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Old June 5th, 2011, 08:40 AM   #1
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Default 'Agricultural specialisterne': rural employment revolution for those with Autism

As I have already mentioned on this forum, Specialisterne ('the Specialists' in Danish) is a groundbreaking social enterprise leveraging the characteristics of people with Autism Spectrum Disorders as competitive advantages in the business market. These characteristics include attention to detail and the ability to excel when doing highly repetitive work. The same characteristics may also allow many with Autism Spectrum Disorders to excel in jobs in the agricultural sector.
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Old June 5th, 2011, 09:33 AM   #2
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Default 'Agricultural specialisterne': rural employment revolution for those with Autism

Just as Thorkil Sonne wanted to ensure that society did not waste the untapped talents of people like his son when he decided to establish Specialisterne ('the Specialists' in Danish), it was a similar feeling from a parent of a child with Autism that sparked the idea for the innovative Fruits of Employment program.

Back in 2007, Heather Davis was a portfolio manager (at TIAA-CREF) and was part of a team which proposed the company should diversify its investments by purchasing farms. (TIAA-CREF is a major investment company in the United States, with assets totalling over $400 billion under its management).

Being the mother of an autistic son and knowing the vast, often untapped abilities of a uniquely capable group of people, Davis suggested that TIAA-CREF employ autistic and individuals with disabilities to support the apple harvest during picking season at the orchards:
Quote:
...Davis recalled that, soon after her son was diagnosed with autism several years earlier, her ex-husband had attended a presentation on autism by Jacquelyn McCandless, M.D. During that presentation, McCandless had speculated about the possibility of adults with autism finding work in agriculture. The regular routine, reduced social interaction, and repetitive tasks all seemed like a good fit to McCandless, but she had no specific examples.

...Although she was still researching the idea, she felt it was time to get formal approval from her investment committee. Davis laughs as she remembers how that meeting went: "You can imagine what investment committees are like -- a group of people sitting around and listening to people talk about investments and why they want to do them. And here I come with, 'I want to take these farms that we have and I want to run them with an autistic workforce.' You could have heard a pin drop in the room. It was the longest time I'd ever heard the room quiet."

In the end, the committee decided to approve her plan, now called Fruits of Employment, as part of their social investing activities...
(sources: Fruits Of Employment Program | tcasset.org; muconf.missouri.edu/AIC2011/AutismHandouts/9.pdf)

Last edited by Visionary7903; June 12th, 2012 at 09:17 PM.
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Old June 6th, 2011, 12:34 PM   #3
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Default 'Agricultural specialisterne': rural employment revolution for those with Autism

Thorkil Sonne has continually stressed the importance of Specialisterne ('the Specialists' in Danish) being a profit making venture. To wipe away people's suspicions that Specialisterne is just a charity, the company's consultants must exceed performance expectations as much as possible.
Quote:
...I wanted to do more than just provide a sheltered workplace for people with a disability. My goal is to create opportunities for people with autism on an international scale. You might find money to support sheltered working environments in Scandinavia, but not in Poland or Spain or Brazil. To extend its reach, our organisation needs the kind of funding that only a profit-making venture can generate. It must succeed on market terms...
(sources: What you can learn from employees with autism)

Similarly, the Fruits of Employment program has delivered, for TIAA-CREF, cost efficiencies because of the dependability and low attrition rate of the unique workforce.

As Heather Davis (now a Senior Managing Director and Head of Global Private Markets at TIAA-CREF) explains in the video at the top of the following link: Fruits Of Employment Program | tcasset.org...
Quote:
...We firmly believe in social responsibility and doing things right and the right way and it just so happens that what is a really good social benefit happens to align with our economic goals...
(sources: Fruits Of Employment Program | tcasset.org; muconf.missouri.edu/AIC2011/AutismHandouts/9.pdf)
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Old June 14th, 2011, 05:12 PM   #4
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Default 'Agricultural specialisterne': rural employment revolution for those with Autism

Specialisterne ('the Specialists' in Danish) is a groundbreaking social enterprise leveraging the characteristics of people with Autism Spectrum Disorders as competitive advantages in the business market. These characteristics include attention to detail and the ability to excel when doing highly repetitive work. The same characteristics may also allow many with Autism Spectrum Disorders to excel in jobs in the agricultural sector.

