For a young man of 26, Noah Rinehart has had quite a number of titles to his name. He’s a volunteer, a Special Olympics athlete representative, library assistant, band member, college student, church council member, self-advocate and public speaker, and, as a part-time employee at Regal Cinemas West Manchester in York, Pa., a greeter and ticket taker.
That number of titles and corresponding activity would be remarkable for anyone to have, but in Noah’s case, it’s extraordinary.
Although Noah was born with Down syndrome – and at the age of 13 suffered a terrible spinal cord injury in a diving accident during a swimming practice – with the support and encouragement of his parents, Rebecca and John and older brother Luther, he has never let his disabilities stand in the way of what he wants to do.
“After the accident, Noah’s hands were completely useless,” said John, a self-employed part-time consultant in the field of data analysis and database design, and the family’s self-described primary home and child care specialist. “After high school surgeons at Shriners Hospital for Children in Philadelphia were able to transfer some tendons in his fingers to muscles that he could still control. The surgery was successful in giving Noah’s fingers some mobility through pinch movements.”
Unable to find a job after graduating from Dover Area High School in 2011, Noah finally enrolled in Penn-Mar’s Customized Employment (CE) program two-and-a-half years ago. The team discussed his aspirations, talents, interests, and desires as part of the Exploration and Discovery process. Given Noah’s outgoing and independent nature, it was determined that a position in hospitality as a greeter would be a good employment fit and it wasn’t long before a job opportunity opened up at the Regal Cinemas.
“At the beginning, while we were exploring the theater job opportunity, one of the questions that came up was if Noah could tear movie tickets,” said John. “We did some experimenting, and he had some difficulty with that. So I took a simple, plastic letter opener [the curved palm-sized kind] with the razor blade embedded inside, attached it to a sturdy stick and mounted it onto his wheelchair.”
John’s simple, creative adapted tool has enabled Noah to tear tickets quickly as movie goers file through, and gave Noah that added responsibility that he wouldn’t have had otherwise.
“People at work are friendly,” said Noah. “All the customers come first, and I’ve gotten to meet a lot of people – some familiar faces, the regulars, and new ones. Working at Regal is like one big happy family.”
“Noah has had nothing but glowing reviews from work,” adds Courtney Harless, the Penn-Mar PA Employment Support Manager who works with Noah. “He’s very independent, and has a solid handle on his responsibilities. He’s confident and doesn’t let his disabilities hold him back.”
Through Penn-Mar’s CE program, established in 2010, and the employment team’s successful business outreach efforts, more and more businesses are open to and seeing the benefits of hiring people with disabilities. But there is still a long way to go, and employers are uniquely positioned to find talented candidates who are very motivated to have a job if they would consider hiring from the IDD community.
As a self-advocate and burgeoning public speaker, Noah is always looking to share his message of inclusion with as many people as possible.
“Noah’s had a lot of people in his corner,” said Courtney. “But as a self-advocate, he’s staying connected and also giving back by speaking about living with disabilities and trying to change the stigma that’s kept people with I/DD back from working and living full inclusive lives in the community.”