Disability Studies Quarterly Blog
Review by Kristin C. Bennett, Arizona State University, email@example.com.
Keywords: employment; productivity; economy; autism; neurodivergence
Disability access in the workplace has been a predominant concern for the fields of business, professional, and technical communication. Autism in the Workplace: Creating Positive Employment and Career Outcomes for Generation A joins this conversation. The text grounds its exigence in an 85% unemployment rate for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) cited in 2016 with the fact that 1.5 million people with ASD will reach adult working age over the next decade. Referring to this population of burgeoning adults with ASD as “Generation A,” authors Amy Hurley-Hanson, Cristina M. Giannantonio, and Amy Jane Griffiths compose this text to demonstrate the individual, organizational, and societal benefits related to hiring individuals with ASD.
Discussing transition and support programs, this text is relevant for educators, administrators, and support staff in K-12 and higher education settings. Specifically, Chapter 5 examines barriers faced by individuals with ASD in transitions from school to work, such as inefficient intervention programs, hostile work environments, and lack of support services. Most significantly, the authors note the importance of incorporating input from ASD students in the design of transition programs so that they not only account for job market needs, but also prioritize “students’ preferences, interests, and goals for the future” (p. 103). In addition, Chapter 6 provides insight into university programs that include students within university spaces, help them secure employment upon graduation, and encourage them to become “engaged members of their communities” (p. 112).
Similarly relevant to educational professionals is Chapter 4, which utilizes Donald Super’s theory of career stages to analyze the career development of individuals with ASD. Particularly insightful is this chapter’s discussion of image norms, developed during an individual’s initial growth stage. The authors explain that image norms are organized around three types:
1) the association of specific occupations with certain identities
2) the association of specific images with certain companies or organizations
3) the construction of self-image in relation to work.
This chapter clarifies how and why individuals with ASD may feel excluded from workplace settings and demonstrates the need for direct interventions in the students’ education around career norms and expectations. As Hurley-Hanson et al. demonstrate, it is vital that children with ASD “see people like them in the jobs and occupations that they encounter in their daily lives” (p. 72) across literature and other media so that their image norms associate individuals with ASD in such careers.
Chapter 4 is also helpful to professionals across business settings, as image norms are discussed in relation to employee recruitment. Hurley-Hanson et al. explain that recruiters and employers must be educated in inclusive hiring practices, as they may hold negative image norms related to ASD applicants. Likewise, the authors explain that organizations should include disabled individuals like those with ASD across public-facing materials like websites and company brochures to help young people with ASD envision themselves as future employees in such organizations. In addition, Hurley-Hanson et al. note that it is vital that ASD employees be given promotion and leadership opportunities to demonstrate growth potential for new and prospective employees with ASD. Such insights demonstrate the impact that educational and workplace decisions may have in the development of ASD employees’ self-concept. However, it is important for readers to note that the developmental theories used across this text are founded in assumptions of able bodies and minds and may not account for the complexly embodied experience of ASD.
In addition, professional practitioners will find Chapters 8-11 to be helpful, as they offer insight into tactics and benefits of hiring and supporting ASD employees. Specifically, Chapter 9 provides readers with program models for hiring and supporting individuals with ASD. It also includes examples of businesses that have successfully used such models. Complementing this discussion, Chapter 11 provides a workable framework for hiring individuals with ASD, arranged in seven steps:
- appraising the situation in one’s workplace and setting goals for hiring individuals with ASD
- completing an evaluation of the company’s strengths and weaknesses
- networking with other corporations to identify potential state and federal resources
- creating a plan with specific goals for hiring employees with ASD
- incorporating modified recruitment, interview, and training practices to hire and support employees with ASD
- monitoring such initiatives in an ongoing way to identify areas for future development
- engaging in continuous improvement
Such recommendations demonstrate that successfully hiring and supporting individuals with ASD involves an ongoing process of reflective evaluation.
Other chapters in the text cover a range of additional topics, such as the stigma associated with ASD; the financial, personal, and economic costs of ASD; an overview of in-demand labor market skills to support hiring individuals with ASD; employers’ perspectives on hiring individuals with ASD; and leadership styles in relation to ASD. Holistically, this text argues that hiring individuals with ASD will improve their quality of life by promoting in them a more secure sense of identity and financial independence. It likewise notes that such hiring initiatives will improve organizations’ public reputations, ensure corporate compliance with legal standards, and offer companies financial incentives like federal and state tax breaks. The text ultimately points to societal benefits in hiring ASD employees, noting that this will increase economic revenue, lower welfare demands, and allow individuals with ASD to share their unique knowledge across workplace contexts.
