From Think Tank meetings to conferences, the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT) has heard from many businesses that actively seek strategies to recruit people with disabilities into their workforces. Businesses are increasingly aware that people with disabilities bring many important assets to the company, but they’re often unsure of where to start. An exciting development in the recruitment of employees with disabilities is the growth of autism-focused hiring and recruitment initiatives. PEAT’s goal is to explore how the technology angle of these initiatives can help drive their success.
This also means examining how cognitive accessibility of technology fosters employment access for autistic people. When we say cognitive accessibility, we mean full access for people who think, learn, process information, and interact with the world in diverse ways. Many people recognize the need for a workforce that flourishes from leveraging neurodiversity, which includes fueling technology innovation and product and service development.
Autistic employees have experiences with navigating cognitive accessibility in their daily lives that can shape how a company makes its products and services more usable for all customers. For example, these experiences can inform how technology flexibly adapts to the different ways people use it. Autism-focused hiring and recruitment initiatives also promote accessible workplace technology in-house. For autistic employees, this may mean incorporating strategies, such as adjusting information conveyed in software and online systems to make it clear, specific, and direct. Autistic employees also benefit from technology supports that other employees with disabilities use, such as text communication as a speech alternative and closed/open captioning for videos.
Many businesses in the U.S. and abroad are leading the way in these initiatives. Launched in 2013, SAP has the longest running Autism at Work program among large businesses. In the last five years, they’ve experienced significant benefits from this initiative, such as higher productivity and the contribution of significant innovations from autistic employees. Microsoft began its Autism Hiring Program in 2015 with full-time employees who work across a dozen teams within the organization. This program has transformed the company’s culture in three key ways:
- Managers receive training on best practices for managing autistic employees.
- Engineers recruited through the program have full responsibility for writing code for products and services.
- All employees feel more comfortable to self-identify.
Custom hiring practices foster an environment for autistic employees to thrive
Disability:IN (formerly USBLN) recently established a robust Autism @ Work Employer Roundtable. The group provides first-hand guidance and direction to businesses on how to start and run dedicated hiring programs to attract autistic job candidates and tap their skills and talents. The Roundtable includes eight large businesses with autism-focused hiring programs in place for at least one year. They’ve released a handy overview table that shows how each business approaches their autism-focused hiring programs – from pre-screen through on-boarding.
Many of these companies leverage their autism-focused hiring initiatives to help fill open jobs in diverse areas across the business, including STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). PEAT is excited about long-term possibilities for strengthening cognitive accessibility of technology products and integrating neurodiversity and related values into business-centered thinking. Companies have learned many other best practices as pioneers in these hiring initiatives. Some of these practices include:
Working with “social partners”
SAP has partnered with nonprofit organizations and state vocational rehabilitation agencies in California and Pennsylvania to help them navigate local employment regulations, grow a recruitment pipeline, and enhance pre-screening.
Using nontraditional, non-interview-based assessment and training processes, Microsoft has reworked its interview process by switching away from the high pressure phone screens and marathon in-person interviews. They have created a weeklong hiring academy that connects candidates with Microsoft teams and hiring managers.
Training other workers and managers
Many Roundtable companies provide training to managers and other employees to help them understand what to expect from their new colleagues. Training should cover the technology supports and accommodations that ensure autistic employees can successfully perform their jobs and access needed employment-related supports.
Set up a support system
SAP creates a workplace “support circle” for groups of Autism at Work program employees. This circle includes the hiring manager, a workplace buddy, job skills coach, work mentor, and an HR business partner.
These are just a few of the best practices companies have collected in the last few years. Find this article and related pieces on PEAT's website. We at PEAT are excited to watch this community and its resources grow over the coming months and years!