Helping Those Who Are Different: 5 Tech Companies Leading The Way
Written by Julia Loten
More and more, big companies are finding appropriate jobs for neurodivergent people, those otherwise referred to as having “special needs” or being mentally handicapped (more on neurodiversity here). Companies are realizing that hiring a diverse staff is not just good for PR, but also for the development of the company. Diversity in a company allows for a range of perspectives as different groups face different obstacles that require varying solutions. When there are more perspectives, there are more and fresher ideas for the company to implement. This is especially important in the tech industry, as new solutions are constantly being developed, and the consideration of neurodivergent perspectives in these decisions is important.
SAP is a company to look to when considering the successful integration of neurodivergent employees. SAP has hired over 160 neurodivergent employees through their Autism at Work program, which they first implemented in 2013. The program skips the traditional interview process and instead hires employees with developmental disabilities after a month-long screening and workshop. The candidates each chooses the form of their interview, whether opting for a casual walk and talk around campus or a sit-down group discussion. Autism at Work focuses on soft skills, teamwork, communication, and workplace etiquette.
Sehida Frawley, for example, is an SAP manager in Australia who oversees 500 team members. She emphasizes the hiring of differently-abled people, even adapting communication practices within her branch to be more structured in order to cater to those with autism. Frawley attributes her success in hiring through the program to her ability to see others’ circumstances and try to help them.
The Precisionists, Inc. (TPI) is a Benefit Corporation that creates jobs for neurodivergent adults. Initially working to place those with autism, TPI partnered with Fortune 100 companies such as Pfizer, Exelon, and UBS. TPI was recognized in 2018 by the Autism Society of America for their success in bridging employment opportunities for adults with autism.
The Precisionists, Inc. finds that the individuals whom they place excel in positions like data analytics, data entry, application development & support, device testing, and more. Now, TPI aims to create 10,000 jobs for adults with a range of developmental disabilities by 2025, planning to reach this goal by finding the best practices for teams with differently-abled members to work cohesively in delivering administrative and technology services. This way, TPI can help the neurodivergent community by providing them jobs as well as benefit from their different skills and perspectives.
We all know that making sure kids with learning and developmental disabilities get appropriate education is tough. And a baseline education is crucial to a child’s social and cognitive development, as well as future job prospects. Here’s a company that aims to help: mytaptrack is an IoT device for students with learning disabilities. It tracks symptoms of children with special needs and stores them online, then can share detailed, context-based data in real time with the child’s teachers, parents, and doctors. The device uses Artificial Intelligence to spot patterns, as well as diversions from the patterns. mytaptrack aims to provide private, secure solutions for children that comply with HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act).
The device also allows for better communication between home and school for students who aren’t always the most communicative when it comes to asking for help or expressing that they don’t understand something. Teachers and parents can look at a child’s progress that mytaptrack has recorded and consider the data when creating a plan of action for their child’s education.
4. Text-to-Speech Apps
Another technological advancement that aids certain neurodivergent students is text-to-speech apps. There are several on the market that help children with trouble reading common print (i.e. blindness, dyslexia, learning disabilities), but one that helps those who struggle with literacy as well as those with non-print disabilities is Kurzweil 3000. This software boasts a “multisensory approach to literary learning,” providing a graphic dictionary with space for 40,000 words, options for voices and dialects, a talking spell-checker, and text magnification. It also features aid for taking tests, writing essays, and writing notes.
Kurzweil 3000 was designed to be used for those with learning disabilities to use throughout school to reach the height of their academic potential, and even in their everyday lives beyond education, if necessary. It’s definitely a program to consider for a child who’s having trouble staying on-pace in school.
Philip Jarvis presents his work to hiring managers during the extended interview process at the Microsoft Autism Hiring Program.
Another company that has been focusing on efforts to increase its population of neurodivergent employees is Microsoft. The Microsoft Autism Hiring Program launched in April of 2015, partnering with two firms that train and support those with autism, PROVAIL and Specialisterne. The general public loved this initiative, and Microsoft received over 700 resumes of hopeful applicants as well as appreciative phone calls and messages. They managed to hire 10 new employees with autism within the first year of the program, which has only grown since then. Neurodivergen applicants can apply to any role at Microsoft, from software engineer to data scientist.
But what’s different about Microsoft’s program is that they view their hiring process as a sort of “academy.” Poor interpersonal skills is a main factor as to why many people with autism fail to get jobs, as the success of interviews is generally based on an applicant’s personality and personability. But Microsoft’s initiative to incorporate a workshop as well as an interview in the hiring process allows the candidate to demonstrate the full level of their skill beyond how they present themselves socially.
The hiring program continues to host (virtual) hiring events for potential candidates with developmental disabilities. Read more about individuals’ experiences going through the Microsoft Autism Hiring Program here.