Since October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NEMA), this should prompt all of us to think about our hiring practices. Globally, there are about one billion individuals who are impacted by an “ability difference” (disability). Sadly, the unemployment rate among people with ability differences is as high as 80 per cent in some countries. There really is not a good reason why people who are willing and able to work should not be hired.
In keeping with the spirit of NEMA, my employer Veritas decided to kick off their first Neurodiversity Townhall entitled “Neurodiversity at Veritas: Cultivating Different Minds” for employees on October 25th. As an employer who embraces diversity, Veritas wanted to bring awareness of different forms of neurodiversity and identify common employment barriers for those with neurodiversity. The townhall was kicked off by Chair of HR, David Staffanson and featured expert panelists, Ranga Jayaraman, Director of Neurodiversity Pathways and Katherine Sanders, Employment Specialist from the San Andreas Regional Center.
The panelists were well qualified to speak on this topic since both organizations serve individuals with neurodiverse conditions. Neurodiversity Pathways Program provides a 17-week career readiness training phase including a simulated workplace experience and a 6-month job search and placement phase. While San Andreas Regional Center (SARC) is a non-profit that server over 17,000 individuals with developmental disabilities and their families who reside within Monterey, San Benito, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz Counties. SARC also has a robust internship program that builds social and vocational skills, customized employment opportunities, and partners with employers to integrate individuals into the workforce.
During the Townhall, Ranga told the audience that he was inspired to take action in the neurodiverse community because of his own son. He said that “We accept physiology differences as being normal. So, there is no reason to expect that this beautiful organ called the ‘brain’ is the same from one person to the other. Human society could not have advanced the way that it has without brains that thought very differently. The way we experience the brain of someone else is by their behavioral and cognitive characteristics. We look at how they interact with other people and how they learn from other people and how they are stimulated by the environment. Those characteristics vary in the human population. When we accept that as normal, then we are aligning with the concept of neurodiversity.”
Katherine said that “We (San Andreas Regional Center) are working hard to change the perspective of the community and our employers. We find that individuals with developmental disabilities/intellectual disabilities are dedicated and excited to be part of community and a culture. It’s a beautiful thing! We need to understand why employment for these individuals is so low. Maybe it’s because hiring managers haven’t interacted with someone with a disability. There is a lot of stigma, fear, and misconception. Instead of getting to know people for who they are, we often make assumptions and think that someone with a disability can’t do something. But there are many abilities that they can bring to your company. That’s why we are here today.”
The key takeaways from the Townhall were:
In addition to the Townhall, Veritas is showing their commitment to differently abled individuals through programs and benefits. I am proud to champion our new Employee Resource Group Called “DAVE” (Differently Abled Empowered by Veritas). Our mission is to give a voice to employees and families of individuals with different abilities by building awareness, creating better integration into the workforce, and ensuring that the work environment encompasses the proper resources. Veritas has extended benefits that include RethinkCare which provides Parental Success solutions to help families raise more resilient children, including those with developmental and learning disabilities. And I am happy to say that Veritas has expanded my son’s health and dental coverage even though he is 27 years old.
I have a long history of volunteering in the neurodiverse community. My inspiration on this topic comes from my own adult son, Nolan who is impacted by autism. Nolan and I have been on a long journey together as we have navigated through many obstacles including bullying, misdiagnoses, and unknowledgeable school administrators. Despite these obstacles, I am happy to say that Nolan is thriving today. He has benefited significantly from the right support, therapy, and community integration. I am proud of the way that he has persevered to overcome these obstacles. He completed his AS degree in Business Information Systems earlier this year, he serves on multiple self-advocacy committees, and he is undergoing job training through the Neurodiversity Pathways program. His next step in life will be to find a job. This will be a major undertaking and it will not be easy, but I have no doubt that my son will be successful in his job endeavors.
My son is a great example of how people with ability differences can be successful if they are given the appropriate support, tools, and most of all a chance!
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