Stand Up and Fight
At a retail company that was known for hiring disabled people, this young man was disqualified after taking a computerized psychological screening test; the mother was told, when she called, that the company's policy was to employ "visibly handicapped" workers.
Perhaps some work experience would help, the mother thought. She arranged for her son to volunteer at a local nursing home. When a paying job came open there, however, he was turned down "because the hiring manager thought him odd."
An employment agency that handled a factory's paperwork refused to process her son's application because a screener thought he was "a potential liability."
And this was how the mother reacted:
Several people have told us that this, finally, is an actionable offense. We could go after the agency for discrimination. But to what end? Legal action wouldn't get Andrew, now nearly 19, working. What it would do is force him to defend himself and his abilities in court -- this young man who's still reluctant to speak at school.
This, in a nutshell, is why employers think they can get away with discriminating against autistic workers. They expect autistics to be reluctant to speak and afraid to go into court; they expect parents to worry that legal action would be too stressful. To put it another way, they think autistic people are the perfect victims.
In the early days of the civil rights laws, there were quite a few employers who had similar attitudes toward blacks and women. They thought that blacks were too intimidated by centuries of slavery and lynching to stand up for themselves and too uneducated to know their legal rights. They thought that women were too meek and emotionally fragile to fight court battles and that their husbands would talk them out of it. It took a lot of lawsuits to change those attitudes, but it happened.
The only way to end discrimination against autistics is for us to stand up and fight, too. The disability discrimination laws don't protect autistics as well as they should (for instance, personality tests ought to be made illegal, unless an employer can prove a bona fide need for a certain personality type) but they can be used effectively to put a stop to the more extreme forms of discrimination. Last year, an autistic woman who filed an employment discrimination lawsuit won a jury verdict for lost wages, lost benefits, and mental distress in the total amount of $299,402.88.
We need a lot more cases like that. Discrimination is only going to stop when we repeatedly pound the message through prejudiced managers' thick skulls that an autistic applicant is not a potential liability to the company just because his voice and appearance are unusual; rather, the real potential liability is in refusing to hire him.