Ben Northern has a lot of grit.
As a sergeant in the United States Army, the Toyota North American Parts Center (NAPCK) South Dock team lead was trained to be battle-ready and have a warrior spirit. But nothing prepared him for the stares and finger-pointing directed at his son.
Northern’s son, Landon, was born with Potocki-Lupski Syndrome (PTLS), a rare genetic disorder affecting about one in 20,000 people worldwide. People with PTLS have difficulty speaking and sometimes display behavioral characteristics similar to those seen on the autism spectrum. But to Northern, his son is perfect. And he wants everyone else to see him that way, too.
“He can’t talk,” Northern says. “So sometimes we’ll be out in public, and he’ll start getting upset and yelling. It really bothers me, seeing people stare. If they have questions, I wish they’d just come up and ask me instead, so I can tell them about PTLS and help them understand.”
Just Perfect -- NAPCK South Dock Team Lead Ben Northern and his son, Landon. Northern is chair of NAPCK's chapter of ToyotAbility.
That commitment to understanding is what inspired Northern to head up NAPCK’S ToyotAbility chapter. ToyotAbility is a Business Partnering Group that encourages a culture of diversity, inclusion, understanding and respect. The NAPCK chapter of ToyotAbility launched in 2016 to educate team members and raise awareness of mental and physical differences.
“It can be something as simple as wearing crazy socks,” Northern says. “On World Down’s Syndrome Day, everyone is encouraged to wear crazy socks. People notice them, ask about the socks, and it starts a conversation about Down’s Syndrome. It seems small, but it can have a big impact and get people thinking. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do at ToyotAbility.”
Recently, ToyotAbility came together for a cause close to Northern’s heart: On March 8, ToyotAbility encouraged all NAPCK team members to wear green for PTLS awareness.
Go Green -- NAPCK team members wear green to raise awareness for Potocki-Lupski Syndrome (PTLS).
“This is a disorder that was new to me, and I had never heard of it until ToyotAbility brought it my attention,” says Allison Fancher, a NAPCK bin team leader and Northern’s colleague. “It’s a great example of an opportunity to spread awareness and development understanding on our team.”
The NAPCK chapter of ToyotAbility is also involved in the local autism community, sponsoring an autism awareness walk each year and hosting advocates from the nonprofit Autism Speaks to answer team members’ questions about the condition.
The group also partners with another nonprofit, Boone Adult Worker Activity Center (BAWAC), dedicated to helping disabled adults find work and on-the-job training. BAWAC and ToyotAbility share a common goal of celebrating abilities, rather than disabilities, and working together to end stigma and promote understanding.
The NAPCK chapter of ToyotAbility is only a couple of years old, but hundreds of team members have already joined. Northern looks forward to growing the group and finding more opportunities to open minds and increase awareness of mental and physical differences. To him, the mission is deeply personal. And deeply rewarding.
“If I’ve changed one person’s mind, or changed the way they think about these issues, it’s worth it to me,” says Northern. “I want people to understand these differences aren’t such a big deal. We really aren’t that different.”
By Kristen Orsborn