Microsoft announced last week that it plans to launch a pilot program to hire more workers with autism. This comes during Autism Awareness Month, launched 25 years ago by the Autism Awareness Society to focus on “ensuring acceptance and inclusion in schools and communities that results in true appreciation of the unique aspects of all people.”
Mary Ellen Smith, corporate vice president of worldwide operations at Microsoft, penned the announcement just one day after speaking to a United Nations summit on “Autism, The Employment Advantage.” Smith is the mother of a 19-year-old who was diagnosed with autism at the age of 4. To guide the program, Microsoft is partnering with Danish company Specialisterne, the majority of whose employees have a diagnosis on the autism spectrum.
Atlanta-based John Saddington, indie app developer and partner at The Iron Yard, is an avid blogger who has been vocal about his diagnosis with Aspberger’s, an autism spectrum disorder, as an adult. As an autist in the tech community, this announcement strikes close to home for him:
Microsoft’s new initiative to give more opportunity for talented people who may otherwise be passed over is a breath of fresh air. My hope is that they have not only created right atmosphere and environment where success can thrive but also deeply couple the initiative with continuing education for neuro-typicals who may not fully understand the challenges that autists face in the workplace.
Microsoft has been supportive of autism research and education in other ways as well. In 2013, Microsoft Office partnered with the non-profit Autism Speaks to release personalized PowerPoint story templates for families to explain different real-world scenarios to their children on the spectrum. Other templates offered include tracking tools and education planners for parents of autistic children.
Lisa Goring, executive vice president of programs and services at Autism Speaks sees Microsoft’s most recent announcement as a major turning point for adults with autism.
Tech jobs offer some people with autism an opportunity to prove their skills in this highly competitive market. We all value the chance to work and be good at our jobs. It’s no different for people with autism and Microsoft is recognizing this untapped labor pool.