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.
Enabled Intelligence's main type of work, known as data annotation, is usually farmed out to technically skilled but far cheaper labor forces in countries including China, Kenya and Malaysia. That’s not an option for US government agencies whose data is sensitive or classified, [CEO Peter] Kant said, adding that more than half his workforce of 25 are “neurodiverse.”
For decades, workers with developmental disabilities, especially autism, have faced discrimination and disproportionately high unemployment levels. A large shortfall in cybersecurity jobs, along with a new push for workplace acceptance and flexibility — in part spurred by the Covid-19 pandemic — has started to focus attention on the abilities of people who think and work differently.
Enabled Intelligence has adjusted its work rules to accommodate its employees, ditching resumes and interviews for online assessments and staggering work hours for those who find it hard to get in early. It has built three new areas for classified material and hopes to secure government clearances for much of its neurodiverse workforce — something the US intelligence community has sometimes struggled to accommodate in the past. Pay starts at $20 an hour, in line with industry standards, and the company provides health insurance, paid leave and a path for promotion. Enabled Intelligence expects to make revenues of $2 million this year and double that next year, along with doubling its workforce.
The US intelligence community has been slow to catch on to the opportunity, critics say. It falls short of the 12% federal target for workforce representation of persons with disabilities, according to the latest statistics out this month. Until this year, it has also regularly fallen short of the 2% federal target for persons with targeted disabilities, which include those with autism.
“In other countries it’s old hat,” said Teresa Thomas, program lead for neurodiverse talent enablement at MITRE, which operates federally funded research and development centers. She cites well established programs in Denmark, Israel, the UK and Australia, where one state recently appointed a minister for autism.