TIAA-CREF owns apple orchards and vineyards on a property called Badger Mountain in Washington State. This was the initial site for the 'Fruits of Employment' project, which aims to successfully recruit/hire/train/retain employees with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other disabilities on agricultural properties. James Emmett, an employment consultant specialising in individuals with disabilities, has provided project assistance to TIAA-CREF. One success story arising from the project is as follows:
Quote:
...A gentleman we will call Nick, who has autism, was overwhelmed when he first arrived to work at the Badger Mountain site. Emmett recalls "He looked down the rows and saw the enormity of the orchards, and it was overwhelming for him. There were not a lot of clear beginnings and ends to tasks, it seemed like the rows went on forever. I didn't think he was going to be a great match."

It was three months before Emmett was back on-site to see how the various new employees were doing. in that time, Nick had turned into one of the best workers in the entire orchard. He had learned to manage his initial anxiety by taking a step back from each tree before working on it, visualizing the task, and setting visual, concrete boundaries for himself. And his ratings were excellent. All employees at Badger Mountain are monitored for both speed/productivity and for quality/completeness of their work. Nick's speed is about average for staff of Badger Mountain, but his scores on quality are amazing. For example, if he has a task of pruning trees, he will never have taken too many branches off or too few--always just enough.

The on-site managers soon transferred Nick from the orchard to tagging the bins of incoming, picked apples. It was his job to do an approximate count of how many apples each bin contained, tag each bin with that information, and do a quick quality check of the apples. This fit Nick's skills perfectly and he excelled at the job. In addition, Nick was ALWAYS on time. One day Nick was five minutes late and was upset with himself the rest of the day. The manager told Emmett "I can't believe somebody cares so much about their job."

As for Nick, he told Emmett he loves the job. He explained that he likes being out in nature so much and getting good exercise (he has lost 20 pounds since starting work and looks, Emmett says, "Like a whole new person"). But Nick also liked the flexibility of his social interactions. "When he feels like he wants to socialize," Emmett explains, "He can take his lunch and have lunch with others. On other days, he can have lunch with the trees. Having the option calms him down..."
(sources: muconf.missouri.edu/AIC2011/AutismHandouts/9.pdf; APSE: Advancing Employment. Connecting People.)

Last edited by Visionary7903; June 14th, 2011 at 06:49 PM.
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Old June 15th, 2011, 12:01 PM   #5
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Default 'Agricultural specialisterne': rural employment revolution for those with Autism

Specialisterne ('the Specialists' in Danish) is a groundbreaking social enterprise leveraging the characteristics of people with Autism Spectrum Disorders as competitive advantages in the business market. When Specialisterne was looking to break into other markets (for example Scotland and Iceland), they needed the local contacts and knowledge that only someone in touch with Autistic and wider disabilities communities could bring. Similarly, when the financial services giant TIAA-CREF wanted to go into employing individuals with disabilities through their 'Fruits of Employment' project, they too needed someone with plenty of experience in the relevant sector. That person was James Emmett...

James Emmett's largest role to date had been as the initial Disability Program Manager for Walgreens in 2005 and 2006 - helping them develop their national disability outreach initiative.

The initiative is the brainchild of Randy Lewis, Walgreens Senior Vice President of Distribution, who himself has a son with Autism. The model program for this initiative was the newly built Walgreens distribution center in Anderson, South Carolina which opened in October 2006. Its unique disability-friendly environment has made it among the most productive Walgreen distribution centers in the United States - approximately 40% of the 700 workers at the center have disabilities. Since then, a further new Walgreens distribution center (this time located in Windsor, Connecticut), has become part of the initiative.