While Hurley-Hanson et al. offer interesting insights regarding the inclusion of ASD in the workplace, the text could be developed through consideration for Disability Studies scholarship, particularly in relation to technical, professional, and business communication. Specifically, in conflict with the social model of disability studies, which frames disability as an embodied phenomenon heavily influenced by social and architectural barriers, this text is heavily grounded in a medical model of disability, by framing ASD as a condition that must be mediated and overcome (Melonçon, 2013) through programmatic interventions and support. The absence of Disability Studies content in this text results in discussions of ASD that, at times, yield problematic and potentially ableist understandings of disability. Specifically, in discussing workplace interventions and programs aimed at aligning ASD individuals with existing structures, there is limited consideration for how those structures might be universally redesigned to consider as many bodyminds as possible at the forefront of design (Walters, 2010; Hitt, 2018). For example, although Chapter 9 offers helpful models for accommodating employees who disclose ASD, such as flexible interview practices. I wondered why such insights might not motivate greater, environmental change for all employees who may have similar, undisclosed needs. As Jason Palmeri (2006) argues, to promote equitable workplace inclusion, disabled bodyminds should inspire “transformative insight into design practice for all” (p. 50).
The text also is heavily grounded in capitalist values of productivity, demonstrated most directly through continuous references to the “costs” of ASD. As this text exemplifies, when motivated by goals of productivity, corporations frequently confuse disability inclusion for normative assimilation (Bennett & Hannah, 2021). This is seen across the text, with companies frequently credited for their altruism in helping ASD employees successfully align with workplace norms. Such assimilative goals equate inclusion with disability’s erasure. It is thus unsurprising that the perspectives of ASD employees are entirely absent from the text. This text reflects a larger issue with many of the disability-inclusion programs cited within it: all could greatly benefit from prioritizing disabled perspectives and leadership in revising normative workplace structures and practices. As Shannon Walters (2011) explains, “people with autism have important insights to share about communication, as they straddle neurotypical and autistic discourses” (n.p.). Disabled individuals, such as those with ASD, have the capacity to transform workplace norms and practices so that they may support a more diverse range of bodies and minds.
Autism in the Workplace is therefore helpful to business and educational practitioners in thinking through practical strategies for including ASD employees across diverse workplace contexts. However, I recommend that readers complement the use of this text with the work of technical, professional, and business communication scholars that engages with Disability Studies (Walters, 2011; Melonçon, 2013; Colton & Walton, 2015; Hitt, 2018; Smyser-Fauble, 2018; Moeller, 2018; Wheeler, 2018; Konrad, 2018; Bennett & Hannah, 2021). As Kristin C. Bennett and Mark A. Hannah (2021) explain, more nuanced workplace articulations attuned to disability’s relational and intersectional complexities require a fusion of multiple disciplines, such as Disability Studies, Technical and Professional Communication, and Legal Studies. Ultimately, Autism in the Workplace reflects the need for future research in business and professional communication that includes disabled individuals as participatory designers of business practices and spaces. If our research aims to foster access for disabled employees, we must “recogniz[e] as sources and collaborators the very people whom we too often and too quickly think of as mere research subjects” (Yergeau, 2018, p. 206). This text thus offers generative considerations for future research in Technical and Professional Communication and Disability Studies.
Bennett, K.C. & Hannah, M.A. (2021). Generative fusions: Integrating technical and professional communication, disability studies, and legal studies in the work of disability inclusion and access. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 64(3), 235-249. DOI: 10.1109/TPC.2021.3090597
Colton, J. S., & Walton. R. (2015). Disability as insight into social justice pedagogy in technical communication. The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy. http://jitp.commons.gc.cuny.edu/2015/12/17/
Hitt. A. (2018). Foregrounding accessibility through (inclusive) universal design in professional
communication curricula. Business and Professional Communication Quarterly, 8(1),
52-65. DOI: 10.1177/23299490617739884.
Konrad, A. (2018). Reimagining work: Normative commonplaces and their effects on
accessibility in workplaces. Business and Professional Communication Quarterly, 81(1), 123-141. DOI: 10.1177/232949061772577
Melonçon, L. (2013). Introduction. In L. Melonçon (Ed.), Rhetorical accessibility: At the
intersection of technical communication and disability studies (pp. 1-14). Baywood
Publishing Company, Inc.
Moeller, M. (2014). Pushing boundaries of normalcy: Employing critical disability studies in analyzing medical advocacy websites. Communication Design Quarterly, 2 (4), 52-80. https://doi.org/10.1145/2721874.2721877
Palmeri, J. (2006). Disability studies, cultural analysis, and the critical practice of technical communication pedagogy. Technical Communication Quarterly, 15(1), 49-65. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15427625tcq1501_5
Smyser-Fauble, B. (2018). The university required accommodations statement: What
‘accommodation’ teaches technical communication students and educators. In A. M.
Haas & M.F. Eble (Eds.), Key theoretical frameworks: Teaching technical
communication in the twenty-first century. (pp. 68-92). Utah State University Press.
Wheeler, S. (2018). Harry Potter and the first order of business: Using simulation to teach social
justice and disability ethics in business communication. Business and Professional Communication Quarterly, 81(1), 85-99. DOI: 10.1177/2329490617748691
Yergeau, R. (2018). Authoring Autism: On Rhetoric and Neurological Queerness. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
This review was published as part of Disability Studies Quarterly, Spring/Summer 2022.
Beginning with Volume 36, Issue No. 4 (2016), Disability Studies Quarterly is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license unless otherwise indicated.
Disability Studies Quarterly is published by The Ohio State University Libraries in partnership with the Society for Disability Studies.