Each October for more than 70 years, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) has observed National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). This annual campaign highlights the importance of employment for people with all disabilities and celebrates the many contributions of America's workers with disabilities including autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). This gives the autism community another opportunity to highlight the strengths of potential employees with ASDs and also underscore the high unemployment and underemployment rates of adults on the spectrum.
At Autism Speaks, we know the desire of many people with autism to find opportunities to work in positions that align with their individual strengths and interests. With low unemployment overall, businesses also have a real need to identify good candidates for their open positions, as well as a growing interest in targeting the autism community for recruitment thanks to the success stories of trailblazing companies such as Microsoft, SAP, Cintas and Amazon. And we see the hard work being done by service providers across the country to connect and support the people they serve. So why is there still such a high unemployment?
In most discussions about the unemployment rate in the autism community, concerns about the “talent pipeline” often arise. Pipelines are the conduit by which employers find potential employees. Autism Speaks and other nonprofit organizations have created several different methods to increase access to this talent pipeline through job portals like TheSpectrumCareers.com, the Autism Speaks Resource Guide that lists employment service providers and vocational rehabilitation agencies throughout the country, the Autism Speaks Employment Tool Kit, and the Autism Speaks Transition Tool Kit that empowers school professionals to contribute to the solution.
But accessing this talent pipeline is only part of the equation. We need engagement from all partners as well. Employers should be aware of their own biases and misconceptions about people with autism and disabilities in general. All too often, low expectations and myths about autism are some of the greatest barriers to employment for people on the spectrum – at least at a level that is commensurate with their abilities. It is human nature to fear what is new or different. But if employers are open-minded and willing to address their own subconscious biases, they are often rewarded. Inviting people who think differently into a business leads to a more diverse, innovative and ultimately more productive workforce. Indeed, more and more companies now see neurodiversity as a crucial competitive advantage.
This year’s NDEAM theme of “Inclusion Drives Innovation” taps into this concept. As the U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta said, "Smart employers know that including different perspectives in problem-solving situations leads to better solutions. Hiring employees with diverse abilities strengthens their business, increases competition and drives innovation."
Please join Autism Speaks in celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). Do what you can to help us spread the word about why hiring people with autism is good for business. To learn more about how you and your organization or business can participate, visit this page.