In this episode, Harold Reitman, M.D. speaks with Steve Keisman, the Vice President of Education and Transition & Neurodiversity Employment Specialist for Identifor. Identifor is a free website and app that assists the neurodiverse assess what they are good at, find employment that can utilize those skills, and retain that job once acquired. Steve discusses the benefits of using Identifor, the importance of recognizing and utilizing potential, and his own connections to neurodiversity as a parent.
For more about Identifor, visit: www.identifor.com
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HACKIE REITMAN, M.D. (HR): Hi I’m Dr. Hackie Reitman and welcome to another episode of Exploring Different Brains. Today we have a unique Individual, Steve Keisman who is going to tell us all about Identifor, which is great those of us with different brains. Steve, welcome.
STEVE KEISMAN (SK): Thank you Hackie and thank you for inviting me today.
HR: Now what the heck is Identifor, tell us.
SK: So Identifor is the first tool of it’s kind in the world that uses gamification and big data analytics to be able to get a better sense of what somebody is good at by using games to be able to help give them some career direction. As you know in the next 10 years Hackie, between 500,000 and 1 million teenagers with autism will become adults in that next generation. So Identifor wants to do something to transform those lost lives into fulfilling ones.
HR: So what exactly is Identifor doing?
SK: So we have a three-prong approach Hackie, the first part is to find a career direction for somebody so that when that school bus stops coming they have some kind of sense direction of a direction for them to go into. As you know all too often, many of our folks with asd are often put into those 5 Fs: filing, folding, food, flowers, and filth. And that’s generally the way that it is but how do we know if that’s the child’s maximum potential. There is honor in all work but what if those 5 Fs just aren’t enough. So our first prong is to help get a sense of what a person is good at and the way we do that is with dozens and dozens of video games that can be played on a PC or somebody’s phone or tablet. The second part of what we do is once we have that career direction is we try to find meaningful employment for these people by improving the discovery process for them using the dashboard that is generated from our career tool. And third is once a person gets that job, we try to help them keep that job because what we do is give 24 hour 7 day support with an app that we have designed as well. So those are the three different prongs of Identifor to give you an understanding of what we do.
HR: Repeat the 3 prongs briefly again.
SK: Sure the three prongs is to get career direction for somebody, the second is to help them find a job and the third is to support them at the job. As you know our students often need more help when that school bus stops coming then less help. So it sounds counter intuitive but we use technology to help support them.
HR: So you’re supplying all three things there?
SK: Right and as you’ve said in the past, I’ve heard you speak and if someone is lucky enough to figure out what they’re really good at and really love and can make a living at and help or make other people happy then they’re a lucky person whether they have autism, Asperger’s or anything just a person in general that’s an important thing. How do we know if someone for instance is non-verbal what they’re good at? We don’t know that. Often times because people with autism are notoriously terrible for taking different kinds of standardized career assessments we don’t really get a good sense of the areas they’re good in. So what we do in that first piece that I was describing, career direction, is we look at 3 different factors. Kids are just playing, young adults playing these very cool and engaging games and what we look at behind the scenes is that person’s executive functions, they’re multiple intelligences, and we also baked into that the Holland career code sometimes called the RIASEC code. Those are the 3 dimensions we look at and we’re able after a person plays those games enough, we’re able to unlock a dashboard and what they does is it gives up a treasure trobe of information in those areas that we’re able to drill down in to see exactly what a person’s strengths are instead of always focusing on their deficits or what they’re not good at.
HR: Identifor is all that our audience has to do. They go online they Google identifor and it’ll pop up.
SK: Yes, and they can either go online or they could go to either the apple iTunes store or with people with android devices they can go to the Google play store and download this. And before I go on, one of the things I want to make clear is that everything we do at identifor is free. There is no charge, so I think that is really important for your viewers and listeners to understand.
HR: When you say it’s free, that means anyone taken this in and going to Identifor and saying boy that is good for me, there is no charges to them?
SK: That is correct. Our founders and cofounders Kundoh and Lori Rickles they decided that this is something they want to do to help the community. So anyone who has a disability or is neuro atypical can download this a clinician a teacher can download any of our tools for free of charge.
HR: Are you guys a nonprofit 501c3?
SK: Well we have two aspects. We have identifor.com and identifor.org which is our foundation. So our foundation is able to sustain what we’re doing at identifor.com.
HR: How did you get into this?
SK: Yeah that’s a good question. So Hackie I have 33 years of experience with the New York City Department of Education. More than 25 of those years have been in an inclusive education specializing in school to careers. So I’ve done many things with my time during my career with the New York City schools I was a teacher, I was an administrator, a program design specialist, and I was also an adjunct professor in the area of special education as well. I also started the first independent education consultancy in the country that specialized in transition back in the last century. Once I left my job, I retired from my job in New York City, I began to work with a company down in your neck of the woods in Florida called Mirror Pod and helped them put together their platform as well. I was working on another project at the time and not only have I had this professional experience but also have two children with disabilities one of them is 20 years old and the other is a grown child who is in her 30s. One of the things that came to my attention was that my daughter Melanie who is my 20 year old was participating in a recreation program on the weekend and one day we received an email from somebody in her group and it turned out to be one of the cofounders of Identifor asking parents to try out this new tool to see what they thought. And I contacted him and I went down and met with him and his wife and we had a nice conversation and one thing led to the next and I began to work for the company. So that’s how I got started with Identifor. It leverages my background in both education in technology as well as an understanding of disabilities on a personal level as well.
