keithBy Doug & Patty Gerdel

Keith Gerdel was in his last year of school in 1990 when doors started to open for him. His circle of support had struggled continuously to get the school to include Keith in educational programs. Yet, at that juncture, it seemed more important for Keith, who is nonverbal, to determine where he would live and what he would do all day. Keith’s mother went to the TASH conference, where Lou Brown, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, explained that, if a person had “one repeatable skill,” he could be employed. The trick is to find a place where someone is paid to perform the “one repeatable skill.”

Keith’s parents had refused to believe reports from rehabilitation services that Keith’s “profound” disability made him unemployable. They knew that Keith’s repeatable skill was his ability to pick up and put down small objects. He often picked up anything left on his wheelchair tray and dropped it on the floor. Instead of calling it noncompliant behavior, Keith’s parents designated this as his “one repeatable skill.”

One night while having dinner at McDonald’s, Keith’s younger brother, Jonathan, discovered that McDonald’s employees were picking up Happy Meal prizes and putting them in the boxes. After a little coaxing with the school and discussions with the local McDonald’s management, Keith began his work study program.

On December 15, 2006, at a Christmas party, McDonald’s employees were recognized for their years of employment. Keith Gerdel received a standing ovation as he received his award for 15 years of employment. Indeed, TASH did make a difference in Keith’s life – just because his mother learned about “one repeatable skill”!

It would have been much easier if Keith had moved into a group home and attended an adult day care program. However, TASH’s influence made segregated programs totally unacceptable to Keith and the people who care about him. Now 38, Keith lives in his own home with his roommate, Joel Goodrich. They both have a circle of support and hire their own staff for their home. Their door is open.

This article originally appeared in a document published by TASH in 2008 called When Everyone Is Included. For more information on the important work TASH does please visit their website and follow them on Twitter. This is the fourth article in a series. The first article can be found here, the second can be found here, and the third can be found here.