In my volunteer positions I have worked with youth of different abilities, often called disabilities. These youth may be mentally, physically, or emotionally disabled. Despite these disabilities, they contribute greatly in various ways and have taught me many lessons that I carry with me. In this blog post I will highlight some stories of people with disabilities who contribute to the field of information technology.
I have worked with people on the autism spectrum who are excellent programmers. They are methodical, meticulous, and often very creative. They like routine work and excel at logic challenges such as coding. In a recent article, Meticulon Consulting, a Canadian technology firm, was highlighted for hiring people with autism. Their experiences were the same as mine. The people they hired were meticulous, hard working, and loyal to the firm. Meticulon co-founder Garth Johnson makes the point that he is not hiring people with disabilities out of sympathy but because it makes good business sense. Johnson said, “I’m not interested in this as a charity. If we can’t prove business value, then I don’t view it as sustainable for our employees, either our typically enabled or our people with autism.” Other companies cited in the article are coming to the same realization. It makes good business sense to hire people with disabilities.
The German software giant SAP shares that experience. Their goal is to have one percent of their workforce from the autism community by 2020. This goal came out of a project with the Autism Society of India after SAP programmers created software to help children with autism communicate better. The project was successful so the employees proposed a pilot project to hire adults with autism. SAP recognized the fact that these new employees come with a different perspective and a fresh set of eyes. Jose Velasco, a SAP executive and head of the Autism At Work program said, “There is a skill set people on the spectrum are bringing that has business value.”
In our AIM Program course, Information Systems and Management, we talk about the stereotype of technology workers who are more comfortable with computers than with people. Whether the stereotype is valid or not, it has nothing to do with physical abilities. I have worked with people with hearing or vision impairments or other disabilities who love technology as much as I do. An employer may need to make some accommodations for them, but in my experience it is worth the effort; they bring a rich skillset and unique perspective to a project or an organization.
I believe that we need contributions from people of all abilities in order to make a strong and complete team. We all bring different skills and experiences to our work so the fact that we don’t all think alike or move the same should not make a difference. I would like to hear about your experiences working with people with different abilities. Are there benefits or drawbacks? Let me know.
Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.