Kerry's Causes

Going Blue For Equality

Last week it was go purple for Epilepsy and this week it’s blue for Autism. April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day and I just watched a very interesting documentary on TV Ontario about the challenges people with Autism Spectrum Disorders face, specifically when it comes to employment. I wanted to watch this particular doc because I felt a certain empathy and understanding with this topic and with the people involved.
The spectrum for conditions such as Autism and Asperger Syndrome is wide and varied. It includes many people at many different levels of function and ability. I would never presume to say I know what people with diagnosed Autism and other disorders like it and their families go through every day, but I can relate in my own way.
A lot of the characteristics of Autism and other disorders like it can be similar to some that go along with blindness. People with autism are most often introverted and in their own little worlds, isolating themselves from the world around them, unable to interact socially and to cope with the rest of society.
When you are born without one of your key senses, sight, a lot of those same things can happen. These things make it difficult to grow up in a world of the sighted. I was lucky to have been raised by two amazing parents who did everything they could to teach my brother and I how to function in social situations and with others. They put us in school in our neighbourhood with our peers. That environment was crucial in our development. I can’t say my brother and I aren’t prone to want to remain in our own heads some of the time and in certain circumstances. It’s hard to know whether that’s due to blindness or not. HE is a musician and I a writer; both these things are known for a lot of time spent in isolation and alone. We can both be shy and were at risk of becoming much more withdrawn if it weren’t for the stellar upbringing we received. Not all are so lucky, for a number of reasons.
The documentary focused on the problems people with autism have finding meaningful employment opportunities. This is where I can relate.
Of course it hasn’t been the norm in the past for people with disabilities, mental or physical to work like the rest of the world. It just wasn’t done. The number of people with disabilities not working hovers somewhere around 80% and I feel sad when I hear that figure.
People with disabilities, blindness and autism both, have generally been known to remain separate from the working world because we weren’t thought to be able to keep up and contribute in any real way. This is hopefully beginning to change.
In the documentary things were discussed such as mentors and other training programs specifically set up to accommodate those with special needs. Certain hiring practises such as the interview process can be difficult for those with autism, but each person has their own unique gifts, strengths, and abilities.
People with autism are often masters of detail. Some do well at certain repetitive tasks and jobs. One example is of a gentleman who loved to shred paper. HE could sit for hours and do this and so his family found a way to work with that ability. These people can be useful if given the proper chances.
Another case is of the guy who has been in the news lately, who suffers from autism, but has opened his own restaurant, including lots of hugs. A lot of people on the autism spectrum don’t like to be touched, but he does and he found a way to incorporate that into a warm and welcoming small restaurant atmosphere.
Of course these are only a few examples, shredding paper and food service, but when special needs are taken into account, a person with a disability in the workplace becomes less frightening and intimidating to all involved. Each and every disability is different though; this can not be emphasized clearly enough. The stereotype is that they are all the same in the end and the people with them are all at the same exact ability level.
This term “special needs” is all that’s needed to scare employers and companies off from even trying. What is in it for them after all?
I think a lot on this subject and wonder what I can do to have a part in making things better for people, like myself, with disabilities to find meaningful employment. I don’t believe in sitting back and waiting for employers and companies to make all the effort. We with autism or blindness or whatever it may be, we need to make ourselves available and productive and show them what we have to offer. It has always been a company’s job to make a profit and do business. They shouldn’t spend all their time making exceptions. Most times companies don’t know what they need to do and they need to be given the correct tools.
There are a lot of things people with autism or the visually impaired can’t do and a lot of other things we can, but we still deserve to feel like we are a part of the communities we inhabit. We can’t just sit back quietly, secretly and hide behind closed doors anymore. It does nobody any good. We as a society need to require more of all of us.
The colour blue is the colour of World Autism Awareness Day. Blue is often the word used for feeling depressed. Not feeling like one is contributing can certainly cause feelings of depression. I prefer to look at it as blue as a bright blue sky and the bright future it is possible to have for people with all sorts of disabilities and the workplaces they are just as deserving to be a part of and of whom could benefit enormously from what we have to offer.
“It is a call to action. I urge all concerned to take part in fostering progress by supporting education programs, employment opportunities, and other measures that help realize our shared vision of a more inclusive world,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, World Autism Awareness Day, 2014
One of the roadblocks in finding real employment is technology. I just had a guest post to share on this very thing on a friend’s blog. You can read it here.
Reading Challenges of a Visually Impaired Writer in the Digital World