HR: Do you care to share more about your children and what their interests are?
SK: Sure, so one of the things I want to tell you about is I want to tell you a little bit about Melanie. So Melanie her diagnosis is microcephaly, she’s my 20 year old and she had microcephaly way before it become the disability digore if you will and she is impacted in a very significant kind of way. Because of the shape of the brain, microcephaly meaning smallness of the head, each person that has microcephaly is impacted differently, so in Melanie’s case, she’s a wonderful gal but she’s impacted in vocabulary and her cognitive abilities etc. She’s in a wonderful job exploration program in a hospital in New Jersey and they pretty much just guess at what some body is good at like everybody does and my wife and I got Melanie to start using Identifor and immediately started to see a dashboard that came up about her and it really showed the types of executive functions and multiple intelligences and other kinds of things that we said Melanie might be somebody who might be very good at computer work but not just data entry, and certainly not programing but something more than that. So we were able to have an IEP meeting with her school. We met with the people of the program and they put her into to try her in a micro certification program at the hospital for all staff members and of course they gave her an aid to work with her but one day a week she goes to this Microsoft certification program and she took to it like a duck tapes to water and immediately after 2 weeks there was able to type 43 words a minute with no errors, she was also able (I hate excel) she puts all my contacts into excel, she does all different kinds of things with them, she’s a high school teacher and she does her power points and one of her colleagues she’s even doing a newsletter for one of her colleagues, these are all things we had no clue she had any ability or an infinity for and she just loves it. And the hospital because of all these experiences and the new skills she’s developing, believe it or not she’s working in the Neuroscience department of the hospital and she’s really an active aid providing value to the department she working in not just a mascot, not just an extra set of hands.
HR: Now what is your specific role at Identifor?
SK: So my role, is I’m vice president of education and I’m a neurodiversity employment specialist. And what I do is I go around to school districts around the country, organizations around the country, and I show them how they can integrate Identifor’s career tool into the IEP for the child. The purpose for that is rather than having what I call Jell-O on a plate where we’re just guessing at goals and objectives, we have specific data that is updated every week about any of the students that have registered for Identifor, so that the school district then can not only set only goals and objectives but be able to see if a student is reaching those goals and objectives. So using backwoods design we might be able to say for instance that this person would be a great medical assistant and using backwoods design we would say what are the details of the goals, the objectives, what are the tools that person is going to need, what supports might they need and work with them to bring them up to that point that they can be employable once they graduate from high school. So that’s one of the roles that I have. Another role that I have is also working with different universities because we also do quite a bit of work with our support tool in helping people in Autism, people on the spectrum, who are attending college to be able to stay on task to keep track of all of their different kinds of demands that they have and I work with the different universities as well. There are also many different studies that are being done. Using Identifor I help the different universities that are doing those in putting those studies together and to help them in different ways. Those are just a few of the things that I do, but I do want to point out we’re also working with FIU and we will be working with the Dade the Miami Dade county school district, we’ll be working with the Broward county school district, and with the Dan Marino foundation. All of them have committed to using Identifor as well.
HR: Well that’s great, that’s very very encouraging and real close to home here.
SK: I just wanted to also mention Hackie that the dashboard that someone receives from a student playing these different games is very valuable because not only does it give in detail the different kinds of areas that a person is good at but in addition it gives specific career suggestions by using a hyperlink of different areas a person might be good at and taking them to the onet websites. Are you familiar with onet?
HR: I’m ignorant.
SK: So onet is part of the department of labors attempt to describe every type of job title and break it down into very detailed parts, the reason that is important is in putting together the different individualized plans for a student, once were able to know all of the specific details of the career, then we’re able to make sure there is going to be some real important goals and objectives that a parent will be able to make sure is put into either an IEP or transition planning with a state or local agency. So this is something we track the data over time to measure the progress of the student because it’s not a one off kind of its really using some deep deep data analytics and it’s not a one off kind of thing. So I wanted to mention that because I think it’s important. Another aspect is that the other prong I was talking about before and that’s Abby, our identifor companion.
Again there is no charge for Abby and what Abby does is it helps not just independent help living support for somebody but it helps give somebody the type of assisted technology that they might need to make sure they are reminded to do different things for instance take their medication, what time to come back from a break at their job, where is their test going to be help in the university setting, all of these different things, how to manage their money with a virtual wallet, how to get someplace either by public transportation or by car or in our case we even make sure that we have something that shows how to get someplace using an uber and that is baked in as well. We also have not just the weather forecast but what clothes to wear, how to prepare for that weather, if it’s raining there will be a reminder to bring an umbrella. So we have all of these different things that are pulled together and sits on the phone on a person’s smartphone to be able to give them those kinds of supports during their day. So I wanted tell you that so you get an understanding on how all of these pieces come together.
