Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Diversity Issue

I sometimes receive e-mails from a company that puts together minority business directories and diversity-related events. I'm not sure how I got on their mailing list with an address that I use only for autistic civil rights advocacy, but it shows that at least some folks in today's business environment are becoming aware that disability issues are, in fact, diversity issues.

Although there are still plenty of ignorant managers who rarely hire employees with disabilities because they think it's an expensive act of charity, more people are starting to realize that this attitude is prejudiced nonsense. Companies have been providing reasonable accommodations to maintain a diverse workforce for many years. Accommodations are made for women who become pregnant or who have child care responsibilities, for religious employees who cannot work on the Sabbath, for minorities who celebrate ethnic holidays, and so forth. As employers make more accommodations available, they directly benefit from the increased morale, loyalty, and productivity of their female and minority workers, as well as the ability of their workforce to better understand the needs of customers from all walks of life. The same is true with respect to workers with disabilities. There's nothing charitable about a diverse workforce; rather, it's an asset to employers.

Autistic workers, and others who fall into our society's ever-expanding disability categories, aren't asking for charity. We know that we are capable of producing excellent work, and we don't need (or want) anyone throwing us their crumbs. Like anyone else, we just want equal opportunity to succeed in our careers.

Here's an excerpt from a letter I got from a British reader last week, describing his successful struggle against employment discrimination:


I applied for a place... I got through the online application, online situational judgement test and telephone stages without issue. At the assessment day, I mentioned that I have Asperger's syndrome. I was told that I would hear by the end of the following week if I had been successful or not. I didn't, so I called them up. They said I was successful, but they wanted to call me in for a discussion about reasonable adjustments. I attended this. The sponsor turned up over a quarter of an hour late and I asked him what research he had done on the subject of Asperger's syndrome, to which he replied that he hadn't done any: - very professional of him, given that I had come in just to talk about Asperger's syndrome! I was told that I would hear by mid-September whether they would offer me the job. They had openly admitted that my performance in the assessment day had been very good and that it now only hung on the reasonable adjustments question. The deadline passed and so I e-mailed them to find out what was going on. The following day, I was called by one of the H.R. people who said that the sponsor had sent him an e-mail merely saying something along the lines of, "we regret we will be unable to offer him the position". I thought this was extreme discourtesy and cowardice. Under the Disability Discrimination Act, an employer who wishes to deny employment on the grounds that reasonable adjustments can't be made has to offer reasons why not. As they didn't do this, I said I was contacting my solicitor. Over the next 6 weeks or so, I sent several polite but icy e-mails to them. I also sent them a Questionnaire (this is a proforma available on a government website that you can print off, fill out and send to the company saying what you allege and asking them if they agree with it or not and if not, why not). The day before the deadline after which I would commence legal action if I hadn't received all my documentation from them, they conceded defeat and offered me the position. Currently, I am waiting for the paperwork to arrive and I will send it off confirming my acceptance.


That's the way to fight back against prejudiced employers! Bravo!

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14 Comments:

  • ...That's the way to fight back against prejudiced employers! ...

    While I heartily agree that that's the way to fight back, and congratulate the person on their success, all I can think of is "What a way to start off a new job".

    It would have been so much nicer if the company would have done a bit of due diligence, met with him/her, and come to mutually agreeable terms of employment (including accomodations). Now the new hire has to simultaneously prove themselves capable while reassuring the company that they are an asset and not a potential lawsuit, all the while smiling the whole time and keeping a watchful eye that the company isn't setting them up to be "fired for cause".

    Joe

    By Blogger Club 166, at 4:52 PM  

  • Britian has different laws than the US.

    I do not disclose my Asperger's because I do not require any accomodations to do my job. It is a HIPAA issue and as such is part of my medical records....which my civilian employer is not allow to access to. I would encourage Americans not to disclose AS or any other medical condition unless asked outright. Employers really cannot do that legally unless a psych evaluation is part of the deal. I am an auctioneer not an FBI agent. Sort of don't ask don't tell.

    I do not know my boss's medical history, nor do I know any other staffers medical status. Why should they know mine?

