Opportunities for disabled at Microsoft
The number of disabled people in white-collar jobs is also growing. Microsoft long has hired people with autism for software developer and data scientist positions as part of its normal recruitment. But the company realized many qualified candidates were screened out during phone interviews, says Neil Barnett, Microsoft’s director of inclusive hiring. Skilled computer programmers are coveted, with Microsoft perennially struggling to fill hundreds of openings.
So the software giant overhauled its selection process for autistic candidates, stretching a typical one-day interview and testing regimen to 4½ days. Candidates are interviewed, but the conversations are spaced out and emphasis is on tasks that show how well they help co-workers and take leadership roles.
Hiring managers are told to downplay such things as whether an applicant makes eye contact. And if he or she simply answers a question with a “yes,” or “no,” the manager is instructed to follow up.
“We’re finding tremendous talent,” Barnett says. “We feel we have the types of roles that would be a good fit.” People with autism tend to pay more attention to detail and are quick to spot patterns, he says.
Joey Chemis, 30, a Microsoft data scientist who previously worked minimum-wage jobs despite degrees in applied math and statistics, says prior hiring managers "found me a little intense." Microsoft "let us spend time on campus getting acclimated."
PricewaterhouseCoopers, the big accounting and consulting firm, has learned that workers with autism focus intently on repetitive duties required in positions such as tax managers, says Brad Hopton, who oversees the firm’s disability inclusion programs.
Special solutions for special needs
Some companies have been hesitant to hire disabled workers because of concerns about safety and liability, says Glazer and Janet Bruckshen, head of Washington Vocational Services, which places and trains disabled workers. Remedies are widely available. Smartphones with voice recognition help deaf grocery store workers talk to customers. Standing desks aid workers with attention-deficit disorder who find it hard to sit for long periods.
Robert Holder, 31, who has multiple sclerosis and recently got a part-time job at the welcome desk of a YMCA in Mauldin, Mass., has asked for a phone headset and a special keyboard. “You feel like you’re getting back to society,” says Holder, 31, who had searched eight months for work.
Some businesses are going further, modifying job requirements. Shannon Goodall, 31, of Edmonds, Wash., hunted fruitlessly for a job for five years. She has a learning disability that makes multitasking and interacting with customers difficult. But Papa Murphy’s, which makes pizza and other food to cook at home, hired Goodall about a year ago, allowing her to prepare food while shifting her customer-service duties to co-workers.
“I was looking for a job that wasn’t secluded,” says Goodall, adding that she was isolated from customers and co-workers in previous positions.