Pay Your Bill
Being Inclusive is About More than Just Hiring Employees with Disability and Neurodiversity

By Jody Paulson, Fraser Assistant Director of Talent Acquisition and Julie McKibbins, Fraser Assistant Program Manager of Career Planning and Employment • disability, people with disabilities, interviewing people with autism, interviewing people with disabilities, hiring people with disability, hiring people with autism, inclusive hiring, hiring inclusively, how to support employees with disabilities, how to support employees with autism, employee accommodations, job search disability, career planning with a disability, careers and disability • July 07, 2022

Many workplaces have recently focused on diversity, equity and inclusion in their hiring practices. While these efforts are admirable, too often, inclusive hiring practices haven’t included people with neurodiversity and disabilities. A Deloitte report states, “In the United States, it is estimated that 85% of people on the autism spectrum are unemployed, compared to 4.2% of the overall population.” The U.S. Department of Labor reports, “In 2021, 19.1 percent of persons with a disability were employed.” Clearly, there’s much room for improvement.

And yet, we know there are many benefits to hiring a diverse staff.

“A diverse staff strengthens an organization by broadening viewpoints. Individuals with neurodiversity and people with disabilities have a broader range of skills and perspectives,” says Jody Paulson, Fraser Assistant Director of Talent Acquisition. “These employees also improve cultural awareness and make you a more attractive employer.”

But a diverse workforce is about more than just hiring. Workers need support throughout their careers. Here are a few ideas to help companies build and support a staff that includes individuals with disability and neurodiversity.

Consider broadening your recruitment network

Various job boards connect diverse job seekers with companies and organizations committed to hiring people with disability, members of the LGBTQIA community and BIPOC individuals. Fraser uses the National Diversity Network, which helps employers recruit and hire diverse candidates. AbilityJOBS is the “largest job site for people with disabilities.” DisABLEDperson, Inc. is a nonprofit job board whose mission is to “reduce the high unemployment rate of individuals and veterans with disabilities.” Listing your openings on these sites ensures you reach a more diverse group of potential employees.

Offer alternative interview options

People with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and other types of neurodiversity often struggle with a traditional interview process because of their difficulty with communication and social skills.

Here’s a few ways to modify an interview for diverse candidates:

  • Allow them more time to reply to interview questions
  • Provide interview questions ahead of time
  • Offer interviews in person or on Zoom, whatever they’re most comfortable with

“It’s also important to observe an individual’s body language and nonverbal communication. You may be able to tell if you need to reframe a question or give them a little longer to answer,” says Paulson. “Interviewers should also not expect eye contact, as people with ASD may have difficulty making eye contact.” 

Fraser also has several videos with ideas about how to interview individuals with autism.

Don’t limit roles

When employers think about people with autism, they may picture individuals who are good with computers or numbers. Each person on the autism spectrum is different, so it’s important to avoid assumptions. A person with autism may be a talented painter, writer or have a passion for working with children.

“You should look beyond the job description or their diagnosis, and see what each person is capable of,” says Julie Mckibbins, Fraser Assistant Program Manager of Career Planning and Employment.

Provide needed accommodations

Most accommodations for people with disabilities are inexpensive. Forbes states, “A report from the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) under the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy found that 57% of accommodations don’t cost businesses anything, and the rest are typically under $500.” Accommodations can be as simple as providing a quieter space, like putting a rug on the floor to dampen sound. For people with sensory processing difficulties, which includes many people with autism, turning off fluorescent lights or allowing dimmer lights, like lamps, is helpful. Lamps also enable employees to control their lighting.

McKibbins suggests allowing people with autism to use fidgets at work. Fidgets can help them calm down when they feel overwhelmed by providing different sensory input. McKibbins also says it’s perfectly reasonable to ask an employee to use a quieter fidget, if the fidget they have makes too much noise.

Re-evaluate your communications

Neurodivergent people usually think differently than neurotypical individuals. They can have difficulty reading between the lines and find it easier to understand literal, specific language. McKibbins says that providing hands-on instructions with a backup document that has a priority list helps clarify communication. Avoid vague feedback or instructions. When you provide instructions, be specific and use action verbs. Rather than saying, “Take a look at this,” instead say, “Please review this document to verify all the statements are true, and the punctuation and grammar are correct. Highlight any of your changes in red.”

Some diverse employees may also find a remote or hybrid work environment challenging. So for virtual communications, follow these up with written notes or an email with instructions.

Pair them with a mentor or supportive supervisor

Neurodiverse individuals and people with disabilities will likely need continued support. Companies can pair an individual with an employee mentor or a supportive supervisor.

“The key is the supervisor needs to be available for assistance and questions. They should do consistent check-ins. A supervisor needs to be able to coach an individual and help them succeed,” says Paulson.

McKibbins suggests gentle, direct daily or weekly feedback. Supervisors should point out what they’re doing well, and for things they aren’t doing well, show them how to do things differently.

More than just benefiting the employee, pairing an employee with a mentor is good for the company too. According to Deloitte, “Organizations that provide mentors to professionals with a disability reported a 16% increase in profitability, 18% in productivity and 12% in customer loyalty.”

Create a flexible environment, but also structure

During the pandemic, many businesses discovered employees value a flexible work environment. That can mean flexible work schedules and allowing employees to work from home. For people with disabilities, a flexible work schedule can be particularly helpful, so they can attend doctor and therapy appointments. Some neurodivergent individuals may also prefer to work from home. 

Structure can also be important for many individuals on spectrum or with disabilities. McKibbins says to be clear about expectations. Tell them you expect them to start work at 9 a.m., which means they should arrive at work at 8:50, so they have time to get to their desk and settle in. Giving boundaries with phone use can also be helpful. Let them know they can listen to music or take emergency phone calls, but it’s not acceptable to spend time scrolling on their phones.

Ensure support from executives

Paulson states that having buy-in from leadership is crucial to supporting employees with disabilities.  Executives must be prepared to provide additional resources, training and time to supervisors.

“If leadership isn’t on board, it’s pretty hard for supervisors to give employees with disabilities the time and resources [they need to be successful],” Paulson says.

Executives also need to communicate that hiring and retaining diverse employees is a priority for the company. That signals to supervisors that they should make time to support these employees. 

“Everyone has a gift. Hiring people with autism and disabilities allows you to access different kinds of intelligence that might not be present in your organization,” says McKibbins. “It also opens your job pool to some candidates who may enjoy roles with repetitive behavior or manual labor.”

People with neurodiversity and disabilities have much to offer businesses. With a little extra support, they can continue to be valuable staff members for a long time.