On any given work week in the quiet halls of the Muncy, Geissler, Olds & Lowe intellectual property law firm in Fairfax, 26-year-old Kevin Gibson carries stacks of stuffed manila folders in and out of a file room containing some 7,000 active cases.
To most high school students, it might be just another boring summer job, but for Gibson, the work is defying a medical prognosis.
Gibson was diagnosed with autism when he was 18 months old. Doctors told his parents that the disorder would keep him from ever living independently.
But his mother entered Gibson into Fairfax County public school programs, and after high school, he began working part-time jobs. After landing the full-time file clerk position at the law firm, he moved into a condo just across the street.
“You’re not offering anyone a chance by giving them a five-hour work week,” said Martin Geissler, founding member of Muncy, Geissler, which goes by MG-IP. “In order to create a life for yourself, you need a full-time job.”
Geissler said he began to think about employing people with disabilities a few years after starting his firm in 2006. He had noticed his local grocery store employing people with disabilities. At the time, he had grown frustrated with the work ethic of some high school interns.
When the firm posted a job opening on Craigslist, it received 130 resumes in short order. Gibson’s was one.
He was helped by a Washington nonprofit called ServiceSource that finds employment for people with disabilities. Gibson had been referred to the group by the D.C. Department of Rehabilitative Services.
After preparing him for the job market and teaching social norms, such as greetings and looking people in the eye during conversation, a ServiceSource job coach helped him seek employment.
After replying to the Craigslist posting, the coach accompanied Gibson on his interview. The coach then worked with Gibson one-on-one to assimilate him into his new job after he was hired.
MG-IP pays Gibson a $30,000 salary with benefits including a $50,000 life insurance policy, 401 (k) contributions equaling 3 percent of his pay and a Christmas bonus. The firm refused the tax break that companies receive when hiring an employee with a disability.
“It takes people like Martin and this law firm to not be scared away and to be open-minded,” said Taylor Ham, spokesperson for ServiceSource. “Because if you haven’t worked with someone with a disability, some people shy away from it.”
Gibson realized he was different from other kids when he was in elementary school.
“Whenever I would try talking to people about something they would just say ‘Yeah, thanks Kevin.’ It’s almost like I had a hard time communicating with people on different topics,” said Gibson. “As the years go by, the more I’m finally able to overcome it and talk well with people.”
He said that his photographic memory helps him to know exactly where to place files and he likes to talk football with his co-workers.
“I believe the firm is better off with him than without him,” Geissler said.