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National Center on Secondary Education and Transition

In Their Own Words: Employer Perspectives on Youth with Disabilities in the Workplace

Brokering Achievement:
Old Colony Insurance Service, Inc.

by S. Brooks May, Jr.

Old Colony Insurance Service, Inc. is one of the leading insurance brokers in the southeast United States with offices in Crestwood and Lexington, KY. In addition, we have an affiliated company, Cromwell Insurance, in Lexington. Old Colony is built on a foundation of integrity and excellent service to its customers.

Old Colony was founded in 1975. We have grown to be one of the largest independent insurance brokers in northern Kentucky and southern Indiana through our products and services. Although the organization was founded on property insurance and casualty and employee benefits, today Old Colony offers a full range of insurance products to its policyholders. Old Colony has 66 employees in its two locations.

Addressing Our Need

We receive a large volume of incoming mail and have had trouble keeping someone long-term in our mail room. The turnover in the mail room required time and money for recruiting and retraining. One day it occurred to me to try hiring someone with a disability for the position. I had a good friend who had Down’s syndrome and a niece with severe mental retardation, and had been around individuals with disabilities for a long time. Hiring someone with a disability would allow us the opportunity to help someone else while at the same time addressing our long-term mail room needs.

Through my church I knew a special education teacher, Octa Kellond. She suggested that Lindsay might be a good match for the mail room position. I knew Lindsay and her family through church as well. We made the connection, and Lindsay started working for us.

Lindsay worked in the mail room in the mornings while she was in high school through a cooperative work arrangement. We did not create a new position for her. She filled an existing, open position in the mail room. She performs the same tasks that the position has always required—primarily opening and distributing mail as well as distributing supplies throughout our Crestwood office.

Lindsay’s Job

Lindsay opens, date-stamps, and distributes the mail to individuals in the office. She has learned how to use the computer and goes into our customer database to identify who handles particular customer accounts. She checks, refills, and maintains the paper supply for the copier, printer, and fax machines. She also attends to other supply issues. The staff sends her e-mail requests for supplies, which she retrieves and delivers. She works weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. When Lindsay arrives at work she immediately goes with a co-worker to the post office to pick up the mail. When she returns with the mail, she opens it with a mechanical letter opener and proceeds from there. She is always looking for something to do. When she is finished with her work and has a few minutes left, she will come around and ask if anyone needs anything.

Because of the volume of incoming mail, it takes her a long time to open all the mail. We allow her as much time as she needs; there is no pressure. We have adjusted our workflow somewhat to accommodate her pace. If we had hired someone else, he or she might be faster. Having worked for us for the past three years, Lindsay is conscientious and dedicated. We do not have the turnover in the mail room as in the past.

Initial Support Made the Difference

Lindsay’s job coach, Ms. Kellond, was an instrumental part of making Lindsay’s job a success. She played an indispensable role in training and job acclimation, working with Lindsay and our staff every day to make sure Lindsay knew and understood job expectations. She also helped us learn to communicate and convey tasks effectively.

Ms. Kellond divided the job into steps and made sure Lindsay knew how to do each one. She identified and recorded the flow of tasks and trained Lindsay on each part of the job. Lindsay has handwritten notes on the steps to do her job and refers to her notes when she gets off task. When needed, she is reminded to use her notes and that helps her to refocus on the work at hand.

Ms. Kellond worked with her for approximately three or four months. Lindsay is now very self-sufficient and works independently. She has a supervisor who has daily contact with her and checks in to see how everything is going. While Lindsay was still in school, Ms. Kellond provided the initial support. We now address any issues on our own. Lindsay also has an extremely supportive family that we can also contact if necessary.

How We Made it Work

Having Lindsay work at Old Colony has been a gradual learning process for all of us. The main lesson that we have learned is that Lindsay, like other employees, has her own interests, skills, and personality. As we have become more acquainted with her, we have learned how to work effectively together.

