A brighter future for those with autism in the workplace

Last week The National Autistic Society’s (NAS) launched its “Too Much Information” campaign, which aims to highlight the employment gap amongst adults with autism. As few as 16% of autistic adults are in full-time paid employment – leaving  the unique and innovative skillset of hundreds of thousands of people on the spectrum untapped.

Where businesses have embraced a positive attitude to the work and lives of autistic people, they have reaped great rewards. Max, a NAS case study, faced thousands of rejections from potential employers before a Housing Association gave him the time and space he needed in the interview process.  Understanding the challenges that face people with autism from reaching their potential allowed the interview panel to elicit the strengths of Max’s character and talents.

Their inclusive approach highlighted what is routinely missed by many employers: disability is a positive asset to business. Stephen Frost, former head of Diversity and Inclusion for London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, believes ‘Real Inclusion’ is ‘the removal of barriers to allow more efficient’ functioning of talent where employers embed  ‘the benefits of difference’ across their organisation. Communication amongst colleagues works best when everyone can be honest, open, and learn to use difference as a tool for development.

Where businesses have embraced a positive attitude to the work and lives of autistic people, they have reaped great rewards

Despite pockets of successful inclusive practice, the scale of the problem remains significant. For example, looking more broadly at the range of mental health problems experienced by the British workforce, MIND has found that 30% of workers feel insecure about discussing stress with their managers, and as many as 42% have considered resigning through stress. When these issues become acute and long term, the effect on people’s lives can be devastating. The recent documentary film ‘I, Daniel Blake’ looks at those people with disabilities who all too often slip through the welfare system. Coupled with a persistently sceptical approach to employment rights by the courts, there is a real danger of extreme impact on vulnerable people. Having tackled medical and bureaucratic challenges, many people with disabilities find employers unwilling or unable to provide the types of working arrangement that can benefit all working people.

John Simpson has been a powerful advocate for promoting autism awareness and action in recent years. Previously, a member of the National Autism Programme Board, he worked closely with Autism Alliance on a Charter to produce a toolkit for employers in developing an inclusive workplace for those with autism. It asks employers to sign-up to six ‘pledges’ to remove barriers to employment for people with autism, such as ensuring key staff members ‘develop a knowledge and understanding of the sensory differences’ experienced by people with autism. The Charter represents an excellent model of effective dialogue with employers and would facilitate the progress that is desperately needed.

John Simpson will be speaking in Oxford about these issues this coming weekend at the panel discussion which accompanies the Herbert Smith Freehills Disability Mooting Championship.  The mock court case competition seeks to highlight the rich intellectual and social importance of disability and this year’s moot problem looks at educational exclusion, which is perhaps the most pressing barrier to future career success. The panel will be building on this to discuss how we can remove barriers and enable a happy, productive disability workforce into the future.

The event takes place on Saturday 5th November at the University Church of St. Mary at 3pm, free tickets can be reserved at: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/herbert-smith-freehills-oxford-disability-mooting-championship-2016-grand-final-and-conversazione-tickets-27568875248?ref=elinkfb