    I went thru Federal background check and got a $2 million bond without any problems. I am one of the top managers in my company.

    Just my two cents.
    ~Sarah

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:58 PM  

  • Sarah wrote: "I do not disclose my Asperger's because I do not require any accomodations to do my job. It is a HIPAA issue and as such is part of my medical records....which my civilian employer is not allow to access to. I would encourage Americans not to disclose AS or any other medical condition unless asked outright."

    But what if someone does need accommodation? I would not have an office to myself if I hid my autism.

    Jane

    By Anonymous Jane Meyerding, at 12:19 AM  

  • Personally, I'd tell them after I got the job, or not at all. I'd rather raise my kids than go back to paid work anyway.

    I think it's a good idea to seek a job that is as compatible with the applicant's talents and abilities, to minimize the need for any accomodations as much as possible. I don't have a great deal of sympathy for people who push themselves into jobs that are beyond their abilities or are unsuitable, and then end up with clinical depression or anxiety or no work (which happens a lot, with autistic and non-autistic people).

    By Blogger Lili Marlene, at 4:09 AM  

  • Lili Marlene said:I don't have a great deal of sympathy for people who push themselves into jobs that are beyond their abilities or are unsuitable, and then end up with clinical depression or anxiety or no work (which happens a lot, with autistic and non-autistic people).

    Some people would be underemployed to feed their family or even unemployed if they didn't seek a job that they actually could do but would need accomidations to prevent them from getting depressed and/or leaving their jobs.

    Among the other exclusionary mainstream language in what you've said, I think what I would mainly like to address is the word "sympathy". Describing things in such away can lead people to believe that such a person who got depressed and lost their job were seeking sympathy.

    If instead people empathised with the people involved, accomidations might be made that would create real oppertunities. This way, those who described themselves as unsympathetic, might actually get what they wanted as well and not need to be sympathised with either.

    By Blogger Ed, at 9:28 AM  

  • Not disclosing my diagnosis isn't an option for me. I have help from a jobcoaching agency in finding work. At first we tried the method of not putting the diagnosis in the letter, and telling them at a later point, but it wasn't working out.

    So now we tell them in advance, and it turns out it's not really diminishing my chances at all (with regards to employers' reactions). And in a practical way, for me it increases my chances since employers know about a few of the possible adjustments I might need before they even see my cv, and so I know, when they send me a letter to invite me over because I'm one of the candidates they are considering, they already know about my diagnosis and accomodations I might need and they didn't have a problem with it.
    I don't have the stress of thinking "Oh I still need to tell them, what's the best way of doing it."

    By Anonymous Norah, at 3:54 PM  

  • I wouldn't want to take up a job in any organisation who had discriminated against me on the grounds of my disability before even hiring me...

    By Blogger shiva, at 5:08 PM  

  • I can work. I can make polite conversation and offer to help others if I've finished my own work. It never occurred to me that I could ask for accommodations.
    However, I graduated 10 years ago and all the jobs I've had, I could have got if I'd left school at 16 with just a couple of GCSE's. The fact of the matter is, is that I can be as compromising and not wanting to cause a fuss as possible, but it can only go so far. I have a good long term memory but I'm pretty useless at being able to think of different ways of doing things, or being able to think "if Ethelburga was to do x, what should Cartimandua do?" So, I work best in environments where I can either work on my own, or in offices with a small number of people, but doing my own work. I don't dislike other people, I'm just not much help when it comes to teamwork. My ideal job would be either writing articles for a historical magazine, or researching historical events in a library. I work best to a set routine, with little change.
    Now, besides one temping agency that couldn't understand why I did't want to work doing telesales in a huge open plan office, I've been lucky and been mostly ok. However, if say, I started work in a company and then they changed the set up and said that there had to be consulation meetings and I had to work always as part of a team I could not do it. It woudl be like asking someone who couldn't juggle to juggle with seventeen balls.
    And that's the difficult thing when explaining about accommodations, that if you need them you need them and you're not being awkward or self opionated or wantin to cause trouble, you genuinely can't do your job without the understanding of how you can work. I'm lucky in that whilst I do have sensitivities to sound, sight and touch, I can often block these out, find ways of dealing with them. Other people cannot, what may be mild in terms of touch for example, with me, will be painful for them. So when people ask for accomodations with things like lighting I remember that whilst I can cope with something like fluorescent lights I can not cope with quick paced work or wotking as part of a team. nd if I expect understanding for my difficulties I should be understanding of others as well.

