“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and heightened glaring inequalities around the world, especially when it comes to income and wealth distribution, access to health care, protection under the law, and political inclusion. Persons with autism have long faced many of these inequalities, which have only been further exacerbated by the pandemic. It’s a problem made worse by long recognized discriminatory hiring practices and workplace environments that present major obstacles for persons with autism; all of which contribute to the unemployment or severe underemployment of a large majority of adults on the autism spectrum.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals adopted by world leaders at the United Nations in 2015 provide a blueprint for addressing the major challenges facing the world, including strategies for reducing inequalities that hinder prosperity for people and the planet. One of the aims of Sustainable Development Goal 8 (SDG 8) – Decent Work and Economic Growth – is to promote full and productive employment and decent work for all, including persons with disabilities. Article 27 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities also recognizes “the right of persons with disabilities to work, on an equal basis with others,” and to a “work environment that is open, inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities.”
Some employers have recently launched inclusive employment programmes, which accommodate people with diagnoses of autism and related conditions, such as ADHD, OCD, etc., often referred to as neurodivergent persons. Based on the experience gained from these programmes, and motivated by the desire to both be socially responsible and to gain a competitive advantage by benefitting from the skills and abilities of a more diverse talent pool, an increasing number of employers are now creating models to make the workplace and hiring practices more inclusive generally.
The pandemic has undoubtedly impacted the efforts of companies to implement these new models, at a time when the international economy is undergoing the worst economic recession since the great depression, with the loss of hundreds of millions of jobs. At the same time, new ways of working, including remote working and the use of new technologies, have created opportunities for employees on the autism spectrum that previously found it difficult to thrive in traditional workplace environments.
The 2021 World Autism Awareness Day observance will address these issues through a virtual event that will include moderated panel discussions with individuals on the autism spectrum who have themselves experienced the challenges and seen these new opportunities in the employment market.”