Autism at Work Summit
The Autism at Work Summit 2019 was held May 30-31, 2019 on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, WA. The conference, sponsored by the Autism@Work Employer Roundtable, brought together about 180 participants from a wide range of stakeholders including representatives from companies that have autism hiring programs or are planning to create one. Other participants included representatives from employment support agencies, university and industry researchers, government agency representatives, parents of children with autism, and advocates with autism.
The Summit was emceed by Scott Robertson, an autistic adult who serves as a policy advisor on Employment-Related Support (ERS) Team for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment (ODEP). The keynote address was given by Rob Austin, a professor of information systems at Ivey Business School and co-author of the 2017 article in the Harvard Business Review titled "Neurodiversity as a Competitive Advantage.” He argued forcefully for companies hiring a diverse workforce to improve on innovation. His view of diversity included people who are autistic.
There were a number of panels and breakout sessions representing employers, employee support people, researchers, and advocates with autism. Employers talked about their autism hiring programs. Individuals who support employees talked about their work in helping companies do a good job of managing a diverse workforce and about their work as job coaches for employees with autism. Researchers talked about the many research problems that need to be studied to inform the practices of employers, people who support employees, and employees with autism. These problems fell into five categories: preparation, hiring, on-boarding, retention, and advancement.
The people with autism who talked about their experiences and their points of view were very diverse. Questions about disclosure, workplace environment, and misunderstandings were all paramount. There was no agreement on when and if to disclose. There was agreement that open workspaces are not good. There was agreement that knowledge of neurodiversity and acceptance by managers and colleagues were very important. Reid Caplan, associate director of advocacy and development at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network was passionate about the prospect that special autism hiring programs should not be needed in the future because the mainstream hiring process will be universally designed to work for everyone.
Learn more about Autism at Work and Microsoft's initiatives for hiring people with disabilities.