Emmett recounts his experience with the Walgreens initiative in a 2008 Journal article, Lessons learned by a rehabilitation counselor in corporate America:
Quote:
...I believe that I brought tremendous value to the team at Walgreens because of my training as a Rehabilitation Counselor. I provided a perspective on issues across the Distribution/Logistics Division that was often unique because of my experience in the disability community and as a Rehabilitation Counselor. My knowledge on accessibility, universal design, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), job analysis, job accommodations, natural supports, and social communication training came into play on a variety of issues across the Walgreens Distribution/Logistics Division...
(sources: Walgreens: Same Standards, Same Pay for People With Disabilities | inclusionparadox.com; http://www.directemployers.org/wp-co.../Walgreens.pdf)

Last edited by Visionary7903; June 15th, 2011 at 07:07 PM.
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Old June 15th, 2011, 06:36 PM   #6
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Default Detour to: Walgreens Outreach initiative to hire people with disabilities

Specialisterne ('the Specialists' in Danish) is a groundbreaking social enterprise leveraging the characteristics of people with Autism Spectrum Disorders as competitive advantages in the business market. These characteristics include attention to detail and the ability to excel when doing highly repetitive work. The same characteristics may also allow many with Autism Spectrum Disorders to excel in jobs as part of Walgreen's Outreach initiative to hire individuals with disabilities.

The two Walgreens distribution centers mentioned in the above post do indeed utilise all kinds of practical accommodating features for individuals with disabilities, which should make it more likely for them to succeed. Below is a real life example of where an Autistic employee's strengths are being harnessed in the Windsor, Connecticut distribution center:
Quote:
...For Chris Jordan, clocking in for work is something he never thought was possible. His official title: "Mission control, which is making sure the rest of the departments are moving smoothly," said Jordan, 22, of Windsor.

Inside the Walgreens distribution center in Windsor, Chris feels comfortable and at home. It's a far cry from when he was just a kid and met Donna Swanson. She's the executive director for Focus -- an alternative learning center for people like Chris who have Autism.

"He was a flapper, a hand flapper and very much into his own world. He's Joe cool now, he is relaxed he is more sure of himself, he accepts challenges he knows about himself," said Swanson.

...Chris's job plays up to his strengths. His duties include tracking boxes to make sure the products are in good shape.

"Having Autism, I have a line of work that thankfully is very methodical," said Jordan.

Natalie Valyan is his work manager. She adds, "He memorizes everything, he's very quick to pick up on things and again he does have good attention to detail."

Everyone earns the same pay and is held up to the same standard. Chris wouldn't want to have it any other way.

"A lot of times our kids don't have jobs because they have some quirks and people don't get them but if you can find a way to channel their talents they are very good employees," said Swanson...
(sources: Autistic Man Thrives at Walgreens Warehouse | NBC Connecticut)

Last edited by Visionary7903; February 23rd, 2012 at 08:18 PM.
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Old June 16th, 2011, 06:20 AM   #7
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Default Detour to: Walgreens Outreach initiative to hire people with disabilities

Specialisterne ('the Specialists' in Danish) seeks to harness strengths that many people with Autism Spectrum Disorders possess - good attention to fine details, precision, and high tolerance for repetitive tasks. Similarly, people with Autism may find visually creative endeavours captivating because it plays to their strengths - they often have good visuo-spatial skills. Studies show that Autistics generally perform well in three-dimensional drawing, for example, and tasks such as assembling designs out of blocks printed with different patterns.
(sources: http://www.thepsychologist.org.uk/ar...-547_happe.pdf; AllBusiness.com | Business solutions from AllBusiness.com)

Harrison Mullinax is an employee at Walgreen's Anderson, South Carolina Distribution Center. He has Autism and is in his early 20s now. Mullinax works eight hours a day at the distribution center, where he wields a bar-code scanner, checking in boxes of merchandise bound for the company's drugstores.

