I vividly remember last year when my mother shared the news that one of the sons of her friends, who also had special needs, landed a job at a local Dominos Pizzeria. This led me to think of many questions. Is a longtime and stable job possible for Anjali as an adult? What industries are more considerate than others? Have any corporate giants thought of this possibility as well? These are the topics I will address with this post.
Being the child of two professionals working in Silicon Valley jobs, it was no coincidence that I first wondered if many of the big tech companies employ or run programs for adults with special needs. Through some research I was happy to find out that some do run such programs. Perhaps the biggest one of these companies is SAP. Since 2013, SAP runs a program called Autism at Work. They claim “the program taps into an underutilized talent source, reducing barriers of entry so qualified individuals can fully develop their potential. Autism at Work employs over 160 colleagues and in 13 countries” (SAP). I must admit, I find the number of total people hired from this program to be slightly underwhelming. Yet the bigger conclusion from this still stands of how a large firm, such as SAP, has actually pioneered in this field, which is something that should be given due credit. Perhaps the biggest impact of this program is that SAP now builds products that are accessible “for everyone, including and especially people with disabilities, to access and use technology and information products. [They have] long made this a priority and strives to make our products more accessible” (SAP). This explains why hiring of special needs individuals in all industries is so important, as they provide feedback, a second opinion in stages of development, and a perspective for products that has never been given before, since so many of these industries don’t or can’t think of products or solutions that are easy to use for the growing community of special needs individuals. This void will only be filled by more employment and feedback from this community.
Through my process of researching for this post, I had a couple of topics I wanted to cover. Should I also write about Microsoft’s program? Should I cover the opportunities in the retail industry? Though these are commendable programs, we still need to acknowledge the truth. The companies/industries I have named so far mostly provide these opportunities at an extremely small scale. That’s why I dropped all of those topics for the sake of covering this one: Autism-Focused Businesses. Verywell health writes in June of 2019 how “more young adults with autism are finishing school and struggling to enter the workforce. At the same time, more businesses are discovering the benefits of hiring autistic employees. These two factors, together, are spurring the growth of small businesses built around the strengths of autistic workers. So far, more than fifty such businesses have sprung up around the United States.” One of these businesses is SMILE Biscotti, found at multiple locations in the Phoenix and Dallas metro areas. This business was started by “ Matt Resnik, following his graduation from high school in 2013. SMILE stands for Supporting My Independent Living Enterprise, and was created to help Matt and others like him, who are impacted by autism, make advancements in life skills development, social connections and pathways toward greater independence . . . In 2016, SMILE welcomed Jon as a licensee and SMILE Biscotti DFW was created. To date, Matt, Jon and their coworkers have sold over 200,000 SMILE’s . . . Now, Matt, Jon and many others like them are being afforded the opportunity to succeed” (SMILE Biscotti). SMILE Biscotti is a wonderful example of how many small businesses are anchored by a workforce of special needs individuals, thus proving that many of these individuals are capable of creating their own financial base straight out of high school, and fit perfectly into a workplace environment.
In closing I would like to say that all businesses, including small businesses and tech firms, can benefit from larger employment from the special needs communities. Individuals with special needs can complete that job with great passion and provide a fresh perspective on how to improve the product to better suit customers from special needs communities. If you know any individual with special needs who is thinking of getting a job, please take time out of your day and help them research. There are many opportunities from various industries (the Verywell health link I mentioned earlier is helpful), and if they keep looking they will find the perfect industry and niche for themselves.