We Need More than Buzz Words: For Equal Access to Work, Education, and a Living Wage
As Autistic/Disabled people, we are at a much higher risk of:
Being un– or underemployed
Living in poverty and social isolation
Exclusion from (third-level) education and vocational training
Being discriminated against at work, bullied, or passed over for promotions
Suffering from burnout, mental health problems, and other stress-related issues
Facts & Figures: Disability in the Republic of Ireland
In 2016, the unemployment rate amongst Disabled people was more than twice as high as the rate for the population as a whole (26.3%, compared to 12.9%).
Among people aged 15 to 64, 51% of Disabled men and 42% of Disabled women worked compared to 78%/66% of the total population.
Up to 1 in 10 people below 45 years of age were Disabled, doubling to 1 in 5 by age 60 – a reminder that many of us will become Disabled later in life.
In Northern Ireland, more than 1 in 5 people aged 16 to 64 reported having a disability in 2017.
Disability is not a niche topic and can affect anybody. You might study, work, and chat with Disabled people every day without being aware of it: A lot of us do not talk openly about being Disabled for fear of stigma and discrimination. You yourself or a loved one might become Disabled later in life. Disabled People’s rights are Human Rights.
We therefore ask you to take action in solidarity with Autistic and other Disabled people to push for:
✔️ Equal access to meaningful work that pays a living wage
✔️ Access to higher and further education, vocational training, and relevant qualifications
✔️ Inclusion, respect, and appropriate accommodations in the workplace
Table of Contents
This post tries to give some pointers as to what
can do to support Autistic/Disabled people and push for a more inclusive labour market and work environment. (Click on the links above to jump to each section.)
Don’t forget to check out the links and resources at the bottom.
While the following ideas are primarily based on the experience of Autistic people, they can be adapted to benefit most other Disabled job seekers and workers and society as a whole.
Autism in the Workplace
60% find recruitement processes inacessible.
Less than 10% feel comfortable enough to disclose being Autistic at work.
72% said that masking their Autistic traits to fit in would be their biggest challenge.
Employers in all industries, in the public and private sector, need to:
Fundamentally change their attitudes towards Autism and Disability. Misconceptions and judgement are often more disabling than any personal impairments.
Reform their ‘one size fits all’ recruitment processes. Provide adjustments/alternatives to traditional conversational interviews.
Create concise job ads with clear requirements. Offer a wide variety of roles, including (mid-)senior-level positions, at equal pay.
Provide flexible and non-people management progression paths. Acknowledge Autistic strengths and expertise.
Offer part-time, flexi-time, job sharing, remote work. Disabled people have been campaigning for it for years, and the pandemic has shown that it is possible.
Implement workplace accommodations – including advance notice of meetings, the use of written communication/AAC, and alternatives to open-plan offices.
Undergo Neurodiversity/Disability training delivered by Neurodivergent/Disabled people. Implement an Autistic-friendly workplace policy and written policies regarding reasonable accommodations.
Appoint a Disability Officer who is, ideally, Disabled themself. Don’t just assume your existing staff will take on this job on top of their responsibilities.
Implement a zero-tolerance strategy for bullying and workplace harassment – across all levels of hierarchy.
Learn about and avail of government schemes/grants if needed – such as the Wage Subsidy Scheme, Workplace Equipment/Adaptation Grants, the Disability Awareness Support Scheme, and the Employee Retention Grant Scheme.
Not only do we have a human right to work, we can also be an asset to your organisation if you provide us with the opportunity.
Learn more about Reasonable Accommodations
The Comprehensive Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities 2015-
2024 promises to prioritise 6 strategic goals:
build skills, capacity, and independence
provide bridges and supports into work
make work pay
promote job retention and re-entry to work
provide co-ordinated and seamless support
However, the Mid-Term Review of the National Disability Inclusion Strategy 2017-2021 has shown little progress concerning work.
This year, Ireland is due to submit its first report to the UN regarding the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) which was ratified in 2018. Last month, Anne Rabbitte TD also announced a cross-departmental Autism Innovation Strategy.
Now is the perfect time to take stock and take action.
A Whole-of-Government Approach is needed to:
End the funding crisis faced by Disability Services in all areas of life, not only (but also!) health-related services, as urged by the HSE.
Further reform Disability Allowance and related payments: Reduce red tape, be more contactable, be adaptable to income from casual work, part-time work, and self-employment – and abolish means testing. Increasing the earnings disregards from €120 to €140 a week is a first step, but it is not enough. Being Disabled often comes with additional costs that most people are not aware of.
