"I am receiving another education. Doing something that is worthwile. And the best thing about the program is that the people treat me just like an employe. Here I am just like an employe. Here I am Kinner, not Kinner and his chair. Which is nice."
Paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair after a car accident 16 months ago, Donald Kinner, 21, is working for the first time since his accident. The Long Island, N.Y. native is working as a technical aide for the David W. Taylor Naval Ship Research and Development Center at Carderock.
In a recent, interview, Kinner relived coming home paralyzed, wanting work, applying at several places and "getting no response from any of them," he said.What would he be doing if the center had not hired him? "That's a tough question." For months, he had confronted the possibility that being handicapped meant unemployment, and "The outlook was bleak," Kinner said.
Kinner is one of 25 handicapped college students employed at the center this summer primarily because of the efforts of Paul Meyer, a structural engineer who was recently chosen to run the center's affirmative action program for the handicapped.
The program was started four years ago, in part because of Meyer's belief that handicapped people were often passed over for jobs they could handle. Meyer said recently that when he was on college campuses recruiting employes for other program at the center he became aware that handicapped students were often overlooked.
"So I started asking to see them specifically," he said. And after talking to handicapped students at different universities he found that the students were "discouraged by interviewers who would stare, other than make an effort to hire them.
"After being shot down so many times it is a waste of their time to go for other interviews."
Of those students employed with the research center for the summer, "a very small minority are actually hired full time," Meyer said. "The most important element of the program is providing experience for those who have "never worked in the real world with normal people," he said, grimacing and making imaginary quotation marks with his fingers as he said the words "normal people."
Since the program began, five students have been hired permanently - all with background in science.
Kinner said he eventually wants to work for the center permanently but he is using this summer's experience primarily "as a guide to functioning in the real world."
"I enjoy it and appreciate the job. It's a fair trade," he said. The job gets done and I get $320 biweekly and work experience that is a little more significant than I would normally get." In this case he added "I am coming out on the top."
For Larry Prescott a 21-year-old industrial art major at Ball State University in Munice Ind., who has been in a wheelchair since he was 11, crippled by the blood disease hemophillia the program has been equally rewarding.
He is working as a draftman.
There are so many chances this program offers you Prescott said. "But mainly it is the peace of mind. Knowing that there is a chance for me after I graduate. I have references now and I have gained the experience of living away from home." He added that unitl this year "I was not educationally prepared for employment."
The students working at the center were selected on the basis of their "mental independence, ability to get along with others, the kind of work they could do but essentially their potential to handle themselves in the real world," Meyer said.
The program lasts for 12 weeks at salaries ranging from $170 to $200 a week. Gallaudet College in Washington provided housing for the majority of the students for $17 week.