Autism and Access to the American Dream

Dr. Scott Michael Robertson, policy adviser in the department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy.

Editor’s Note: This blog was cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Labor’s blog.

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama issued a proclamation to recognize World Autism Awareness Day 2016. This proclamation noted the importance of making sure autistic Americans have a chance put their talents and skills to work in good jobs. It also emphasized the need to “break down barriers to competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities, including people with autism.”

This message aligns with ongoing work of the federal Advisory Committee on Increasing Competitive Integrated Employment for Individuals with Disabilities managed by the Department of Labor. It also resonates with me personally because of barriers I faced as an autistic adult. I have experienced negative attitudes and persistent obstacles to career success that tested my resiliency and resolve.

Before starting college, I faced disbelief in my potential for academic success at school because of projections based on my IQ score rather than my aptitude. Undaunted, I earned an undergraduate degree with honors and completed graduate education. Yet I still faced challenges in developing my career because I lacked specialized supports and resources to address challenges unique to autism.

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Accessible Workplace Technology: Signed, Sealed, Delivered

Meeting Stevie Wonder at CSUN in San Diego on March 23.

Editor’s Note: This blog was cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Labor’s blog.

Last week, I had a brush with a bona fide music legend — the great Stevie Wonder. Was I starstruck? Of course. I’ve long admired his musical accomplishments and advocacy for people with disabilities. His appearance at the Grammy Awards in February highlighted once again the need to improve accessible technology, particularly in the workplace.

What brought me, Stevie Wonder and hundreds of other accessibility advocates together was the International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference. Commonly known as “CSUN” in honor of its sponsor, California State University, Northridge, the event is a who’s who of people leading the charge on accessible information and communications technology (known as ICT). I was honored to serve as this year’s keynote speaker, which gave me the chance to share why the Labor Department sees the need for accessible ICT in the workplace.

To put it simply, our commitment to accessible technology is about basic civil rights, as well as the collective productivity of America’s workforce. That’s because inaccessible technology — from websites, to software applications, to online job applications — is preventing many people with disabilities from doing their jobs effectively, or even applying for jobs in the first place.

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The Foundation for Inclusion: The Interactive Process

Lou Orslene, Co-director, Job Accommodation Network (JAN)

By Guest Blogger Lou Orslene, Co-director, Job Accommodation Network (JAN)

I’ll start at the beginning. The foundation for an inclusive workplace is the reasonable accommodation process. Reasonable accommodation is a change in the workplace because of applicant or employee’s long standing disability, a new or progressive chronic health condition, a recent injury at work or off the job, a challenging pregnancy, or medical impairment. The essential underpinning for a successful accommodation is a robust interactive process. In order to build a structure, e.g. an inclusive workplace, you must have a blueprint. Follow me here – the blueprint provides an expeditious, consistent, and defensible model for everyone in their various roles to follow. This blueprint or model is also transparent to all, and, in light of the various risks, tolerates few deviations from the plan.

In my JAN experience now of almost 20 years, I find that far too many reasonable accommodation policies lack a blueprint. Hence, they are not actionable. Most provide the goal of equal opportunity for people with disability; many offer accommodations to applicants, new hires, and employees and provide an email address or an 800 number for people to call. But, few offer a comprehensive blueprint including a practical process containing all of the elements necessary for recruiters, hiring managers, supervisors, and human resource partners to know “what and when” to do when someone needs an accommodation or adjustment at work.

So let’s think of your accommodation policy and process as a blueprint. This blueprint provides the big picture as well as diagrams providing the detail necessary for people in various roles to reach that big picture goal – workplace inclusion. I suggest your blueprint include three primary diagrams representing three points in the employee life cycle. One would be for recruiters; one for hiring managers; and one for supervisors, HR partners, the Disability Coordinator, return-to-work specialist, workers compensation specialist, facilities manager (well you get the idea) and anyone else who you have found employees go to in order to request an accommodation.

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The CEED Project: The Potential of Entrepreneurship

Kate Caldwell, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Disability and Human Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago

By Guest Blogger Kate Caldwell, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Disability and Human Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago

What’s the difference between self-employment and entrepreneurship? It’s alright if you don’t know. Our research has found that there is a lot of misinformation about what exactly entrepreneurship is and how it differs from self-employment!

Entrepreneurship has such great potential as an employment strategy for people with disabilities. Indeed, entrepreneurship and self-employment are often used interchangeably in the disability context. We at The CEED Project created an infographic that is easy to share about some of the basics of disability-entrepreneurship.

Essentially, self-employment refers to creating a job for an individual with the goal of becoming financially self-sufficient.  In the business literature, it is meant as an alternative to salaried or wage employment. Entrepreneurship is meant to create a business that is profit- and growth-oriented. In this way, entrepreneurship results in both business and job creation not just for that individual, but with the possibility of hiring others in the future. While both self-employment and entrepreneurship are viable employment strategies, entrepreneurship is also an anti-poverty strategy. This is what gives entrepreneurship so much potential in addressing the problems of unemployment and underemployment facing people with disabilities. It also has the potential to shift our way of thinking about people with disabilities in employment: from seeing them not only as employees and passive recipients of services, but recognizing them as active participants, job creators, and possible employers. One of the most persistent barriers that people with disabilities encounter in employment is hiring discrimination. Consider the impact of entrepreneurship on how we think about inclusivity and workplace culture when people making the hiring decisions have a disability themselves!

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Tea Cures Captchas: Accessible Online Job Applications are More Than a Best Practice

Blogger Sassy Outwater

Editor’s note: This blog has been cross-posted from the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT)

When I applied for my first job, I was handed a print application. As a blind freshman in college, I decided to brazen it out and not ask for help filling out private information in a waiting room full of strangers who were probably there wanting the same job. I scanned the application into my computer, and brought it back neatly typed. I never got called in for an interview though, perhaps because my typed application didn’t look like the handwritten ones.

Years later, I was at my favorite café, facing another job application. This time, however, the job had an online application. Most businesses had shifted to online applications, but I found that the majority of online applications were partially or completely inaccessible.

I spent 90 minutes and two large green jasmine teas filling out that application. I vacillated between disclosing my disability in my cover letter, or just waiting until I showed up for the interview to tell the employer I was blind. Finally, decisively, I put my blindness and the talents it had helped me cultivate into the skills column. After all, being blind means I have to be resourceful, innovative, diplomatic, adaptable, organized… and that’s just to get through filling out an online job application.

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