The fear of losing their safety net means many Disabled people will think twice about starting a job, even though they want to work.
Reform the Reasonable Accommodation Fund:
✔️ Adequate resources need to be allocated in order for applications to be granted.
✔️ Grants/schemes should apply to non-traditional and part-time work. They need to be available to support employees beyond the interview/induction phase.
✔️ Employers need to be engaged and informed proactively about grants/schemes available.
✔️ It should be mandatory for employers to consult employees on what constitutes reasonable accommodations.
✔️ If we say we need certain accommodations, believe us. The burden of proof should lie with the employer, not with the individual.
Ensure that all employment, including Community Employment, pays a living wage.
Provide funding and mentoring for Disabled startups and self-employment. Expand programmes that offer pre-employment training and job placements.
Apply grants and fee exemptions to part-time third-level courses or abolish tuition fees altogether.
📢 Last but not least, we need access to public adult Autism and ADHD assessment provided by HSE staff with up-to-date knowledge of Neurodiversity:
We cannot advocate for ourselves and express our needs if we do not know about our Autistic identity. It is completely unacceptable and disgraceful that the only way an Adult (and most children) can get assessed is by paying several hundreds to thousands – as a group that is at a disproportionate risk of poverty.
Providers of higher and further education and training need to:
Offer more flexible course structures and alternative forms of assessment of learning outcomes.
Create an inclusive, accessible learning environment in agreement with the framework of Universal Design for Learning (UDL).
Ensure access to Neurodiversity-informed career services, counselling, and occupational therapy.
As private institutions, offer reduced fees for Disabled students.
Focus on Autism Research that focuses on social inclusion and quality of life rather than cure and prevention.
As a community we need to:
✔️ Embrace the social model(s) of disability
Treating disability as a personal health issue only isn’t helpful. The medical model of disability locates disability within the individual whereas the social model focuses on how the individual’s environment is disabling them. This is a very simplified version of a complex discussion, and a clear-cut line between individual impairment and disability isn’t helpful. But in short, we should focus more on how society disables people and how to remove barriers. A kinder attitude towards chronic illness and pain is also needed. We need to focus on improving quality of life rather than trying to ‘fix’ Disabled people.
✔️ Embrace (neuro)diversity
Neurodiversity is like biodiversity, but for brains. We need different ways of thinking, feeling, and relating to the world to thrive as a society. What we consider an impairment or deficit depends on the individual’s view, their circumstances and can change over time.
✔️ Embrace individual strengths and needs
This is not to say that we should only value so-called ‘high-functioning’/’mild’ Autism and Disability. Functioning labels aren’t helpful or accurate. We need to include people with chronic illnesses, mental health problems, learning difficulties, and complex support needs. Everyone has a place in society, everybody has their own profile of strengths and needs. It would do us all good to broaden our definitions of contribution, intelligence, performance, and success.
What you can do today, whether you are Autistic/Disabled yourself or not:
✔️ Contact your HR department
and ask them about their long-term strategies to support Autistic/Disabled students, job seekers, and workers.
Push for access to work, education, accommodations, and a living wage
Listen to and include Autistic and other Disabled people in all decision-making processes
Support the work of Disabled Persons’ Organisations (DPOs) – independent membership organisations run by and for Disabled people (see links below).
Further Information & Resources
AHEAD: Association for Higher Education Access & Disability
Specialisterne: Recruitement for Autistic People
WAM: Mentored work placement programme for graduates
Information on Funding/Finance for students
DARE: Admissions scheme for students with disabilities
Disability Equality at Work – Unite Negotiators’ Guide (based on UK law)
Assisting People with Autism in Employment – Guidance for Line Managers and HR Professionals (Not everything will be true for every Autistic person. Please ask your candidate/employee what they need)
WAM: Mentored work placement programme for graduates
Specialisterne: Competitive Advantages of Hiring Neurodiverse Employees
Hiring Outside the Box: Why You Need Autistic People on Your Team
Autism in the Workplace – 2021 report by AsIAm and IrishJobs.ie
Disability Statistics 2018 by the NDA
Census of Population 2016 – Health, Disability, and Carers
Disability and Discrimination in Ireland – 2018 report by the IHREC
Outcomes for Disabled People in the UK: 2020 – Office for National Statistics
- Reasonable Accommodations Fund: Obstacles and Opportunities
Self-Employment Options for People with Disabilities – Brothers of Charity Clare