In an earlier blog, we presented the case for allowing accommodations in the workplace not only because it is required by law, but because the goal of inclusion benefits all of society (“Accommodate” is Not a Four-Letter Word). The ADA requires employers to make “reasonable” accommodations for potential and existing employees who have disabilities. But there are limits to this obligation - an employer is not mandated to accommodate if it would result in “undue hardship” to the business. This idea of “reasonableness” is determined on a case-by-case basis, but there are certainly some “no-brainers” that employers can adopt without incurring any major hardship or cost.
Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is one of the leading authorities on the subject of accommodations, and has published an extensive series of reports categorized by disability. Many of the accommodations listed in their publication for autism spectrum disorder are examples of things employers can do to help their employees with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) for little or no cost (JAN: Accommodation Ideas for ASD).
For example, in the area of speaking and communicating, JAN lists a few obvious solutions which include providing advance notice of the topics to be covered at meetings, allowing the individual the opportunity to address issues in writing, and giving advance notice if he/she is required to speak at the meeting. None of these accommodations have a tangible price tag. In fact, these types of solutions make a lot of business sense in an efficiently-run organization, and may benefit all members of the team.
If some of the issues are with regard to maintaining concentration, companies can assign workspace that is least distracting for the individual, maybe near the back of an office area, or somewhat enclosed. Noise-cancelling headsets can be used, and many young adults already own such devices for their personal use. Reducing clutter as well as using white noise machines are also helpful. Again, none of these accommodations requires a huge expenditure, and can benefit the entire organization.
Other ideas that help an individual with autism are providing day-to-day guidance and feedback, assisting in prioritizing work assignments, giving clear instructions both verbally and in writing, using flow-charts and calendars, and providing structured breaks for physical activity. A mentor relationship with a co-worker is another wonderful opportunity to enhance integration into the corporate culture, creating a more inclusive environment where the individual contributes his/her unique personality to the culture.
An outside “coach” could also be a valuable resource transitioning the individual into the particular job. Depending on the level of need, the coach could be available on a daily basis and then phase out to weekly and/or monthly check-ins with the individual and his/her manager.
The cost of a coach is real for the company, however, there are many government programs to assist in reducing or completely eliminating this cost, not to mention tax incentives for some of these accommodations. The case can be made that even this “costly” accommodation could be considered reasonable and the money well spent.
These above examples all presume one thing: the person with autism HAS a job. However, the reality is that over 80% of individuals with autism are NOT employed. In most cases, accommodations must be made in order for these individuals to actually GET the job. Navigating the hiring process can be difficult for a neuro-typical individual, let alone for someone with challenges in social skills. Thus, accommodations will be the key to assisting these gifted individuals to actually secure the jobs themselves.
Interestingly enough, JAN does not have any such examples for the pre-employment process in their publication. Many potential employers have had to actively solicit applications from the autism community. Companies such as Microsoft and SAP have implemented strategies to overcome many of the barriers to the hiring process these individuals face (for example, Microsoft Autism Hiring Program). These innovative hiring programs can provide companies with practical ideas to help facilitate better access and support for these individuals.
But even smaller corporations committed to diversity & inclusion can make simple changes to their hiring process to accommodate these gifted individuals. Many struggle with social skills or maintaining eye contact, and even basic small talk or “getting to know you” types of conversations can be intimidating. A simple accommodation could be providing the applicant with the interview questions ahead of time, as well as accepting written responses which can be more thoroughly thought through. Another option is allowing a friend or coach to attend the interview with the potential employee as an added support for him/her.
An applicant could also send a video answering the prospective employer questions. Many of these young adults have creative abilities that would morph an ordinary interview into a unique opportunity for a candidate to display his/her hidden talents as well as bring their personality into the mix.
The options are numerous and require creativity and an openness to change. The Spectrum Works recognizes these challenges and exists to help overcome these barriers for both the individual as well as the corporation. Our vision is to connect these gifted individuals with companies that are committed to improving diversity and realize the value these individuals bring to the corporate setting. Accommodations will be a necessary and valuable tool to reaching this objective. The costs are minimal, yet the benefits are innumerable -- to the employee, the employer, and society at large.