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.
This post is by Mark Roithmayr, Autism Speaks’ President.
Earlier this week I had the honor and privilege of traveling to Washington, D.C., for special ceremonies to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The term “landmark legislation” is greatly overused, but like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, this law literally changed life for millions of people. The ADA has helped level the playing field for people with disabilities in this country, providing important civil rights protections and equal opportunities in the workplace and elsewhere.
As I took part in ceremonies at the Capitol Rotunda and, later, the White House, standing among other advocates for various causes, I found myself reflecting on those past two decades.
Twenty years ago, America barely recognized the word autism, nor understood what it meant for individuals to live with autism. Autism was absent from those founding moments two decades ago. Yet during the ceremonies this week, autism was acknowledged over and over again by elected officials, colleagues and advocates alike. From the floor of the House, Representative Patrick Kennedy referenced autism as one of two federal imperatives for increased funding. Later at the White House ceremonies, President Obama’s Domestic Policy Director Melody Barnes cited the autism movement as a being the central part of today’s disability movement. Next, actor Robert David Hall –himself a double amputee following a devastating car accident – took the opportunity to discuss his twin nephews, both on the autism spectrum, while introducing President Obama, poignantly telling the story of how his brother and sister-in-law have to “climb mountains every day.”
Listening to the group of eloquent speakers, all I could think about was how incredibly far the autism advocacy movement has come in just a few short years. Not only was the day remarkable for the recognition of autism and its overwhelming prevalence in our society – our 1 in 110 children – our 1 in 70 boys, but that these numbers have climbed to new heights being diagnosed more often than childhood cancer, juvenile diabetes and pediatric AIDS combined. There is no doubt that autism is now at the fore of the public’s consciousness as a disorder that is recognized as a national health crisis and a top public health priority
But the ADA ceremonies were about something even larger than our autism movement. It was a day to recognize disability rights as a core civil rights issue and a cause not for partisanship, but for uniting humanity at large. The quotes ran from Thomas Jefferson to Martin Luther King. President Obama honored President George H. Bush who passed the original legislation. Representative John Boener (R, OH) applauded James Langevin (D, RI) – the first quadriplegic to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives – who served as Speaker of the House for the day, the first time that Congress was presided over from a wheelchair.
Reflecting, I truly believe the ADA commemoration was about building on our autism victories, small and large, toward our collective future. The abilities of our community, our children, our teens, our young adults and our adults, are extraordinary and we have the collective will and the moral imperative to create an even better future. The path is clear.
- Our autism community has the ability learn – but we need to ensure accessibility to education through the life span.
- Our autism community has the ability to work – but we need to ensure accessibility to jobs.
- Our autism community has the ability to live independently – but we need to ensure accessibility to housing; and not least,
- Our autism community has the ability to be part of the wonderful social fabric of America – but we need to ensure access to community resources.
In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “the pursuit of happiness is an inalienable American right” and the autism community deserves no less.
We also encourage you to read Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act with Substance blog post by Kareem Dale.
To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, National Disability Institute presents Economic Empowerment – Defining the New American Dream, a nationwide video contest open to all persons with disabilities. To participate, create a 3-minute video that tells the story of how you are working to achieve your American Dream. One grand prize winner will receive $1,000 and will win a trip to Washington, D.C. to present their video at NDI’s 6th Annual Real Economic Impact Tour Kick-Off Event!
All entries must be received by August 13, 2010.