On Top of the World: Meet Austin!


More than anything, Austin Shirk wanted to be a Buckeye.

Austin putting a sterilization rack back on the belt in Central Sterile Supplyl

From his home in Allen, Texas, he’d cheer for the football team alongside his parents, Dina ’88 and Dave ’92, and he often went to games when visiting Ohio relatives. As he grew up, he dreamed of taking college classes at Ohio State, making new friends and finding a good job.

But his prospects for higher education seemed remote to Austin and his parents. Austin is among millions of people in this country with an intellectual or developmental disability, less than a quarter of whom go on to college after finishing high school, according to Think College, a national nonprofit working to raise that percentage.

As for finding a good job, “We were having a heck of a time getting anyone to give Austin a chance in Texas,” Dina said. Though her son enrolled in independent living and job training programs, they didn’t lead to jobs. Instead, he languished on waiting lists.

If local programs could not help Austin, the Shirks decided, then they would move on. They began searching for an alternative and could hardly believe it when their quest led to their alma mater.

Ohio State had created a program in 2011 called Transition Options in Postsecondary Settings, or TOPS, to provide personalized support to students with intellectual or developmental disabilities. The program is designed for students who want to learn life skills and find a job that matches their abilities and talents — all while experiencing the university’s vibrant academic and social life.

Austin had a chance to be a Buckeye.

He couldn’t fill out the TOPS application fast enough, and the Shirks waited nervously for the call. Then it came: He was in. “It was a big accomplishment, a big step to get into TOPS,” Austin said.

A world of firsts awaited Austin when he arrived in Columbus in 2014. While he was excited to be on campus, it was a big adjustment, and he would be living in his own apartment for the first time. Austin, who loved auditing classes with more “typical” Ohio State students, discovered a special interest he didn’t know of: “I enjoyed earth sciences, especially the lectures, labs and hands-on activities,” he said.

Based on that, his job coaches found him internships with the Nisonger Center Dental Program and a private dental clinic in Columbus, where he assembled instrumentation trays and sterilized equipment.

After completing the TOPS program in 2016, Austin went to work at the Wexner Medical Center where he supports the Central Sterile Supply department. His position pays a fair-market wage with full benefits, including retirement benefits and health insurance. “I love my job,” he said. “It’s worth going through the [challenges that accompany] being in TOPS.”

His manager, Jen Smith, is similarly delighted.

“Austin is so eager to learn new tasks, and he gets along with everyone,” Smith said. “I’ve never seen one human being get along so well with everyone.” It’s not just that Austin is nice; his contributions make the entire team more effective. “He can handle tasks that were taking our clinical staff away from production,” said Smith, who hopes to create another job with TOPS. “We would have two of Austin if we could.”

In helping students find their way as young adults, TOPS changes lives for entire families.

“I am so excited about Austin’s job,” Dina Shirk said. “When we got his diagnosis at age 10, the doctor said, ‘If I were you, I would teach him a few things and forget everything else.’ We never went back to him, and Austin has so exceeded those expectations.”

Source: MacLellan, Erin. “On Top of the World.” The Ohio State University Alumni Association, Ohio State Alumni Magazine, 2017, www.osu.edu/alumni/news/ohio-state-alumni-magazine/issues/march-april-2017/on-top-of-the-world.html.


Upcoming Webinar Series: Support for Aging Caregivers

Hamilton County Developmental Disabilities Services is offering several webinars in October and November on future planning for families who have an older caregiver. Register today for any of these FREE webinars.

Trusts and STABLE Accounts – What Families Needs to Know
October 27, 2020
6:30 – 8:30PM

The Future is Now
Four part series held on November 10, 12, 17, and 19
6:00 – 7:30PM

Source: Orange and turquoise flyer for Aging Caregiver Webinar; all details described in post. “DD Council Connection – September 2020.” Ohio Developmental Disabilities Council, Sept. 2020, ddc.ohio.gov/News/Newsletters/DD-Council-Connection/DD-Council-Connection-September-2020.

Meet Jackson – Teacher’s Assistant at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Columbus

Jackson has always wanted to work with children and recently began a position as a Teacher’s Assistant at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Columbus. He helps the children with naptime, assists with lesson preparation, passes out snacks, and overall ensures children are happy, safe and engaged during playtime and the lessons. Jackson’s amazing work ethic and dedication were recognized by the Jewish Community Center as he was recently promoted to a full-time employee! Jackson shared he loves his job because he loves having the opportunity to work with and help kids.

