How are you feeling, Eagles fans? We’re pretty sure most of the region will be glued to their screens later today, but while you wait for the game we’ve got food critic Craig LaBan’s 2019 Year in Bells awards for you to parse, and update (somewhat) on the search for Philadelphia’s next police commissioner, and more.
Each week we go behind the scenes with one of our reporters or editors to discuss their work and the challenges they face along the way. This week we chat with Ronnie Polaneczky, the editor of The UpSide — our section dedicated to positive things happening in and around Philly.
Your recent series ThisAbility, a special edition of The Upside, focused on special-needs adults who are entering the workforce. What sparked your interest in covering this topic?
In 2017, I wrote a four-part series called “Falling Off the Cliff” that explored the lives of adults with developmental disabilities – like autism, Down syndrome, and Fragile X, for example. One part of the series focused on the astounding difficulty these men and women have in finding meaningful employment with a decent wage. The false assumption out there is that all people with developmental disabilities are unable to work. This is as untrue as any stereotype any of us may hold about an entire group of people. The truth is this: When you’ve met a person with a disability, you’ve met ONE person with a disability. Not everyone is the same. None of us are.
What have been some eye-opening details you’ve discovered as you worked on this series?
I’ve been blown away by how many employers are willing, able, and eager to accommodate the individual work styles of employees who are ”neurodivergent” — which is the new umbrella term to describe people whose brain function “diverges” from those whose brains function more typically, which is termed “neurotypical.” Wawa alone currently employs more than 500 neurodivergent people, and have found them to be exemplary hires who have changed the workforce culture in unique and beautiful ways while also enriching the company’s bottom line.
What are some things people often misunderstand when it comes to neurodivergent adults?
That they make incredible, beloved employees who often out-perform their neurotypical co-workers. A 2018 study by Accenture found that companies that hired people with disabilities saw 72% more productivity, 45% better workplace safety, 30% higher profit margins and 200% higher net income.
What issues are currently going underreported or overlooked when it comes to special-needs adults?
There’s an absolute crisis in finding highly qualified direct support professionals — they’re the ones who help neurodivergent people define and create lives of meaning, independence and dignity. This workforce is grossly underpaid, the turnover is sky high, and people with disabilities suffer because of it.
For those who may be looking for resources to help support, or even employ, special-needs adults, where can they find more information on how to do so?
Glad you asked! Sadly, there appears to be no single clearing-house where employers can sort of one-stop shop to learn more (for heaven’s sake — why?). But below are some organizations that can help employers get started in some way. This list is by no means exhaustive, so my apologies to agencies that are not included here:
Association for People Supporting Employment (APSE) apse.org
Best Buddies bestbuddies.org/
Barber National Institute barberinstitute.org/
Community Integrated Services (CIS) cisworks.org/
Elwyn Transition Services elwyn.org
Judith Creed Horizons for Achieving Independence (JCHAI) www.jchai.org
JEVS Human Services jevshumanservices.org
Ken’s Krew kenskrew.org/
Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support kinneyautism.sju.edu
Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) dol.gov/odep/
Office of Vocational Rehab dli.pa.gov
Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS) dbhids.org
Philadelphia Transition Coordinating Council https://www.secondarytransition.org
Project Search projectsearch.us
Special Olympics specialolympics.org
Transition Pathways drexel.edu
Have you submitted a question to Curious Philly yet? Try us. We’re listening to our readers and doing our best to find answers to the things you’re curious about.
One recent question we looked into was whether or not the closing of the South Philly oil refinery that exploded and caught fire this summer has resulted in better air quality. The refinery complex was the single largest stationary source of air pollution in the city and while there is a lot of data, neither the scientists who monitor it nor city officials seem to have a clear answer. Here’s what we did find out, though.
Here’s what is more “brilliant” — A quarterback sneak on third and one and/or fourth and one, instead of two low-percentage pass attempts, and then trying a 55-yard field goal — all of this with an eight-point lead! — Let’s Be Fair, on How Doug Pederson’s harsh tactics saved the Eagles’ season.