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Sunday, September 6, 2020

Autism, Unemployment, and COVID

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the employment of adults with autism and other developmental disabilities. Many posts have discussed programs to provide them with training and experience. The pandemic is a huge challenge.

Candice Williams at The Detroit News:
“In February and March, the COVID pandemic really knocked the legs from underneath us,” said Brent Mikulski, president and CEO of Dearborn Heights-based Services to Enhance Potential, a non-profit that offers training to people with developmental disabilities and connects them with internships and jobs. “We had businesses that were sincere in their interest in working to hire individuals. We were in the process of placing somebody there. They were forced to shut and lay off staff, shutter staff that used to be working. Our folks were part of that layoff.”
Statistically, people with developmental disabilities have had a tougher time finding employment. Prior to the pandemic in Michigan, 81% of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities were unemployed, compared to 9% of individuals without disabilities, according to statistics released by Michigan Developmental Disabilities Network in 2014.
Developmental disabilities include autism, cerebral palsy, intellectual disability and learning disorders.
Concerns about training and employment for individuals with developmental disabilities amid the pandemic exist across the country, said Donna Meltzer, CEO of nonprofit National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities.
One fear is that with millions of Americans out of work due to the pandemic, people with disabilities may be the last group of people to find jobs, she said.
“It may take years for our employment infrastructure to rebound,” she said. “Jobs will be scarce and many who had jobs may find that job is no longer open to them. Education that leads to work is also greatly impacted and a cohort of students who were moving forward from school to work or on to higher ed may lose those opportunities permanently. Until there is a vaccine, many will not feel safe navigating the community and choose instead to stay home – our challenge is to find ways to balance safety, health and community.”
Another report from Williams at McClatchy:
“Employment is a struggle right now, and if you have a disability, it’s even harder,” said Holly Ewing, a program manager for the Center for People with Disabilities, a nonprofit that seeks to help people of all disabilities live independently through support and services. “The more help you need, the harder it is.”
Ewing, who is based in Thornton, helps to manage the nonprofit disability service’s programs in Boulder County, as well as the programs in offices across northern Colorado.
Of the 12 people from Boulder County who are working with the Center for People with Disabilities, three lost work because of the pandemic. According to Ewing, one lost their job as a direct result of the virus, while two others initially decreased their hours, but then resigned due to health concerns. Several others have chosen to wait to search for work. In late July and early August, three of those 12 were able to start working again.
Many people with disabilities work front-line jobs in grocery stores, retail operations and at medical facilities.
“For the individuals that are working part time, they’ve really taken a hit. A lot of people have been laid off, furloughed or those positions closed,” Ewing said. “Other people with disabilities are also struggling because maybe their health issue puts them at high risk, so they need to be very careful. There are a number of people whose physicians told them, ‘You should not be going out into the community.’”