The world is slowly becoming more aware of the needs of people living with differences. Arts spaces, in particular, are adept at adapting their offerings to be more autism-friendly by softening lighting, setting up chill-out zones for people to relax, and reigning in harsh sounds, such as those made by coffee machines or hairdryers.
But, the world of work has always lagged behind, making it that much more difficult for people to truly become as independent as they should be. While about 1% of the world has autism, over 80% of these people are either unemployed or under-employed.
This is partly because companies don’t have experience with working with people with differences, partly because there are limited support mechanisms for those who do decide to take on disabled staff, and partly because of as-yet unaddressed prejudices. Not every company is like John’s Crazy Socks, in other words.
But now, an ICT services company, DXC, is hoping to tackle these challenges to train people on the autism spectrum to get high-skilled jobs in industries including ICT, hospitality, accounting and agriculture.
DXC is partnering with Autism New Zealand to offer the world’s first on-site training and learning facilities for helping young people enter the working world.
Michael Fieldhouse, Director and Social Impact Practice Leader at the company, told the site that the partnership would allow DXC to use knowledge and experience from its Dandelion programme—which has helped 100 autistic people into careers in cybersecurity, software testing and data analytics—to scale for New Zealand, “influencing employment into high demand industries outside of IT.”
Fieldhouse has long been clear about his hopes to build “sustainability and scalability” into a programme that is credited with helping people become financially independent and improve their sociability. Daniel Cubelic, one of the Dandelion course recipients, joked in a video that now, “I don’t have to rely on my parents for everything.” “You feel meaningful,” he added. “You feel like you’ve got worth.”
Fieldhouse adds that he wanted all learning from Dandelion to be open-source, so that other companies around the world could build their own initiatives. Over 360 organisations across 77 countries have reportedly made use of the programme material for Dandelion, which is available for download via Cornell University.
The website CIO adds that DXC’s plans are built on the work of the National Autistic Society in the UK, which set up an enterprise centre in 2018—having already run a school for autistic children since 1965.
The site also adds advice from a piece of research on implementing workforce diversity initiatives, such as working with HR leaders to prepare for new technologies that “mitigate deficiencies (perceived or real) that have been keeping people with disabilities from the workforce.”
In addition, businesses are advised to create programme and transportation budgets to support the success of people with disabilities in the workforce, and to reconsider whether their definition of an ideal candidate could be a barrier to a qualified person with a disability.