lot of head nodding in the audience and, and people sharing other, you know, similar experiences, particularly people with intellectual disabilities that the job just ended and, and without a lot of training or support, which unfortunately puts a bad taste in your mouth, Ackeem, right?

Ackeem Duggan, NYPD (27:13):

Very much so <laugh>,

Karleen Haines, PHP (27:13):

Right? And so from that, again, as a young person he then began to look at building his skills and began to volunteer. And so maybe you could talk a little bit about your volunteering in the community and where you volunteer now.

Ackeem Duggan, NYPD (27:33):

Yes. I currently volunteer for Green and Blue Eco Care. It’s run by someone that lives across the street from me. She’s like a angel at protecting the trees and plants in the, in East Harlem. We have somewhere in the area where people will run and jog and it’s by the water and on good weather. She plants a lot of flowers and plants everything over there. And let me tell you, people when they run, they bike and they go over there. Wow, you did a really good job. Even people driving, they just look and they see this big flowers. What do you do there? How do you help her? I, some stuff that she can’t carry, she won’t be able to carry. I will like, assist her with it. Sometimes I act as her bodyguard because, you know, there’s days where it gets dark and yeah. You know, I’ll, I’ll go with her and, you know, make sure, you know, she, you know, nobody’s like gonna hurt her anything. And, you know, she always tell people, this is my security <laugh>, you know? That’s awesome. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>. Yeah. Cause I also work for the police. So she, she basically is like, you know, grateful that I’m there for her.

Abby Rose Esposito, MediSked (29:20):


Karleen Haines, PHP (29:21):

Can I add that this eco care, you know, if you’ve been in, in around New York City or seen pictures that, you know it, particularly up in Harlem there, they’re, she’s real, this is a great community mission because you might have in the middle of the sidewalk, these little boxed where there’s dirt, a tree, some flowers, that kind of thing. And it brings a little life in, into the, the neighborhood. And she looks to you know, plant flowers in the season and, you know, care for the trees, water the plants, those kinds of things. And it’s, and it’s all volunteers and, and one of which is Ackeem <laugh>. So the N Y P D has a community affairs unit, and what they do to ensure that they stay connected to their local communities is they do these outings and events where they will go into, for example, different boroughs and have you know, evenings where they might meet at a community center of some kind and, you know, connect and chat with some of the, the local residents.

Karleen Haines, PHP (30:29):

And they’ll, they might do a short presentation and take questions and, and do a little meet and greet and Ackeem, because he’s so involved in his community, attended these events mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. And at one of these events, he was able to chat with chat up, if you will, <laugh> several of the N Y P D staff that were there. And this is how he got connected and started speaking to the director of comm– who he didn’t know at the time, was the director of community affairs. And just being himself, just chatting and talking, going back to the, one of the things that we said earlier, which is be bold network, always be networking. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>. And so he’s there, he’s standing at this community event, he’s shaking hands, he’s chatting, just being himself again, like I said, <laugh>. And certainly that’s when this gentleman says to him, Hey, you know what? I would love you to maybe come meet with me to talk about working with us.

Ackeem Duggan, NYPD (31:24):

Yeah. We were just chatting and he said, you know, you’d be a great fit for this position. And I would come to his office and just, you know just help with community events.

Abby Rose Esposito, MediSked (31:45):

That’s so cool. So what about, what are you doing now at N Y P D?

Ackeem Duggan, NYPD (31:51):

I’m now I have a position of third grade detective that our astonished N Y P D commissioner had bestowed on me. <Laugh>.

Abby Rose Esposito, MediSked (32:06):

That’s awesome!

Ackeem Duggan, NYPD (32:06):

No pressure. <Laugh>, no pressure. But being a detective, because I work in her office it means I am just like her administrator. I will do like her schedules. I will talk to anybody she needs to talk to you know, when she’s doing other things, I will you know, sometimes step in and speak to that person for her. So, wow. I do her, her schedule, her daily schedules, who she needs to see on this day, where she needs to go talk to her security, her her security detail, you know tell them that she’s going here, that today she’s going there, you know, what her what her her day looks like.

Karleen Haines, PHP (33:20):

One of the things I think that’s important to note too, and again, he, he did not pay me to say this, I’m just kind of <laugh>, is that he did have that job under the director of community affairs for about a year or so. And, and that, that community affairs unit, they do a lot of great things. They were standing on platforms, subway platforms, handing out masks during the pandemic, going to communities with the fire department to hand out gifts during, you know, the holiday season, things like that. But even more importantly being a crisis intervention support when, let’s say there was a fire or a flood or something, and being there to support the community in various ways. So his work with the community affairs department for about a year or so is what led to, in New York, there was a change in, in, in mayorship.

Karleen Haines, PHP (34:12):

And once the mayor changes, then there’s some appointments that change. And that mayor then our new mayor over in New York City, had appointed the first female commissioner N Y P D commissioner of color. And she, she wonderfully then started to look within her own department to fill some positions and roles, at which point then she tapped into Ackeem to do that. And I think it’s important, I think that we talk about the path, right? And in other words, your successes in the previous position put you in a, a good spot in which you were then tapped into becoming a, a direct administrative support to the commissioner.

Ackeem Duggan, NYPD (34:51):

Karleen said it perfectly, and I, you know, till this day I still pinch myself. I’m like, really, this is a position I never thought I would be in. I, I have family who are officers and this was not really in my rear view mirror <laugh>, you know, but having her, you know, tap me in this position, it’s amazing.

Abby Rose Esposito, MediSked (35:23):

That’s awesome. Well, we are just about out of time, but I just wanted to thank you guys so much for sharing your stories. This has been an incredible, incredible episode and I hope that we get to chat with you guys again soon.

Ackeem Duggan, NYPD (35:36):

Thank you.

Karleen Haines, PHP (35:39):

Thank you so much, Abby Rose and MediSked, for having us on.

Ackeem Duggan, NYPD (35:43):

Thank you.

Abby Rose Esposito, MediSked (35:47):

Thanks for being here.