With more than 55 years of disability employment experience, one of the most common questions we at Melwood get asked is, “Is there really a business case for embracing neurodiversity and hiring people with disabilities?” and the answer is an unequivocal YES!
So, what is “neurodiversity”? Neurodiversity is a concept where neurological differences are to be recognized and respected as any other human variation. These differences can include those labeled with Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, ADHD, Dyscalculia, Autism, Tourette’s Syndrome, and others. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 61 million adults in the United States live with a disability, and 1 in 54 children is diagnosed with autism each year. In the next 10 years, 500,000 young people on the autism spectrum will enter the job market and, according to the Autism Institute, two-thirds of young people with autism are unemployed.
We are talking about a large population full of talent and unique strengths that unfortunately remains largely untapped. In fact, it’s only a handful of companies that are taking the lead in harnessing the power of this workforce. As part of the Autism at Work Roundtable, tech companies have created a playbook to help other companies expand their neurodiverse workforce where those business lines are a good fit for neurodiverse talent. As a result, these companies are finding benefits from these programs, including higher productivity, improved corporate communication, higher employee engagement, lower turnover, and higher employee morale.
According to the Harvard review, historically, companies have held the view that “it’s easier to fit people together if they are all perfect rectangles… But that requires employees to leave their differences at home – differences firms need in order to innovate.” That’s where Melwood comes in.
When unemployment was low, the war for talent was fierce. There were many IT and cyber jobs that companies could not fill. Norther Virginia has the second highest concentration of open entry-level tech jobs in the county. Melwood created an innovative program called abilIT which provides talented neurodiverse workers with IT training and personalized soft skills instruction. abilIT equips our graduates with the skills they need to build lifelong careers as competitive technology professionals and then connects them with employers in the area. The abilIT program harnesses the potential of people with disabilities and disabled veterans while helping companies find new ways to address the critical shortage of capable IT and office technology professionals.
We are excited to apply what we have learned developing abilIT to the region’s other in-demand careers such as construction trades and healthcare. We will continue to show the business community what we have known for over 55 years – that embracing neurodiversity isn’t just a good thing to do – it is a business imperative. We created the “Melwood Challenge” campaign to challenge businesses to think outside the box and see our workers as a workforce solution. At Melwood, we employ nearly 1,000 people with disabilities, and we can show you the way to improving your bottom line while helping to make the world a more inclusive place.