HR: It would seem to me Steve that Identifor ought to be required everywhere. It doesn’t cost anything, it’s a free additional service, and what is blocking that? Just getting the word out?
SK: Well I think it has a lot to do with getting the word out. The school districts are very excited when they see this because they know how litigious the transition aspect is of the IEP, that’s really become a big saw point for many districts that are getting sued right now. And I think it’s really people finding out about this because we do have many schools that use this and we do have a lot of clinicians and organizations as well. So we’re looking for some places that we can really make big impact quickly that would be state agencies for instance, the division of vocational rehabilitation. We’re looking for more national level kinds of places because remember our career tool is all crowd source. Meaning the more people that use it and the more filtered groups we have, the more accurate our information is going to be for the people that use Identifor.
HR: Well toward that latter point is it strictly for people on the spectrum?
SK: No. Just like my daughter. It was designed and a lot of our testing that we do happens to be with people on the spectrum. It’s for anyone with an intellectual disability or somebody with out one. So for instance I also have a son who is an Ivy League graduated engineer in mechanical engineering and material science engineering and we were able to get incredibly rich information about him as well. So we didn’t know certain things, he didn’t know certain things, but from playing these games he was able to find in that dashboard information that was helpful for him. So it can be for any type of person but we like to say that it was designed for the person on the spectrum and that’s really the focus of the types of groups we’ve started with in the beginning.
HR: How can our viewers and listeners at Different Brains find out more?
SK: All they need to do is go to identifor.com , sign up online, I encourage them if they would like to speak to me directly they can, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and addition to that I encourage them to look for us on twitter and Facebook to stay up to date with our latest developments as well.
HR: Steve, is there anything we haven’t covered that you would like to cover today?
SK: Well I just think as a way of leaving it with an encouraging factoid, it’s important to understand that right now more and more companies are trying to hire people on the spectrum and with other disabilities. There have been more incentives then ever before and they also know now that there is an untapped reservoir of talent out there that they’re trying to create inclusive cultures that look beyond somebody’s classification or their neurological difference or as you like to say their different brain. And they’re trying to do now is find the best talent with out being blinded by neurological conditions that are irrelevant to the job requirement. And there has also been some real impact that has been out of Washington in trying to make people hire and motivate companies to hire people on the spectrum and with other disabilities because they realize that these are fine workers and I just want to mention something that we call the 7 percent solution which is something that was passed about a year, last march I believe but it hasn’t been enforced yet. And what that is, it’s a way of saying that any company that does federal contracting work, any kind of federal contracting work at all that has a minimum of 50 workers must have 7 % of their workforce as people classified as with a disability. So it hasn’t been enforced yet, they’re expecting it to be enforced within 2017 but I think you can get an understanding on how that could really motivate many companies to start hiring people with disabilities.
HR: Well it’s been another great episode of Exploring Different Brains talking today with Steve Keisman of Identifor and Steve thank you so much for being with us today.
SK: It was a true pleasure, thank you for having me Hackie.
This video is owned by Different Brains Inc, kindly donated by it’s original producer PCE Media LLC.
Different Brains® Inc. founder Harold “Hackie” Reitman, M.D. is an author, filmmaker, retired orthopedic surgeon, former professional heavyweight boxer, the past chairman and president (and current board member) of The Boys and Girls Clubs of Broward County, and a neurodiversity advocate. However, it was his role as a father that led to the creation of the DifferentBrains.org website.
Hackie’s daughter Rebecca grew up with epilepsy, 23 vascular brains tumors, and underwent 2 brain surgeries before the age of 5. Her struggles and recovery put him on the road to, through 26 professional heavyweight boxing matches, raising money for children’s charities (to which he donated every fight purse).
Rebecca eventually went on to graduate from Georgia Tech with a degree in Discrete Mathematics, and Dr. Reitman wrote and produced a film based on her experiences there (The Square Root of 2, starring Darby Stanchfield of ABC’s Scandal). After graduation, Rebecca received a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome. Hackie, shocked at his own ignorance of the topic despite being an M.D., embarked on years of research that culminated with his book Aspertools: The Practical Guide for Understanding and Embracing Asperger’s, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and Neurodiversity (released by HCI books, publishers of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series).
This experience revealed to Hackie the interconnectedness of the conditions that fall under the neurodiversity umbrella, while alerting him to the in-fighting and fractured relations that often plague the organizations tasked with serving the community. Convinced that overcoming these schisms could help all of society, Hackie forged the Different Brains philosophy of inclusive advocacy: “Supporting Neurodiversity – From Autism to Alzheimer’s and All Brains In Between”.
In the company’s initial years of operation, Hackie self-financed all of the content on DifferentBrains.org, all of which offered free to view to the public. Currently he is the host of our weekly interview show Exploring Different Brains, writes blogs for the site, and tours the country speaking at conferences, conventions and private functions, all with the goal of improving the lives of neurodiverse individuals and their families, and maximizing the potential of those with different brains. Separate from Different Brains, Hackie is the founder and CEO of PCE Media, a media production company focusing on reality based content. He recently co-executive produced the documentary “Foreman”, the definitive feature documentary on legendary boxer and pitchman George Foreman.