Jackson smiling in front of a wall of music-related terms

Ohio State recognized with Employer Partners of Inclusion Platinum Award

Ohio State has been recognized for our commitment to the inclusion of individuals with disabilities in the workplace, and for being a leader of diversity and inclusion best practices in Ohio.

Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD) has awarded Ohio State with a 2020 Employer Partners of Inclusion Platinum Award, which honors employers who have hired at least five OOD job seekers in the one-year evaluation period and met specific criteria that demonstrates their level of diversity and inclusion practices.

“Creating a diverse and inclusive culture where every individual is valued and can contribute is the foundation for a productive, gratifying workplace,” Susan Basso, senior vice president for talent, culture and human resources, said. “We appreciate our partnership with OOD and are proud to be recognized for our commitment to providing a positive workplace culture for all employees.”

Ohio State has been honored for the fourth consecutive year for dedication to the OOD partnership and continuous hiring and support of OOD candidates. In addition, Ohio State’s partnership with OOD includes a full-time talent sourcing coordinator on the Human Resources talent team and facilitates the hiring of many OOD candidates across all campuses and the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center.

Ohio State was also recognized in 2017, 2018 and 2019 for creating a culture which encourages the support and advancement of employees with disabilities.

Read more on the OOD website.

Article Source: “Ohio State Recognized with Employer Partners of Inclusion Platinum Award.” Human Resources: Appreciation, Awards and Recognition, HR Connection, 2 Oct. 2020, hr.osu.edu/news/2020/10/02/ohio-state-recognized-with-employer-partner-of-inclusion-platinum-award/

Meet Jason – Intern at Nationwide Insurance

Jason is our first paid intern with Nationwide Insurance. He is working virtually with the Digital Accessibility Team to pilot writing Digital Accessibility newsletters and blog posts to be disseminated amongst their 30,000+ employees. Jason is learning about and researching the importance of digital accessibility and creating accessible newsletter content.

Later in October, Jason and TOPS Program staff Ashlee Leslie, will be attending the 2nd Annual Nationwide Accessibility Awareness Event to be part of a panel discussion on increasing access and opportunity for individuals with disabilities. Jason will also be speaking about his experience with inclusion. Jason is so excited to have the chance to intern for Nationwide, learn about digital accessibility and continue honing his creative writing skills.

Jason is smiling while sitting at his work station at home

Jason’s work setup as he interns virtually from home

Disability Rights Ohio Releases Plain Language Voter Guides

Logo for Disability Rights Ohio

Be prepared for Election Day on Tuesday, November 3, 2020 by learning about your rights as a voter with a disability. Disability Rights Ohio (DRO) has released a new set of plain language guides with helpful information for voters with disabilities. The series includes:

These guides are available on DRO’s website.

Important dates to remember:

Source: “DD Council Connection – September 2020.” Ohio Developmental Disabilities Council, Sept. 2020, ddc.ohio.gov/News/Newsletters/DD-Council-Connection/DD-Council-Connection-September-2020.

Webinar Series: Emergency Readiness

Logo for the Center for Disability EmpowermentThe Center for Disability Empowerment is hosting a series of Emergency Readiness Presentations for persons with paralysis in Franklin, Delaware, Licking and Union counties. The series is focused on educating and assisting persons with disabilities to become prepared for Ohio specific emergencies such as fire, snowstorms, tornadoes, floods, viruses, and active shooters. Qualifying disabilities include, but are not limited to: stroke, spinal cord injury, MS, cerebral palsy, or any other central nervous system injury or disorder resulting in difficulty or inability to move the upper or lower extremities.

Free Emergency Readiness Supplies:

  • Car Emergency Kit
  • First Aid Kit
  • Yoga Mat
  • Extendable Grabber
  • Go/Stay Bag
  • Go/Stay Bag for Pets
  • Solar Charger
  • Waterproof/Fireproof Bag
  • Emergency Information Lanyard
  • Face Masks
  • Face Shield
  • Multipurpose Grip Gloves
  • All Weather Poncho
  • Long Range Whistle
  • Long-Handle Flashlight
  • Stress Balls


  • Attend presentations to choose 5 free items!
  • Attend 10 presentations to choose 10 free items!
  • Attend 14 presentations to receive ALL free items
  • Attend ALL presentations for a raffle entry for a free evacuation chair ($3,000 value)

*Please note that supplies are based on attendance and are limited to the first 40 individuals with disabilities living within Franklin, Delaware, Licking and Union counties.

