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.
On Tuesday, August 10, 2010, New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities Commissioner Matthew Sapolin hosted a reception at Gracie Mansion to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. At the reception, Mayor Bloomberg presented Autism Speaks with the Frieda Zames Advocacy Award, given to an individual or organization whose tireless efforts for greater accessibility are a fitting tribute to the late Frieda Zames. Autism Speaks President Mark Roithmayr, who accepted the award on behalf of the organization said, “We are sincerely grateful for Mayor Bloomberg’s commitment to advancing the needs, rights and abilities of our community and are very honored to receive the Advocacy Award on behalf of all of the families and individuals we serve in the autism community.”
Also honored at the reception were Bank of America, the American Museum of Natural History, The New York City Independent Living Centers, and the The AbleGamers Foundation.
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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.
The 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act: A time to Celebrate and to Review our Commitment
This is a guest post by Steven Beck, Vice President of the Down Syndrome Society of Northern Virginia and father of a 10-year-old daughter with Down syndrome.
My name is Steve Beck and I am, most importantly, the father of two beautiful 10, and 13-year-old daughters and husband to Catherine. My 10-year-old daughter has Down syndrome. One result of my younger daughter having Down syndrome is that I have become increasing involved in volunteer work at both the local and national levels. Currently, I am Vice President of the Down Syndrome Association of Northern Virginia and a Board Member of the National Down Syndrome Society.
As we spend time this week celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act we need to also re-commit ourselves to moving forward. By prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, state and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications, the ADA has provided people with disabilities access to all parts of our community both socially and economically. Guaranteeing access is one step, but providing the tools and supports needed to fully engage that opportunity is a different issue. One of the primary tools needed for all Americans and their families is the opportunity to plan, save, and invest money that can be used to pay for critical needs such as education, healthcare, and retirement.
Over the past four years I have been working with group of national organizations, including Autism Speaks, to pass the Achieving a Better Life Experience or ABLE Act of 2009. While government systems such as Medicaid, SSI, and SSDI provide a wide variety of critical supports for our community they simply cannot cover the full array of needs. In addition, many of the rules that govern them drastically limit individuals and their family’s ability to plan, save and accumulate assets to help fill these gaps. As a result, people are forced into poverty just in order to maintain access to these government benefits.
The ABLE Act would establish a savings instrument similar to ones that all other Americans have access to through 529 College Accounts, Health Savings Accounts, Individual Retirement Accounts, and 401Ks. Like these accounts, ABLE Accounts could be set up and managed with little or no cost. The money can be controlled by the individual, their parents, a guardian, or third-party based on decisions made by the individual and their family. There is a very broad array of qualified expenses the money can be used for including healthcare, transportation, education, housing, community based support services, employment training and support and other life necessities. The money in the accounts grows tax-free and can be distributed tax-free as long as it is spent for a qualified expense. Most importantly, the assets held in the accounts cannot be used to disqualify individuals from critical means tested programs such as Medicaid, SSI and SSDI.
Now is the time to provide individuals with disabilities the same types of financial tools that all other Americans use to save for their future needs and to pay for critical parts of everyday community living. The ADA was passed 10 years before my daughter was born and I was still in college. I started working on the ABLE Act when she was eight, and she will be 11 in November. We cannot afford to wait much longer to start saving for her future and neither can millions of other Americans. I want and demand that she have the same opportunities to attend college, get a job of her choosing, and live independently, just like her older sister.
The ABLE Act (H.R. 1205) has 190 co-sponsors in the House and (S. 493) has 24 Senate co-sponsors as of July 24, and well over 40 national organizations supporting its passage. Please, visit www.autismvotes.org/able to contact your members of Congress and ask them to pass this important bill into law this year.
To learn more about Autism Votes, take action today on autism insurance reform legislation in your state, or find out about Autism Speaks’ federal legislative advocacy agenda, please visit www.autismvotes.org