At times, Lindsay has some difficulty with appropriate social skills and interactions with other people, which can lead to occasional misunderstandings that need clarification. Lindsay is extremely conscientious and takes what we say literally. We have also learned that we need to be careful about teasing and joking and make it clear that we were teasing before we leave the conversation, so that she is not confused or her feelings do not get hurt. Once when the owner jokingly told her as he was leaving, “Okay, you’re in charge while I’m gone.” She took that to heart and told a few of the staff she was going to tell on them if they did not perform. We address these issues as they arise just as we would with any employee.

We have learned that Lindsay is just like any other young adult, who at times may be focused on the job and at other times is not so focused. We have talked with her about needing to stay on task. When she gets off task she is reminded to refer to her notes and is able to get back on task quickly.

Some of the strategies that have helped us to work effectively with Lindsay include:

  • Getting to know her and her likes and dislikes;
  • Becoming familiar with what she can do and what she needs help with;
  • Having the same expectations for her as for other employees;
  • Treating her with the same respect as other employees;
  • Providing initial training from her job coach;
  • Maintaining daily check-ins from her supervisor; and
  • Supporting her use of written job tasks with steps to follow for a reminder when she needs it.

A Win-Win Situation for All

Lindsay definitely feels like a part of the office. She is dedicated, very conscientious, and tries hard to do her job well. We enjoy having her as an employee. She has now worked for us for three years.

The staff has been very gracious and accepting of her. Working with Lindsay has been a learning process for all of us. At times we are caught off guard by her response to certain situations, but we adjust, address the situation at hand, and move on. She attends all social functions and employee meetings. If her mother is unable to pick her up after work, a co-worker will drive her home. She brings and eats her lunch daily in the break room with everyone else. Now everyone here understands Lindsay and accepts her for who she is. Having Lindsay as one of our employees has really been a good experience for everyone. Lindsay recently said to the co-worker who goes with her to get the mail that she wanted to “be here forever.” That would work for us.

S. Brooks May, Jr. is Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer for Old Colony Insurance Service and Cromwell Insurance Agency. He is responsible for all operating divisions as well as all financial aspects of the businesses. He also oversees the personal lines, operating, and marketing departments for the agencies and currently is serving on The Travelers Insurance Companies Agents Advisory Council for personal lines.

Table of Contents

Cover Page


Publish or Perish: Macworld Magazine by Shelly Ginenthal

Reaching Out to Youth: Microsoft Corporation by Mylene Padolina

Boosting the High Tech Workforce: Kennedy Space Center, NASA by Cassandra Black

Finding Premium Volunteers: Port Discovery by Leah Burke

Investigating Human Resource Options: American Institute for Cancer Research by John McIlveen

Manufacturing & Production Technician Youth Apprentices: Generac Portable Products Corporation by Bob Hurd

Infrastructure for Success: Kemtah Group, Inc. by Keith Harris

Quality Products, Quality Employees: Medtronic Physio-Control by LaDrene Coyne

Searching for a Reliable Workforce: Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center by J. Erin Riehle

Keeping Stock of Personnel Needs: Safeway by Grace Louie

Brokering Achievement: Old Colony Insurance Service, Inc. by S. Brooks May, Jr.

Summary & Conclusion

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Citation: Luecking, R., Ed. (2004). Essential tools: In their own words: Employer perspectives on youth with disabilities in the workplace. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration, National Center on Secondary Education and Transition.

Permission is granted to duplicate this publication in its entirety or portions thereof. Upon request, this publication will be made available in alternative formats. For additional copies of this publication, or to request an alternate format, please contact: Institute on Community Integration Publications Office, 109 Pattee Hall, 150 Pillsbury Drive SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455, (612) 624-4512, icipub@umn.edu.

This document was published by the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition (NCSET). NCSET is supported through a cooperative agreement #H326J000005 with the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the U.S. Department of Education Programs, and no official endorsement should be inferred. The University of Minnesota, the U.S. Department of Education, and the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition are equal opportunity employers and educators.