Presentation Topics

Click on topic to register for your session:

  1. The Stages of Emergency Readiness (October 2nd from 10:30am-12pm)
  2. Emergency Readiness and Intersectionality: How class, gender, ethnicity, ability, etc. play a part in Emergency Readiness (October 5 from 10:30am-12pm)
  3. The Politics of Emergency Readiness: How Funds are Distributed and How you can Help Improve Community Policies and Procedures (October 9 from 10:30am-12pm)
  4. Emergency Readiness Planning for Service Animals (October 12 from 11am-12pm)
  5. Emergency Readiness: Emergency Transportation (October 16 from 10:30am-12pm)
  6. Active Shooter Part 1: Preparation (October 19 from 10am-12pm)
  7. Active Shooter Part 2: Trauma Care for Civilians (October 23 from 10am-12pm)
  8. Active Shooter Part 3: The Fight and Aftermath (October 26 from 10am-12pm)
  9. Emergency ReadinessDurable Medical Equipment & Medical Supplies (October 28 from 11am-12pm)
  10. Emergency ReadinessMental Health Post-Emergency (November 2 from 11am-12pm)
  11. Emergency ReadinessMy Personal Readiness Plan (November 6 from 10am-12pm)
  12. FEMA PresentationHow can FEMA Help me? (November 16 from 11am-12pm)
  13. Emergency Readiness: Medication Management after an Emergency (November 18 from 11am-12pm)
  14. Be Red Cross ReadyHow can Red Cross Help me? (November 20 from 11am-12pm)

If you have any questions or concerns feel free to reach out to MSaade@disabilityempowerment.net or call us at 614.575.8055.

Source: http://www.disabilityempowerment.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/CDE_EMERG.pdf

REMINDER: SIL Leadership Academy Application

Applications Open for SIL’s Leadership Academy – DUE October 9th

Services for Independent Living – Ohio has opened applications for the Fall/Winter Leadership Academy. The eight-week course is designed to help individuals with disabilities develop skills to participate on nonprofit boards, community coalitions, task forces and system change committees.

The course will be held online from October 26 to December 14, 2020 on Monday afternoons from 1:00 to 4:00 pm . The exact dates are October 26; November 2, 9, 16, 23, 30; December 7, 14.

During the training sessions, participants will develop a basic working knowledge and understanding about topics related to serving on a board, coalition, task force or committee.  Training topics include the following:

  • Community Leadership
  • Disability History & Disability Advocacy
  • Functions of a Nonprofit Board
  • Government Committees, Nonprofit Committees, Commissions, Task Forces & Councils
  • Communications, Confidentiality & Board Ethics
  • Networking and Developing Community Contacts

Upon completion of the Leadership Academy, SIL will work with participants to identify areas of interest and potential leadership opportunities in the community. Leadership Academy participants will also be paired with mentors who are Leadership Academy graduates.

Any person with a disability who wants to learn how to make a difference and gain confidence and leadership experience in community decision-making on issues important to him or her.

To apply, please contact Laura Gold for an application by calling 216-815-0015 or emailing lgold@sil-oh.orgThe deadline for applications is October 9th.  Space is limited so we encourage you to apply early. If you need help filling out the application, please let Laura know.

Source: “DD Council Connection – September 2020.” Ohio Developmental Disabilities Council, Sept. 2020, ddc.ohio.gov/News/Newsletters/DD-Council-Connection/DD-Council-Connection-September-2020.

Disability Etiquette

As the baby-boomer population ages and continues employment, the prevalence of disability management in the workplace continues to be a significant issue for employers. Disability management should include etiquette strategies that foster inclusion of people with disabilities in employment settings. Appropriate disability etiquette allows all employees to be more comfortable and productive. For employers wanting to successfully integrate people with disabilities into their organizations, the following etiquette strategies may be useful.

Cartoon image of individuals with varying disabilities with the words DISABILITY ETIQUETTE above them.

Recruitment Etiquette

People with disabilities continue to be the most unemployed and underemployed population in the United States. They represent an untapped labor pool offering valuable skills, qualifications, and assets for employers. Several recruitment strategies can increase an organization’s access to potential applicants.

  • Post job openings with local disability organizations and college and university career centers. Advertise vacancies within disability-related publications, websites, and job fairs.
  • Include details about the job location in all postings and highlight accessible features of the location, if appropriate.
  • Indicate the availability of flexible working conditions, including telecommuting or flexible scheduling.
  • Only include qualifications in job postings that are actually required for the available position. Require equal qualifications of all job applicants, regardless of disability.
  • Advertise the organization as an equal opportunity employer.
  • Establish internship and mentoring programs targeted towards youth with disabilities.