According to his mother (in an article from late 2007), Mullinax has improved tremendously because of the job. Mullinax says he has made friends, and he likes being paid. Working at the innovative disability-friendly facility, he says, has taught Mullinax how to offer help to others and not to insult anyone.

Mullinax also has another interest that has made the papers:
Quote:
...[Harrison Mullinax] knows the drivers are slowing to watch the lights dance in the trees around his parents’ home — all 5,000 to 6,000 of them. And to him, this is Christmas. For the lights, the way they flash and change colors to the rhythm of carols and where they are placed, are his handiwork.
“I just like doing this,” Mullinax said. “Some call me the lighting engineer.”
...One of those who call him the “lighting engineer” is his mother. She knows what designing those lights, how they look and move, means to Harrison.
...When he was a toddler, he was slower to learn to walk, his speech didn’t develop quite like everyone else and his parents weren’t sure what the future would hold for him.
...“He didn’t play with toys,” his mother said. “He wanted other stuff, like power tools — anything electrical.”
...“We never thought he would ever have a job like most people would have a job,” Vikki said.
...Harrison has added thousands more lights [since 2004, when he started putting up lights] — thousands of them — as well as music, and some inflatable decorations in the front yard.
He usually starts by drawing his plans. That takes a couple of days. Then it’s on to the stringing.
“When we turned on the switch, he said, ‘This is what I had in my head the whole time,’ ” his mother said. “He loves it when he sees someone come down the road to stop and look.”
Quote:
...I can get out and do something without help,” said Mullinax.
Independence is something most people take for granted, but for someone like Mullinax, who is struggling with Autism, designing these lights has meant the world.
...Few others can appreciate this feat more than his mother.
“It’s just an overwhelming proud mama feeling. Just one of those Kodak moments where your child is accomplishing something that you never thought they would,” said Vikki Mullinax...
(sources: http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/lib/sde/PD...ept07_Blog.pdf; Young man designs, delights in putting up 6,000 lights on his house Anderson Independent Mail; http://www.wyff4.com/r/22055285/detail.html)

Last edited by Visionary7903; June 16th, 2011 at 07:08 AM.
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Old June 16th, 2011, 06:41 PM   #8
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Default Detour to: Walgreens Outreach initiative to hire people with disabilities

In another post, I mention the Walgreens Outreach initiative for workers with disabilities as a classic example of Universal Design in the workplace. Both the Anderson (South Carolina) and Windsor (Connecticut) Walgreens distribution centers were engineered specifically to accommodate large numbers of employees with disabilities. Just about anything that a typical employer might view as an 'accommodation' for those with disabilities was built into the two facilities.

The initiative was the brainchild of Randy Lewis, Walgreens Senior Vice President of Distribution, who himself has a son with Autism. Indeed, while catering to a wide group of individuals (including those with various other disabilities), the Walgreens Outreach initiative also offers various supports for people with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Deb Russell, the Walgreens Manager in charge of the Anderson, S.C. program said that its focus initially was on employment for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders...
Quote:
...the program is not about tracking and labeling people with autism or other disabilities. It is about building systemic accommodations into the workplace culture so people with autism become just like any other employees.
...Although the project started out with a focus on autism employment, it soon moved beyond that.
"Autism is a model disability for us," Russell says.
She explains that by planning accommodations around the common needs of people on the autism spectrum, the program was able to expand easily to accommodate people with other disabilities. Autism was the template from which the program grew...
The following are some details on what appropriate accommodations and support systems are available at the two Walgreens sites to help workers with Autism specifically:
Quote:
...Jenny Castle, HR manager for [the Windsor Walgreens distribution center,] offers one scenario. "If a candidate appears to struggle with how we have worded interview questions, we have a modified script that eliminates abstract language." ..."For candidates with autism, this can be helpful."
In other situations, she says, HR professionals may allow an advocate to help prepare the candidate or sit in during the interview to provide support. Many employees with autism need assistance with orientation and paperwork, she adds. "We work with community agencies to ensure this support is available. If the support is not available, we provide it."
...In other cases ...workers with autism focus very well on their normal job tasks but, when faced with change, struggle with unknown factors.
"We try to be proactive and provide job aids like touch-screen computers with large icons and easy-to-read type to give the team members a reminder of what to do when change happens," she says. "We do this by putting messages on the computer screens or displaying messages on or around their workstations."
Castle emphasizes that "Autism affects each person in different ways. You have to be willing to try different ways of communicating, motivating and supporting employees in order to find the right fit for each individual...
(sources: http://www.dps.missouri.edu/Autism/2...0Walgreens.pdf; http://kenskidsinc.org/pdfs/hrmagazine.pdf)

