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You’re hired: Here’s what neurodiversity on the job looks like

Employees with developmental disabilities are as different from each other in talent, passion, interest and dreams as are neurotypical employees in any vocation.

Ben Riddell is a junior video assistant at TD Bank in Mount Laurel.
Ben Riddell is a junior video assistant at TD Bank in Mount Laurel.Read moreMONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer

WHO: Ben Riddell, 19

WHAT: Junior video/photo specialist in marketing

WHERE: TD Bank, Mount Laurel, N.J.

Riddell was hired after completing a 10-month program at TD Bank sponsored by Project Search, which provides vocational training and internships to young adults diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and/or an intellectual disability with the goal of competitive integrated employment. TD Bank is entering its third year as a Project Search host.

Riddell performed so well that TD Bank offered him a job, which he began in October. His duties include video production and editing, photography and production.

“What I like most about my job is the creative freedom,” said Riddell, "which always allows me to inject all my projects with my own style.”

Karyn DiMattia, head of Studio 361, TD Bank’s in-house media agency, knew Riddell would be an asset to her department.

“We got a peek at Ben’s creative potential and passion for storytelling when he interned with us in the spring,” said DiMattia. “When the opportunity arose to add him to the team, we jumped at it. We’re only a few weeks in, and he’s already adding a ton of value.”

WHO: Ellis Dunbar, 27

WHAT: Operations support services specialist

WHERE: Community Behavioral Health, Philadelphia

Although Ellis Dunbar has a college degree, it took him almost three years to find his job. His ability to get through the traditional job-interview process was often hampered by his autism, which can make for awkward social interactions with strangers.

In 2016, with assistance from employment support agency Community Integrated Services, Dunbar was hired by CBH, which provides mental health and substance abuse services for Philadelphia County Medicaid recipients. He processes 3,000 outpatient-request authorizations for CBH per month, helps purge files, pulls charts, and retrieves records from clinical offices twice a day.

“I like it here," said Dunbar, “the environment of it, the tasks.”

» READ MORE: Philadelphia companies are changing lives by hiring employees with disabilities

His supervisor, Lazette Gray, doesn’t know what she’d do without him.

“I’m serious!” she said "Ellis has sole responsibility for the authorizations, which we used to split up among our team, and he does an excellent job. He’s fast, accurate, and always on time. My biggest concern when he came here was that he wouldn’t be treated like everyone else. But he has fit right in — it feels like he’s always been here.”

WHO: Nicole Henderson and Jeremy “Jere” Zapor, both 29

WHAT: Office clerks

WHERE: Harmelin Media, Bala Cynwyd

Nicole Henderson and Jeremy “Jere” Zapor were hired on the same day in 2011 at Harmelin, where they handle mail delivery to the company’s 250 employees and help with other clerical services around Harmelin’s Bala campus.

Said Henderson, “I like that I get to meet different people — everyone here is like family. This is my first real job. Jeremy and I are a team, and I get along good with him. When I was unemployed, I pretty much watched TV and hung out with my friends. I prefer to be working, I like being hands-on. I like being professional.”

Zapor enjoys knowing what’s expected of him, he said.

“I deliver mail and amazing packages,” he said. “I also check the printers to see if they need paper, and I check the fax machines. I stamp checks and put them in the mailbox, and I say hi and good morning to everyone. There are a lot of good people here!”

Henderson and Zapor are well-known and well-liked at Harmelin, said company Vice President Lyn Strickler — Henderson for her diligence, Zapor for his charisma. Both are very good at what they do.

“They’ve been with us for so long that I think it sends the message that we’re a very inclusive company, that we welcome people who can contribute on different levels,” said Strickler. “The reality is that some people are more comfortable engaging with [Henderson and Zapor] than others, but there’s still an acceptance here that reflects what we’re about as a company: We want to be involved in a greater good.”

WHO: Eric Salomon, 22

WHAT: Customer-service associate and barista

WHERE: Kohl’s, Center Square, and VarietyWorks Coffee Cart in the Montgomery County Human Services Center, Norristown

When he finished school at 21, Eric Salomon sought employment through VarietyWorks, a program created by Variety – the Children’s Charity of the Delaware Valley, to provide individuals with disabilities access to employment. With support, he tried out positions in several areas of the Variety campus in Worcester, Pa., including the greenhouse, the commercial kitchen, and the office.

He found his calling, though, manning the VarietyWorks Coffee Cart, and has also taken on a second job at Kohl’s, where he answers customer questions and organizes, folds and restocks clothing.

“Working makes me independent, hardworking, and a kind person" said Salomon, who loves to draw and enjoys spending his paycheck at Michaels or A.C. Moore. "I love working with people. It may be hard work, but someone has to do it.”

“What makes Eric so special is his undeniable commitment to excellence,” said VarietyWorks director Tyler Kammerle. “He goes out of his way to ensure his work is completed at the highest quality. His positive attitude is contagious and elevates the morale of everybody around him."