The recent news about SAP’s commitment to have 1% of their workforce be individuals on the autism spectrum is important news. A few weeks after this announcement, I met with Luby Aczel, from The Specialist Guild, a software testing training company for individuals with Asperger’s in San Francisco, CA. Luby told me that after the SAP announcement, they got a call from a Silicon Valley technology company looking for them to supply a couple of testers. If SAP does this, others will follow.
At a conference on autism employment in 2012, a representative of Walgreen’s told the audience that they have put almost 100 companies through their “boot camp”, where they teach employers how to replicate their distribution facilities that are designed to employ large numbers of individuals with developmental disabilities, including one facility that focuses specifically on employing individuals with autism spectrum disorders. The Walgreen’s rep said, however, that they were seeing such a notable increased productivity benefit from their own distribution centers that employ individuals with disabilities that they were beginning to think they were giving away a competitive secret to others.
The importance of leading by example can’t be underestimated in changing the employment landscape for individuals with autism spectrum disorders. Whether it is the understanding that employing individuals on the spectrum is good for business or the desire to keep up with competitors that motivates an employer, going public by employers about their efforts to employ individuals on the spectrum is critical to changing this from a newsworthy event to an everyday occurrence.