Last edited by Visionary7903; July 14th, 2012 at 09:21 PM.
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Old June 19th, 2011, 01:02 PM   #9
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Default Detour to: segregation for well designed work environments where Autistics can thrive

A young man with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder once put it well:
"People with Asperger's Syndrome are like salt-water fish who are forced to live in fresh water. We're fine if you just put us into the right environment. When the person with AS and the environment match, the problem goes away and we even thrive. When they don't match, we seem disabled."

The environment may match via an inclusive approach or via a more segregated approach...


An inclusive approach
Specialisterne ('the Specialists' in Danish) seeks to harness strengths that many people with Autism Spectrum Disorders possess - good attention to fine details, precision, and high tolerance for repetitive tasks. Specialisterne's founder, Thorkil Sonne, views the ideal outcome of the perceptual shift that his social enterprise is trying to promote to be: that there will be no need for 'specialist' companies in the future, and inclusive hiring practices will simply be a hallmark of successful businesses. Similarly, James Emmett preferred a fully inclusive model when the 'Fruits of Employment' program was being established by TIAA-CREF - where people with Autism would work within established work teams throughout the orchard.
(sources: The Autistic Revolution | Jobpostings.ca; http://muconf.missouri.edu/AIC2011/AutismHandouts/9.pdf)


A more segregated approach
The alternative to a fully inclusive model is a more segregated one - where people with Autism work in separate teams and in specific locations, and mix very little with other parts of a workforce. One area where a more segregated model may be useful would be in terms of having employees with Autism Spectrum Disorders located in architecturally-designed workplaces that are specifically suited around their needs.

At the moment, these kind of environments are restricted to some schools for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders as well as certain research centres. However, in the future, there may be more employers like the nonPareil Institute in Plano, Texas - whose founders created a model in which work is brought to individuals who work in an environment suited to their needs rather than forcing them to adapt to environments more suited for those without Autism.

Maria Luigia Assirelli is a partner at London-based GA Architects, specialists in designing new builds and refurbishments for people with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Her experience in this area includes designing schools, residential buildings and respite centres. She is committed to the concept that well designed environments have a significant influence on behaviour. Here is a link to the slides for Assirelli's November 2010 presentation in Reading, England on 'Colour and Best Practice in Autism Design': http://www.autism-architects.com/wp-...ow-res-pdf.pdf

Here is part of the blurb on her presentation (proxemics is defined as how much space is needed around an individual to feel comfortable):
Quote:
...Maria will talk about research findings from a recent collaboration with Kingston University developing a colour palette appropriate for use in buildings for people with autism and how this can influence proxemics. Her presentation will include examples of good and bad design from experiences gained working in the built environment for [Autism Spectrum Disorders]. She will discuss related best practice in design that meets the needs of residents and pupils and their carers and support staff...
(sources: nonPareil.Institute - Practical Autism Solutions; Event page - Autism Education Trust; Designing Environments for Children and Adults with Autism - Autism Events and Asperger Syndrome Conferences and Exhibitions - Arventa Healthcare - Arventa Healthcare; GA Architects - Autism Learning Difficulties Architecture)

Last edited by Visionary7903; July 20th, 2012 at 10:42 PM. Reason: Updated link to presentation
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Old June 20th, 2011, 01:13 PM   #10
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Default Detour to: segregation for well designed work environments where Autistics can thrive

Specialisterne ('the Specialists' in Danish) seeks to harness strengths that many people with Autism Spectrum Disorders possess - good attention to fine details, precision, and high tolerance for repetitive tasks. Specialisterne's founder, Thorkil Sonne, views the ideal outcome of the perceptual shift that his social enterprise is trying to promote to be: that there will be no need for 'specialist' companies in the future, and inclusive hiring practices will simply be a hallmark of successful businesses.

