[W]hile the empowerment rhetoric of neurodiversity is finding an audience, there remains a big gap between the rhetoric of valuing adults with brain-wiring differences and the realities of the job market in California. Autism is the fastest growing of the neurodiverse conditions in California, and unemployment rates for adults with autism continue to be estimated at over fifty percent. Even as the economy continues to improve, there is a good deal of competition among job seekers for each opening. Neurodiverse adults are not faring well in the competition, and even when hired are not faring well in retention.
EXPANDability, based in San Jose, is one of the leading job training agencies in California serving adults with “disabilities”. Like other local employment agencies serving this population, EXPANDability’s population has shifted considerably in the past decade from individuals with physical disabilities to a larger percentage of individuals with neurological conditions.
EXPANDability is part of the “Autism at Work” program at software giant SAP (the recent Autism at Work hires are shown above) and at Microsoft. Both of these programs have well-developed recruitment and retention structures to employ and retain adults with autism in tech positions. However, despite the extensive publicity both programs have received, the numbers of participants remain modest—the first SAP cycle in 2014 involved nine trainees in the bay Area, while the Microsoft program is starting with 10 participants.
There is no quick path going forward to translate neurodiversity rhetoric into an employment reality. The next years will be slow building on a mix of efforts among local agencies, our community colleges and universities, advocates and parents.
Fortunately, there is a richness of thought and activity, already underway among each of these entities in California. EXPANDability is only one of tens of job training agencies in California—ranging from the ARCs and Best Buddies throughout the state, to Resources for Independence Central Valley, Positive Resource Center, and the Cerebral Palsy Center in Oakland –testing measures of placement, retention and workplace culture. EDD meanwhile has its own Disability Employment Accelerator, an applied research effort to place individuals and test approaches.