Disabled employee is an inspiration to his co-workers

By Raya Tahan

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Imagine cutting half-inch letters from a sheet of vinyl using only an X-acto knife and tweezers.

Michael Daley, a 27-year-old autistic employee of the Arizona State Museum, cuts 100 of these every week. The raised letters will be installed onto signs throughout campus to assist the visually impaired.

Under guidelines from the 1992 Americans with Disabilities Act, every interior and exterior door on campus will eventually be required to have a raised sign. There are 150 major buildings on campus, some of which have over 500 doors, says Ronald Ramsey of the University of Arizona Sign Shop.

The curator of exhibits at the museum, Susan Luebbermann, said "weeding" vinyl lettering is very difficult and most of the staff at the museum avoids it. Daley, however, enjoys it.

Daley was diagnosed with autism when he was 3 at a time when children with the condition were often institutionalized.

The cause of the disorder, which severely hinders communication and thought patterns, is unknown. For reasons not understood, the disorder sometimes results in talent for highly detailed skills.

Daley's mother, Maryann Daley, saysMichael's job is very important to him. "The feeling he gets from being included and important at the museum makes him feel good about himself," she says.

Daley came to the museum about nine years ago through Project Origins, a group which helps developmentally-disabled young adults learn work skills.

Before beginning work on the signs for the visually impaired project, Daley made letters for the museum's "Paths of Life" exhibit.

"We like having him here," Luebbermann said. "When the 'Paths of Life' exhibit ended, we all thought of ways to keep him around."

The current project may keep Daley busy for a decade, Ramsey said.

Russell Varineau, curator of exhibits at the museum said, "I think it's very healthy to have someone like Michael working alongside my other staff and students because it brings them back to earth. Michael is a real pleasant force at the exhibits department.

"I think it's marvelous," Maryann Daley said. "Here is Michael, who's autistic, and has learned a job that is going to help someone who is visually impaired. We all have an ability that can help others if we just take the time to look for it."

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