Story by Christy Weis
Note: Names have been changed to protect the individual's privacy.
While some disabilities are easy to spot, others are not as obvious. Invisible disabilities such as Autism Spectrum Disorder can limit opportunities for an individual to grow their career. With organizational support it doesn’t have to be that way.
Developing a diverse and inclusive workforce is a priority for AHS. An AHS program aims to engage and create opportunities for people with cognitive disabilities. It was through this initiative that a co-op student found his niche among information technology (IT) professionals who design, develop, and maintain the AHS internal and external websites.
“Technology is a great leveler,” says Chief Information Officer Penny Rae. “It allows people of all abilities to leverage their strengths to contribute. We are really pleased to have the opportunity to be inclusive and to help someone shine.”
Paul, a fourth-year computer science student, is getting his professional start in the workforce through this program. His manager, Navdeep, says bringing Paul on board has been a positive experience.
“If we had overlooked Paul, we would have lost an outstanding co-op student,” says Navdeep.
Paul has high-functioning autism, which used to be called Asperger’s Syndrome. While his level of technical knowledge is high, Paul has difficulty communicating with others, and has some trouble understanding body language.
“I usually give short answers,” says Paul. “I have a hard time writing lots of words or saying lots of things, and sometimes there’s misunderstandings because there’s not enough detail. Or I’ll go the other way and jump straight into details, without giving enough context.”
Paul’s condition makes it challenging to give a good first impression at job interviews.
Navdeep shares that the program was well-organized and offered plenty of support.
“It’s not about just getting people with disabilities on board, but empowering managers to handle it,” explains Navdeep.
Before hiring a student through the program, Navdeep had the opportunity to speak with a manager who had prior experience working with people with autism. She also researched the condition thoroughly.
“[Preparation] helped me to create a focused program for Paul and to set him up for success in his position.”
When Paul interviewed for his current position, he appreciated the opportunity to show his technical knowledge.
“If you have a disability, making the manager aware of it can help them look for your strengths and look past your limitations,” Paul explains.
Paul is thriving on Navdeep’s team. When it comes to the workload, Paul says he enjoys the variety of tasks. In addition to testing and development, he works on an e-newsletter, bug fixes, and upgrades.
Some managers hesitate to hire someone with a disability as there are often concerns about the new hire’s ability to do the work, that they will cause disruptions, or need for extensive adaptations and supervision. Paul demonstrates this is not necessarily the case. Navdeep shares that he completes his work with no extra supervision and has easily integrated into the team.
“My team made it easy,” says Paul. ”Everyone is very friendly. If I’m stuck at something, they help me, they make jokes, and we get along well.”
Navdeep encourages others to get involved in this unique initiative.
“Not only do you have the opportunity to make a difference to and impact the life of an employee, but you gain experience and grow as a manager by having people of different skills and abilities on your team. It’s a two-way mutual relationship and I think everyone should open a door to it.”
Paul and Navdeep shared their story in celebration of October’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
For more information on diversity at AHS, contact Workforce Diversity.