Jason Turner has never been shy about expressing himself.
But in 2020, he had the opportunity to share his story in a new way — presenting to hundreds of employees of Nationwide Insurance during their second annual digital accessibility conference.
“People were really impressed by his speech,” said Inggrie Moore, program lead for digital accessibility at Nationwide. “Most people have not seen anyone using a communication device, let alone using it to present on a stage. It was very helpful.”
The October conference was just one opportunity Jason has had since he began interning at Nationwide last year.
A student in Ohio State University’s Transition Options in Postsecondary Settings — commonly known as TOPS — program, Jason recently found out that his internship will be extended until at least March.
He’s already learned many new skills, said his mother, Kathy Turner, and Nationwide has introduced him to several new pieces of assistive technology, which has increased his independence.
“I think our hope is to showcase his skills and ability —that someone with any type of disability can shine,” Inggrie said.
A graduate of Northridge High School, Jason is in his third year of the TOPS program, which focuses more on employment skills and job hunting.
Since he started the program — designed to give students with disabilities a postsecondary experience that combines life skills, academic courses and work experience — Jason has had to complete 10 hours of an internship per week, as well as community service hours.
He first interned as a front desk greeter at OSU’s McCampbell Hall and also started reading books to students at preschools and elementary schools in Gahanna, Reynoldsburg, Westerville and Whitehall.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has kept him home since March, Jason has been busy with school work, while writing articles for the LENN Foundation and recording Youtube videos of himself reading books, which have been shared with local schools and summer camps.
In September, his instructors at TOPS encouraged him to apply for a new internship at Nationwide. He completed an interview process and got the position, making him one of the first TOPS students to participate in their internship program, Inggrie said.
Jason was assigned to Nationwide’s Digital Accessibility program which focuses on educating partners and associates as well as ensuring Nationwide products more accessible for customers as well as company associates.
Jason loves to write and Inggrie saw that as a great way to share his perspective with others.
“We wanted to try to marry his interests with what we need,” she said. “We want to build more awareness and create unique stories to create empathy and build interest.”
Jason started out writing articles and profiles for the Digital Accessibility Center’s online newsletters. He’s also had the opportunity to learn about the Americans with Disabilities Act and digital accessibility requirements.
Nationwide has helped him try out new screen readers, Bluetooth devices and text to voice software to expand his skillset. He’s been cross trained on different systems to make him more independent and marketable, Inggrie said
“We are hoping he can leverage it more in his day-to-day life, for school and consuming more digital content... and to perform work better,” she said.
From the very beginning, it has been important to give Jason the accommodations and coaching he needs to succeed while holding him to the high standards expected of anyone working at Nationwide, she said.
“We encourage him to do more with his communication device and be more communicative with the workplace,” she said. “We are pushing him to be more vocal.”
Speaking at the accessibility conference was definitely one of those moments — which Jason embraced, even though he only had a few weeks to write the speech.
“He said, ‘Sure, I’ll do it,” Inggrie said. “There is rarely any challenge Jason says no to.”
As his internship continues, Jason is looking forward to doing more writing — and would like to start a column about misconceptions about people with disabilities.
Inggrie said she is excited to see him contribute his point of view and humor in team meetings.
He’s already had an impact on his coworkers, reminding them that they need to give him time to finish expressing his thoughts with his communication device.
“Just because I look like I don’t — I have a lot to say,” Jason added. “It might take me longer to answer, but I have things to say.”