A Strong Community Can Help People Living and Working with a Disability


For the last decade, Jonathan Keleher has been coming to work every morning at 9:00 on the train, settling in and going about his day as a receptionist and administrative assistant at the Institute for Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts-Boston (ICI).

What makes Mr. Keleher’s day unique, however, is that he was born without a cerebellum—a part of the brain that contains roughly half of the neurons, and thus leaves him with difficulty balancing, and at times challenges him to organize his thoughts, especially when things get busy at the ICI. But thanks to Keleher’s determination, and the support of family and his co-workers at the Institute, he’s one of the most valued employees and a welcoming presence to people walking in the door.

“I have great attention to detail, and I’m a very social person,” he admits. “Maybe too social!” In a recent article on National Public Radio, Keleher admitted that he enjoys being with people more than anything else he does, and this is evident in his work, and in the admiration of his coworkers.

“My disability is a hurdle,” he says, “but it doesn’t impede me from doing my job.”

When Keleher needs help, however, he can turn to his boss, Operations Manager, Sarah Paterson. Paterson is available to assist Keleher when he gets overwhelmed, and it’s a comfort to him, and helps build his confidence to know she’s available.

“I love every part of this job,” Keleher says. “Sometimes too many people come to me and I have to watch the lobby and I have to watch the phone. And then I can go to Sarah.”

There are many opportunities for people with disabilities to receive assistance in going about their workday, but perhaps the best is the help they receive from co-workers. In the disability field this is known as ‘natural supports’. The DirectCourse/College of Employment Services (CES) curriculum includes an examination of natural supports, in the course Performance Coaching and Support. Be sure to visit the CES website for more information.




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