Autism’s Affirmative Action
This guest post is by Autism Speaks staffer Kerry Magro. Kerry, an adult who has autism, is a rising senior at Seton Hall University, majoring in Sports Management. He started an Autism Speaks U Chapter: Student Disability Awareness on campus to help spread awareness and raise funds for those affected by autism. Autism Speaks U is a program designed for college students who host awareness, advocacy and fundraising events, while supporting their local autism communities.
I wanted to start this post off with a scenario for you; imagine a 22-year-old college senior interviewing for job placement after he graduates. This individual is on the autism spectrum. Now, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers are not allowed to discriminate based on disability. This sounds fair, right? Well, here’s the catch. Other minorities have the promise of Affirmative Action, a set of positive steps that employers use to promote equal employment opportunity and to eliminate possible discrimination. Those on the autism spectrum are part of a minority, among the largest minority in the United States, and are not given the same rights as other minorities. Nothing in the ADA says that affirmative action needs to be required for the possible employment of someone with a disability, and now more than ever, this puts those gifted individuals at risk of unemployment.
If you guessed correctly you will find that scenario is actually what I’m going through right now. I almost see it as another downgrade for those with autism. Before you even start college you lose your security blanket from high school, your IEP, and when you graduate college, you lose your ability to be treated the same as other minorities. That in itself, is discrimination.
Considering the playing field, starting affirmative action programs that include disabled individuals might be a blessing in disguise. Employers are always looking for the best (or should be) looking for the best quality when hiring someone. The fact is that with a majority of autistic individuals having the capability of mastering a specific skill, it puts them at the top of the recruitment food chain in certain areas. Problems in an interview can come from our socially awkward tendencies, which can put an employer off.
For example, if you have a guy who is great with numbers join a finance firm, who for some reason has a problem with dressing in business casual attire, are you going to fire him because he refuses to wear the clothes that are deemed professional if he is making your company millions? Same with communication difficulties, what happens if the interview doesn’t go smoothly? What if the person has difficulty working with others? Should that matter if the job is getting done effectively? Different variables must be considered for different situations.
I realize that there are many other considerations to address, but at the end of the day it has to scare you if you have a loved one on the spectrum who wants to be considered for a job to know that their equal employment opportunities are actually not as equal as others. I’ve attended several autism conferences and learned that there are schools/sessions that focus on preparing autistic individuals to find work in the right environment. These prep courses can range in complexity to match the specific learning needs of that individual. However, these sessions usually come at a high expense and are not covered by an insurance provider (like many other treatments).
On the college level, the majority of Disability Support Offices in the Tri-State area are woefully underfunded and don’t focus on this type of training for their students. They have a hard enough time on limited funds supporting them through college. In high school the same can be said of the public schools focus on class integration, not job training. Both approaches save money usually at the student’s expense. If a college can get a student by with “reasonable accommodations” than tomorrow is not their concern. Because of the way the ADA is structured and the way that affirmative action programs are focused, there needs to be either more job training for on the spectrum individuals or more legislation focused on fairer hiring actions (or both). James I. Charlton, a disability advocate once said, “Nothing About Us, Without Us.” Autistic individuals, especially young adults have the ability to be a part of the largest disability movement in decades. It’s time for their voices to be heard.