    By Anonymous bullet, at 7:44 PM  

  • If it is in the interest of an employer to not discriminate against minorities groups when hiring, and I believe that it is in their interest, then why do we need laws to protect minority groups from discrimination in the work place? In theory the free market should be able to adequately protect everyone. In my own personal life I have learned to be very suspicious of people who try to make me do things against my will by claiming that it is for my own benefit. If someone wanted to help me they would respect me enough to give me the option of turning down their help.

    By Blogger Izgad, at 9:44 PM  

  • Ed wrote
    "Among the other exclusionary mainstream language in what you've said, I think what I would mainly like to address is the word "sympathy". Describing things in such away can lead people to believe that such a person who got depressed and lost their job were seeking sympathy."

    Ed, you live in the US and I live in Australia. I suspect that the least prestigious end of the employment scene in the US is a tougher environment than we have here. Where I live it is quite possible for a person to spend most of their adult life collecting degrees or technical college qualifications for a career that is totally unsuitable and is not successful. There appears to be no screening process to stop this from happening. In Australia an autist can get a social work degree if they really want one, and there is nothing to stop a person who has an IQ very much the wrong side of 100 getting a degree for a responsible managerial/supervisory job. This does happen (I know of examples). Who benefits from such situations?

    I do know a few people who have (I'm told) been diagnosed with clinical depression. Some of them do appear to be quite emotionally manipulative people who do fish for sympathy. In Australia depression is a big fad, and one of the most disreputable people that I know claims to have it when they need to find a handy excuse.

    By Blogger Lili Marlene, at 4:04 AM  

  • Lili Marlene,

    I spoke in haste. My comment was emotionally charged and I did not speak in a way that would promote an effective debate.

    Neither of your post were combative toward me personally me in any way.You also described very well what you felt and why.

    I'm sorry I reacted to you in the way that I did and hope I will find better ways to handle myself in the future.

    By Blogger Ed, at 5:50 AM  

  • I dont think that being upfront about having autism and asking for accommodations has much to do with asking for accommodations because the person is finding the job too difficult to do.
    Also, although i can understand a desire to not disclose autism/aspergers, i would think that this might backfire if future difficulties did arise-then seeking accommodations would be extremely difficult.

    By Blogger Amanda, at 8:21 PM  

  • I was just very impressed that the guy could get the ball rolling toward getting the job by taking tests online. Usually it seems like you have to dress up nice, smell right, act right, etc, walk into a place and ask where one might get an application. There are low level clerks who will think "this person isn't right for this job, I'll just tell them that we have no openings and aren't giving out applications." Just asking for the application can be daunting.

    Then one must have nice handwriting and fill out the form just so. I have horrible handwriting.

    I guess one can post resumes online, I have never tried that, maybe I'm just way behind the times. I think I'll always be underemployed because I can't cope with the applicaton process, the interview process and the dealing with people after I get a job process. If I knew the job was such that I could work alone, then maybe I could deal with the applying part.

    Part of my fearfulness comes from having been abused by vicious bosses who knew how to get away with it, and did. I never had a problem with coworkers. I have even supervised others and had no problem with that. It's the evil bosses that scare the daylights out of me.

    My current boss asked me to work for him, twice, basically. I didn't have to apply. It's a good job that naturally accomodates me, to some extent. But it doesn't pay that well. I'm getting paid signifantly less than the average person with a bachelors degree (which I have.)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:55 AM  

  • My husband (who I believe is AS but has never been diagnosed) has found that the best employer is himself. Sure, he does need to deal with clients and the people who give him contracts, but he does the actual work on his own, and the bloke who pays the money does not appear to treat my husband like a bonded slave, the way many employers do.

    By Blogger Lili Marlene, at 4:50 AM  

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