Interview Etiquette

Scheduling the Interview

  • Let applicants know accommodations can be provided upon request and who to contact for more information.
  • Schedule interviews at an accessible location. If the workplace is inaccessible, be prepared to conduct the interview at an alternate accessible location.
  • Be familiar with travel directions to the interview location, including the path of travel into the building.
  • Notify applicants in advance with the names of all interview participants.
  • Be aware that an applicant with a disability may need to arrange for transportation following the interview. Provide the applicant with an estimate of interview duration and expected end time, if requested.

Greeting the Interviewee

  • Be aware of the interview location’s accessible features including restrooms, drinking fountains, and telephones.
  • Use a normal tone of voice when welcoming the interviewee. Only raise your voice upon request.
  • Call the person by his first name only when extending similar familiarity to other interviewees.
  • Always introduce yourself and other interview participants. Offer to shake hands, if appropriate.
  • Speak directly to the interviewee instead of any companion, personal attendant, or interpreter, when greeting the person for the interview.


  • Always ask similar questions of all interviewees, regardless of disability. Conduct the interview emphasizing abilities, achievements, and interviewee qualities.
  • Treat all interviewees with respect.
  • Select an interview location with adequate lighting.
  • Speak directly to the interviewee instead of any companion, personal attendant, or interpreter throughout the meeting.

New Employee Etiquette

  • Review physical features of the work environment. If any create potential barriers for new employees with disabilities, make adjustments as necessary.
  • Identify assistive technologies available to increase workplace accessibility.
  • Provide alternate formats (e.g., large print, Braille) of all necessary work-related documents including benefits information, employee manuals and policies, and professional development materials, as needed.
  • Prepare co-workers and supervisors for the arrival of a new employee with a disability, when appropriate. This preparation can include training and orientation to disability-specific issues. Such training should not be used to single-out the person with the disability. An overall disability awareness initiative is best.
  • Remember to include employees with disabilities in emergency evacuation planning and procedures.

Workplace Etiquette: Mobility, Sensory, Cognitive, and Psychiatric Impairments

The following etiquette tips address a wide range of workplace situations involving employees with motor or mobility impairments, sensory impairments, and cognitive or psychiatric impairments. This publication is not a comprehensive guide to disability etiquette in the workplace. For more information about disability etiquette, see the resources listed at the end of this document.

Individuals with Mobility Impairments

  • Do not make assumptions about limitations based on appearance or the use of assistive devices. For example, individuals who use mobility aids such as canes, walkers, or wheelchairs have different limitations and may use a mobility aid regularly or only as required by their limitations on a daily basis. Also, people who appear to be mobile may require accommodations such as accessible parking because they are unable to walk long distances due to a medical impairment (e.g., a person with asthma or a heart condition).
  • Do not touch or lean on a wheelchair, move a person’s walker or cane without being asked, or pet or distract a service animal without first asking the individual with the disability if it is okay. A wheelchair, mobility aid, or service animal is part of an individual’s personal space; an extension of that individual.
  • Be aware of the worksite and its accessible and inaccessible elements. Upon hiring a person who has an obvious mobility impairment, offer to provide a tour and evaluate the worksite for accessibility.
  • Make workplace accessibility changes according to the specific work-related needs of the employee (e.g., making workspace modifications, keeping paths clear, and positioning items at appropriate reach heights, etc.).
  • Keep disability etiquette in mind when planning work-related social events or training opportunities. Host events at accessible locations and design activities that include all employees.
  • Ask whether a person needs assistance before you help. Extend the same courtesies to individuals with disabilities as you would others. Do not be afraid to ask how you can help.
  • Sit down when speaking for more than a few minutes with a person who uses a wheelchair so you are at eye level.
  • Be careful about the language you use. For example, people who use wheelchairs or scooters are not confined or bound to them. The wheelchair enables the person to get where he/she needs to go. It does not confine the person.

