Are you looking for employees who are talented, loyal and detail-oriented? Are you interested in hiring people who would have a positive impact on workplace morale, retention and corporate culture? If so, you should consider the possibility of hiring an individual with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Corporate America is taking notice of the benefits of building a neurodiverse workforce. Neurodiversity is defined as, and short for, “wide spectrum of how neurological diversity within human brains and minds work and encompasses the idea that neurological diversity is a natural and valuable form.”
According to MarketResearch.com, “the 54 million Americans with disabilities have grown to be the third-largest group in America after Baby Boomers and the mature market.” According to National Survey of Consumer Attitudes, “92% of Americans view companies that hire individuals with disabilities more favorably than those that do not. 87% would prefer to give their business to companies that employ individuals with disabilities and 5% would be willing to switch to a brand associated with a good cause if price and quality were relatively equal.” It is a remarkable reality that 26 million Americans with disabilities are of working age. Studies have demonstrated that people with disabilities are just as productive as their non-disabled peers, with absenteeism rates lower than or equal to other non-disabled employees. It is interesting to note that the U.S. Census Bureau reports that “people with disabilities and their network represent $1 trillion, including $220 billion in discretionary income, and have the most buying power of any traditionally underrepresented group.”
Congress is currently educating small businesses on the benefits of employing those with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). It has been reported that the Small Business Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, led by Chairman Steve Chabot (R-OH), held a hearing regarding “the role that small businesses can play in employing individuals with developmental disabilities.” Chairman Chabot stated, “For adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities or disorders, finding sustaining employment can be a real challenge. These individuals can be overlooked when employment opportunities arise, and too often they are shut out from the workplace altogether.” He concluded “across the country we are seeing examples of how small businesses, with their ability to adapt and accommodate, are able to provide employment opportunities to those who might not otherwise get a chance.” The committee stated that, “only 34% of people with intellectual or developmental disorders are employed, and only 26% of these adults have a full-time job. Difficulty in finding employment remains a barrier preventing individuals with intellectual or developmental disorders, syndromes, or disabilities from growing and improving their quality of life.”
Among its many objectives, the organization Autism Speaks is committed to expanding employment opportunities and support for adults with autism. They accomplish this goal by coordinating with private employers and advocating for the strengthening of pre-employment and transition programs. Approximately 50,000 people with autism enter adulthood each year in the United States, and access to employment opportunities is critical for those individuals to reach their fullest potential.
Lisa Goring, Executive Vice-President of Programs and Services at Autism Speaks, offered the following observation: “Autism Speaks is working with an integral part of our nation’s economy – small businesses – to improve employment outcomes for individuals with autism, increase chances for self-sufficiency and independence, and help businesses improve their bottom line. What we have learned is clear—the innovation and flexibility unique to small businesses and entrepreneurs enable them to lead the way in employing individuals with autism.” Leslie Long, Vice-President of Adult Services at Autism Speaks, explains, “Any business that understands the value of recruiting employees on the autism spectrum will thrive in the future. People on the autism spectrum are an untapped labor pool of exceptional talent and dedication to any industry in which they participate.”
One example that has worked in our industry is the partnership between St. Croix Dry Cleaners in Stillwater, MN, and Merrick, Inc., based in St. Paul. Merrick, Inc., is a company that works with local businesses to develop programs that provide employment skills and training for adults with disabilities. St. Croix Cleaners has achieved remarkable success and positive results in their delivery routes through this program. Dave Nemec, owner of St. Croix Dry Cleaners, says, “Working with Merrick, Inc. organization to employ eight mentally challenged adults for our delivery routes has been a win-win-win for our organization for more than 10 years. Our customers enjoy receiving service from St. Croix Cleaners and the relationship they have developed with their delivery person. St. Croix Cleaners’ management and employees enjoy the fun and positive energy brought to the workplace by the Merrick, Inc., employees and clients and we enjoy giving back to the community. The largest win is for the adults. They are proud to have a career, work hard, professionally represent themselves alongside St. Croix Cleaners, and know that they are contributing to society.”
Vauhini Vara writes in a recent article in Fast Company that Microsoft has a new program in place to hire people with ASD. Vara writes, “The goal is to create a situation that is better suited to autistic people’s styles of communicating and thinking. Microsoft is the highest-profile company to have gone public with its efforts, and autistic adults are hoping it will spark a broader movement.” (Link)
Terri Hogan, owner of Contemporary Cabinetry East in Cincinnati, OH, provided another example of a successful case of employment. He says, “We need to educate others so they begin to take the “dis” out of “disabilities” and replace it with “abilities.” We also need to make small businesses aware of the huge untapped resource that is people with diverse abilities. Hiring people who are physically, genetically or cognitively diverse is not just the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do.”
Many cities have centers that work directly with businesses seeking potential employees. One outstanding example is the Morgan Autism Center, located in San Jose, California. Working with young adults, its task is to evaluate, train and find the “perfect fit” for PWD (people with disabilities) who have the ability to be a productive part of the work force. Executive Director Brad Boardman offers the following observations based on his daily work with those on the Autism spectrum: “Many individuals with autism have a strong desire to do meaningful work. Often, highly structured work tasks that require visual skills and have few distractions can be a very suitable match. Our experience at Morgan Autism Center is that once a job skill is learned, employees can be extremely proficient and very reliable. Our adult clients are very proud of the work they do in their paid job and for good reason. We have never had a quality-control issue of any kind.”
As you finish reading this article, you may be asking yourself how to find these potential employees. Autism Speaks is leading the way in creating employment opportunities and support for those with ASD. They reach out to private employers and work on increasing training skills and transition pro-grams. Recently, Autism Speaks has introduced three helpful job-related tools. First is a remarkable website, The Spectrum Careers (www.TheSpectrumCareer.com), that connects businesses to those with ASD. Second is an extremely comprehensive document for businesses considering hiring those with ASD. The document is called Employers’ Guide to Hiring and Retaining Employees with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). Third, Autism Speaks sponsors a LinkedIn Group called Autism Employment Network. The description on the group page states, “In order to encourage the creation of greater employment opportunities for individuals with autism, Autism Speaks is hosting this networking group where interested parties can share information, learn from one another and grow your own networks. This group will enable employers of any scale, employment-service providers and individuals with autism and their families to connect and network with one other.”
There are countless nonprofits across the country like Merrick, Inc., and Morgan Autism Center that will assist you in creating a neurodiverse workplace. They help people with disabilities find employment. Some provide on-site job coaches who can help teach employees the job and guide them to success. Sometimes the job coach is temporary and other times permanent. Other available resources include Employer Assistance and Resource Network (www.askearn.org)and Workforce Recruitment Program for College Students with Disabilities (www.dol.gov). A simple Google search on “how to hire people with disabilities” will guide you.