Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Friday, November 03, 2006

Stand Up and Fight

Here's a disturbing article by a mother who writes about employment discrimination against her autistic son. After two years of submitting applications, taking tests, and going in for interviews, he is still no closer to getting a job than when he began the search. On several occasions, employers frankly admitted that they did not want to hire him because of his autism.

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.

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18 Comments:

  • That is horrifying. They have a right to take action and kudos to the mother for raising awareness. The "visibly handicapped" concept is especially ridiculous.

    I can't believe there isn't any sort of advocacy for autistic employment.

    By Anonymous Carolyn, at 12:04 AM  

  • There is only one country that I know of where any autism-specific employment-related-advocacy/counselling service exists is the UK, where Prospects operates (under the umbrella of the NAS).

    This 'visibly handicapped' notion exists also in Finland, where I live. And even the Lutheran Church is often guilt of discriminating like this. Some years ago, a guy who had graduated Master of Theology from Helsinki University applied for a job as a Lutheran minister, and was openly discriminated against on the basis of his having cerebral palsy. He actually took the church to court, and the church was found guilty of unlawfully discriminating against him.

    What it stems from is a serious decline in social conscience: at one time it was okay to have black people for society to take out its hate on, before that it was witches, and after that it's the autistics. And I'm not saying that any of these options is 'okay'; I'm just saying what I have found out from my studies into the issue of prejudice and discrimination.

    America does not need a Combat Autism Act. It still needs a Combat Prejudice and Discrimination Act.

    By Blogger David N. Andrews MEd (Distinction), at 6:26 AM  

  • David wrote:

    at one time it was okay to have black people for society to take out its hate on, before that it was witches, and after that it's the autistics

    Yeah, and many of the "witches" probably were autistic, too, so it's really not a new prejudice, just a different way of describing the victims.

    By Blogger abfh, at 8:45 AM  

  • I love this:

    "America does not need a Combat Autism Act. It still needs a Combat Prejudice and Discrimination Act."

    Amen!

    By Anonymous allegheny, at 9:35 AM  

  • I've been trying to leave a comment for days---but have been unable to see the verification word. Damn AOL! LOL

    We live in a mountain town that prides itself on its community spirit. Interestingly enough, the small "local" business owners have been completely reluctant to hire or participate in a transition skills program to help high school students with disabilities get job experience and training.

    It doesn't cost them a freaking dime, and there's a para-educator on site to facilitate if needed the entire time.

    The only "locals" willing to give the kids a shot are the library and the Chamber of Commerce.

    It's the "interlopers" or big corporate companies who've "invaded" our town who have enthusiastically supported the program and given the kids a shot. My son has been working at Safeway twice a week for the past couple of months. He loves it.

    Big evil Walmart will complete its store here by this winter. Say what you will about them, but Walmart has a pretty good track record of hiring people who have disabilities in our area.

    My kid has the uncanny ability of never forgetting a name or face (he knows everyone in town), and he has his eye on being a greeter. I think he would be an asset!

    By Blogger Attila The Mom, at 9:46 AM  

  • Attila the mom wrote:

    "Big evil Walmart will complete its store here by this winter. Say what you will about them, but Walmart has a pretty good track record of hiring people who have disabilities in our area."

    Yeah, but I think that WalMart is going by the philosophy - "Hire the handicapped. They're cheap, and fun to watch." I don't think altruism is their motivation.

    By Anonymous Clay, at 12:55 PM  

  • ABFH; How could witches have been autistic before TV was around to cause it?
    If any of you had half a brain, you'd help your kids instead of trying to change society.
    American Blacks didn't start escaping the ghettos just because the laws changed. They educated themselves instead of quitting school.
    You dumb bastards have given up on your kids by refusing to help them achieve their potential. Get the mercury out of them and watch them improve. Andrews might even start making some sense if he got some biomedical intervention.

    By Blogger Fore Sam, at 10:33 AM  

  • Clay said: "Yeah, but I think that WalMart is going by the philosophy - "Hire the handicapped. They're cheap, and fun to watch." I don't think altruism is their motivation."

    Do you really believe that companies that hire people who have disabilities do it because "they're fun to watch"? Or is this just an opinon about Walmart?