Individuals with Vision Impairments

  • Be familiar with the route of travel to the interview location. Provide descriptive directions that do not require the person to rely on visual references. When appropriate, note if Braille signage is posted on walls and doors.
  • Verbally greet and identify yourself before extending your hand to greet a person who is blind. Use the same courtesy when entering or leaving a room, or saying good bye when ending a conversation. Do not just walk away when talking with a person who is blind or visually impaired.
  • Offer your arm instead of taking the arm of a person who is blind or visually impaired when guiding the person. As you walk, tell the person where you are going, make note of steps or slopes, and point-out opening doors or other obstacles.
  • Offer new employees a guided tour of the workplace.
  • Do not pet or distract a guide dog. When walking along-side someone who is using a guide dog, walk on the side opposite the animal.
  • Offer to read written information, when appropriate, during an interview or on the job.
  • Inform an employee who is blind or visually impaired of structural changes or hazards he may need to be aware of in the event of new construction or workplace modifications.
  • Provide work-related materials, such as employee handbooks or benefits information, in an accessible format (e.g., large print, Braille, or accessible web page accessed with a screen reader).

Individuals who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

  • Be aware that individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing communicate in various ways. Pay attention to cues such as whether the person uses sign language, is reading lips, writing, or gesturing. Do not be afraid say that you do not understand if you have trouble understanding the person’s speech. It is better to find another way to communicate, such as through writing notes, than to pretend to understand.
  • Do not put hands in front of your face, or food or other items in your mouth when communicating with someone who is reading lips. Also, do not turn your head or walk away while talking. When possible, speak in a well-lit room that is free from background noises.
  • Maintain eye contact and direct your communication to the person who is deaf when using a sign-language interpreter.
  • Speak using a normal tone of voice unless asked to raise your voice, and rephrase rather than repeat the same words if you are not understood.
  • Take turns when talking during a meeting so the person who is deaf or hard of hearing can read lips if they are able to.
  • Get the attention of a person who is deaf or hard of hearing before you start speaking by waiving your hand, tapping her on the shoulder, or through some other appropriate gesture.
  • Talk with the individual about his preferred method of communication for job training or complex work-related situations. When appropriate, provide a qualified sign-language interpreter, CART service, or training videos that are captioned.
  • Remember to include employees who are deaf or hard of hearing in casual conversation and social events. Provide a sign-language interpreter for employer-sponsored social events, when appropriate.

Individuals with Speech Impairments

  • Be patient and listen. Do not complete words or sentences for the individual. Do not be afraid to say you do not understand. Ask him to repeat and then listen carefully. Repeat what you heard to verify. Or, ask him to write it down.
  • Be attentive in your mannerisms by maintaining conversational eye contact and focusing on the content of communication rather than the delivery of the communication.
  • Relax and communicate as you would normally.
  • Provide interview questions in advance, if possible, to allow the individual time to prepare and deliver responses effectively.
  • Consider offering a personal interview as an alternative to a phone interview for people who stutter.

Individuals with Respiratory Impairments or Chemical Sensitivities

  • Be aware that products that are commonly used in the workplace (e.g., air fresheners, cleaning products, markers) can trigger a reaction for someone who has a respiratory or chemical sensitivity. Use less toxic products when possible.
  • Encourage employees to use fragrance-free products, and discontinue wearing fragrances and colognes in the workplace. Do not wear fragrances and colognes when interviewing new employees. Fragrances, colognes, and fragranced personal products can make some people very ill.
  • Make a commitment to maintaining good ventilation and indoor air quality. This can benefit all employees.
  • Do not make assumptions based upon appearance. For example, a person with asthma may not appear to be limited, but may need accessible parking because she is not able to walk long distances or be in the cold or humidity for long periods of time.

Individuals with Psychiatric Impairments

  • Avoid stereotypes and assumptions about the individual and how she may interact with others. In most cases, it will not be obvious that someone has a psychiatric impairment.
  • Recognize and respect the differences in people. People with psychiatric impairments may behave differently than other individuals, may have trouble interpreting social cues, or may have different ways of coping with their impairment.
  • Respect personal space and do not touch the individual or his personal belongings.
  • Provide support and assistance, as appropriate.
  • Be patient. Allow the individual time to think and answer questions independently.

Individuals with Cognitive Impairments

  • Do not assume that because someone has a cognitive impairment, such as a learning disability, that she has below-average intelligence. The individual may have above-average intelligence, but may have difficulty receiving, expressing, or processing information.
  • Ask the person if he prefers verbal, written, or hands-on instruction, or a combination of methods in training and work-related situations. For example, if providing verbal instructions, it may be helpful to follow-up with an e-mail that clarifies your request.
  • Treat the individual as an adult. Speak directly to the individual, rather than his/her companion, and use words and phrases according to his or her level of complexity.
  • Be patient. Allow the individual time to think and answer questions independently.

Article Source: “Disability Etiquette.” Job Accommodation Network, 2020, askjan.org/topics/disetiq.cfm.