The alternative to a fully inclusive model is a more segregated one - where people with Autism work in separate teams and in specific locations, and mix very little with other parts of a workforce. One area where a more segregated model may be useful would be in terms of having employees with Autism Spectrum Disorders located in architecturally-designed workplaces that are specifically suited around their needs. In the future, there may be more employers like the nonPareil Institute in Plano, Texas - whose founders created a model in which work is brought to individuals who work in an environment suited to their needs rather than forcing them to adapt to environments more suited for those without Autism.
(sources: The Autistic Revolution | Jobpostings.ca; nonPareil.Institute - Practical Autism Solutions)

GA Architects (led by Christopher Beaver), which specialises in designing environments for Autism Spectrum Disorders, was commissioned to create residential accommodation for Sunfield School for Autistic children in Worcestershire, England.

Teresa Whitehurst wrote a journal article in 2006 which included a section on the impact of the move to an 'Autism specific' accommodation on the children and staff at Sunfield. The parts of this section that may also apply to some extent to Autistic adults, in a potential segregated work environment specifically tailored for them, are quoted below:
Quote:
...Impact upon Children
...Space staff commented that the design and layout of the building had given the children more freedom and more choice. They could wander round and mix with other children or equally retire to their own space if they did not wish to socialise. This had a major impact upon children having issues with proximity sometimes these children get tense and just need space to be alone.

...Orientation staff observed that curved walls gave a less 'institutionalised' feel to the building and made it more aesthetically pleasing. The curved walls facilitate the movement of the children through the environment. A team leader noted that one child in particular liked to move along the curved wall touching it with his hands. The curved walls in the circulation space were noted to have orientation value in that the children on entering the building were guided into the space and were not met by harsh right angle corners which were visually difficult to navigate.

...The long circulation space was specifically mentioned on a number of occasions by staff. This specific design feature had made a big impact on one particular child's communication. The Team Leader commented that "he has become so spontaneous with his speech"..."the long circulation space has facilitated this. he comes up the circulation space for a purpose rather than standing waiting for staff to say "what do you want?"". Similarly, the circulation space appeared to be a place where the children felt comfortable. A bedtime routine had emerged in one house where staff read bedtime stories to the children in the long circulation space sitting on bean bags outside the children's bedrooms. The Team Leader commented that "kids will sit with us, then drift off to their rooms" I think its comforting for the children, like having a proper family with parents just outside their bedroom door, close by. Again, the curved walls, neutral colours, high ceilings and natural light were felt to be contributing to this feeling of comfort and security.

Calmness - Both staff and visitors commented on the aura of calmness which was evident in both houses. This was attributed both to the design which instilled calmness within the children and also to the attention which had been paid to the noise reducing components built into the fabric of the building. Carpeted areas, high ceilings and insulation have been key to reducing the levels of noise experienced. The calming, neutral colour grey incorporated into the fabric finishes has ensured that visual stimulus is kept to a minimum. Negative adrenalin which builds up during times of stress can most effectively be dispersed by running water and fresh air. Children have access to outside areas which are within their own control and which can be entered even during inclement weather due to the design of the sheltered play areas. High level windows provide additional ventilation without the risk of children absconding...
(sources: Whitehurst T. (2006). The impact of building design on children with autistic spectrum disorders. Good Autism Practice, 7(1), pp. 31-38; http://files3.peopleperhour.com/uplo...hurst_2006.pdf)

Last edited by Visionary7903; March 21st, 2012 at 10:43 PM.
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