How many times have you heard the rebuttal, “that just isn’t the way things work?” Solutions, whether truly good or not, are often tossed aside at the first hint of systemic friction. It seems as though the supposedly streamlined infrastructure we have created for ourselves can also stifle our more creative ideas.
Take, for example, the recent case of Darius McCollum. The 48-year-old native New Yorker was arrested last week for the 29th time for New York City transit-related crime. McCollum, a man who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, told a Wall Street Journal reporter that he “love[s] everything about” the Metropolitan Transit Authority. His crimes range from impersonating a metro officer to his first offence—driving the E train six stops as a 15-year old. The Wall Street Journal reported that McCollum believes his love for the transit system started when he rode the rails for an entire day at age 12, afraid to return to school after having been stabbed there the previous day. Eventually, he befriended subway drivers who let him hang out with them inside the control rooms.
However, in light of his crimes, he has been denied employment by the transit authorities. This, to me, is baffling. Here you have your best worker: passionate, punctual, diligent and extremely knowledgeable. While there is sure to be an MTA mandate prohibiting transit-related criminals from gaining employment, his crimes have all been doing the MTA’s jobs for them. This problem could have been avoided years ago if someone in the bureaucracy gave him a job at the MTA when he was a teen.
And for his Asperger’s? Why not just let McCollum drive and keep someone in the control room with him? He has obviously proved that he is capable and willing. MTA policy says that no unauthorized person can be in the cab with a driver, but again, why not show some flexibility?
It is unfair to beat up on the MTA. Many corporations have similar rules and regulations regarding hiring and firing, whether unable to work around hours or medications or any other applicant’s more cumbersome burdens. People who are well qualified for a job but may need a little more attention or maintenance are written off before even entering the door.
Sometimes life does not fit neatly into official manuals: exceptions to the rule can provide invaluable and intangible results. I bet McCollum would be the kind of person who always drives his train with a smile and makes sure to say "have a nice day," when passengers get off at their stops.
Yes, hiring someone like McCollum will pose difficulties: he is an ex-con, regardless of his “functional” crimes; he does have Asperger’s syndrome. But the title of his rap-sheet needs only to be replaced with “Resume,” and he sounds like an exceptional employee.
While it is easy to say that there is no place for experimenting with employment options in today’s struggling economy, it seems like a cop-out. Employers should be willing to take more chances on people with mental and physical disabilites. McCollum is one of the MTA's biggest fans and could be one of its most productive employees. It's too bad they can't see that.