    I'm not trying to be argumentative, but I'm not sure if you're actually being serious or tongue-in-cheek. :-)

    Frankly, I don't care if they're being altruistic or not. If my son can get a job that he enjoys then I'm all for it. Who amongst us can really say that we love what we do?

    By Blogger Attila The Mom, at 11:17 AM  

  • Attila the Mom; I love educating lunatics but it's not very rewarding when most of them are incapable of learning.

    By Blogger Fore Sam, at 11:30 AM  

  • In today's society, it seems that very few people love what they do, Attila... most of them are too busy trying to impress others and climb the ladder of success. It's a shame.

    Fore Sam: I used to enjoy watching you make a fool of yourself, but now I just pity you. (BTW, what do your black stepsons think of your belief that we never needed civil rights laws?)

    By Blogger abfh, at 12:49 PM  

  • ABFH; Have you been taking lessons from Leitch on how to twist words? I didn't say civil rights laws weren't needed. It was people improving their situation that made the difference in their lives. Laws won't help anyone if they won't help themselves. You keep asking for a handout but don't want to work to make that step up that you need.

    By Blogger Fore Sam, at 1:00 PM  

  • Who's twisting words here, John? Equal employment opportunity isn't a "handout." It's a basic human right.

    By Blogger abfh, at 1:48 PM  

  • ABFH; Equal employment is one thing but some people are just unemployable. It's not like employers have to accomodate a physical limitation. Having a brain that doesn't work right is something that can not always be overcome with any accomodation. Can you imagine giving someone like Andrews a job, any job?

    By Blogger Fore Sam, at 2:31 PM  

  • There was an interesting case a few years back, Taylor v. Food World, Inc. An Asperger's kid got fired from his job as a grocery store utility clerk. The federal district court in Alabama found that the kid was unqualified for the job as a matter of law because he could not carry out his duties without offending customers. The appellate court disagreed and reversed.

    By Blogger Anne, at 11:58 PM  

  • My 10 year-old autistic daughter has trouble with reading and writing-she only met basic level on the state testing. But she is gifted in math-she is working on algebra now. She is getting the educational help she needs in writing so she will be able to function in the world. 30 years ago she would have been denied public education, and in many places taken away from us and placed in an institution to rot.

    At age 5 she was not toilet-trained and smeared on the walls. She had little speech, but we knew she could do math. We had to battle the system that could not see she had ability. She did this without chelation or other quackery. I'm a Republican and I see special ed as a good, long-term investment, certainly better than casinos. She is now testing at the highest level on state tests for science and math. She is better than 95 % of ALL 4th graders in this country in science and math. She will have something to give back as an adult.

    By Blogger Ruth, at 9:15 AM  

  • This is so dumb, Andrew sounds like a great employee. I live in the area, I wish I was some sort of employer...

    By Blogger Jacqueline, at 11:55 AM  

  • a phenomenal waste of space: "Can you imagine giving someone like Andrews a job, any job?"

    Well, the local adult education college did. Training a bunch of workers in Kerava, working for the Disability Services Foundation there was a job given to... me. The job of teaching a bunch of town employees in various services a while back was appointed to... me. The first course I taught was in 1999. Since my ex speaks Finnish and she has a very similar qualification to mine (she has PgDipSpEd, and specialises in autism), she uses the materials I wrote and teaches people nowadays in Finnish. From my materials... that I wrote for a job or twelve that I've been given during my training.

    Did the NH DDC give you that job?

    By Blogger David N. Andrews MEd (Distinction), at 7:23 PM  

  • Rith: "She did this without chelation or other quackery. I'm a Republican and I see special ed as a good, long-term investment, certainly better than casinos. She is now testing at the highest level on state tests for science and math. She is better than 95 % of ALL 4th graders in this country in science and math. She will have something to give back as an adult."

    Special education is always a good investment, Ruth. Far better than casinos or bookies...

    I hope that attitudes change to something radically different from JBJr's... I doubt that he or his type would want her to flourish: she doesn't support his contention too well.

    She does support what anyone with an ounce of reasonability would recognise - autism is best dealt with as an issue of development and best worked with by educational means. Give her the environment to flourish and - as you've seen - she'll do the rest herself.

    By Blogger David N. Andrews MEd (Distinction), at 7:28 PM  

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