Despite the recent spate of stigmatizing articles by the NY Times recently, I found a most uplifting online article in The Opinionator section about promoting inclusion of folks with autism spectrum disorders into the workforce. David Bornstein profiles a Danish telecommunications company that hires consultants for highly specialized positions uniquely suited to the employee’s and the employer’s needs. For example, some people with autism are able to be more consistent and accurate in testing software or checking data entry due to their capacity to hyperfocus, but need a less social office setting to ease anxiety. According to Bornstein, one of the keys to the success of these consulting firms for people with disabilities is an, “in-depth personal assessments and a detailed mapping of community employment needs. ” In addition, Bornstein writes:
Robert Austin, dean of the faculty of business administration at the University of New Brunswick…says that businesses in general, as well as business schools, haven’t paid sufficient attention to the competitive value of employees with differences. “When you find somebody who is different there might be something remarkable and important in that,” he says.
That’s because innovation often comes from the margins of society. When anything can be copied cheaper somewhere in the world, companies that figure out how to do things differently gain the advantage. That means companies benefit when they generate valuable accidents and harness the talents of people with a wide range of perspectives and backgrounds. “The 20th century tried to make people fit into the system,” explains Austin. “The 21st century will be about managing people who don’t fit in.”
I certainly hope that businesses will pay attention to these innovative models and include folks who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. There are millions of people whose lives could be improved if they only had some meaningful work and more people working and fewer people relying on government benefits is good for the economy.