Marking World Day, UN calls on businesses to commit to employing people with autism

Photo: CARE/David Rochkind, Design: Kim Conger
CARE/David Rochkind, Design: Kim Conger
Photo: CARE/David Rochkind, Design: Kim Conger

Marking World Day, UN calls on businesses to commit to employing people with autism

On World Autism Awareness Day, the United Nations is spotlighting the unique skills of people with autism and the need to recognize their talents through an initiative inviting businesses to make concrete commitments to employ people on the autism spectrum.

“People with autism have enormous potential. Most have remarkable visual, artistic or academic skills. Thanks to the use of assistive technologies, non-verbal persons with autism can communicate and share their hidden capabilities,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a statement on the Day.

“Yet even where autism awareness is most advanced, more than 80 per cent of adults with autism are unemployed. That is why it is so important for employers to understand their unique and often exceptional skills, and to enable work environments where they can excel,” he added.

At a Headquarters event today, Mr. Ban will launch a 'Call to Action' initiative to urge employers to create work zones where people with autism can excel, as most have remarkable visual, artistic or academic skills.

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that manifests itself during the first three years of life. It results from a neurological disorder that affects the functioning of the brain, mostly affecting children and adults in many countries irrespective of gender, race or socio-economic status. It is characterized by impairments in social interaction, problems with verbal and non-verbal communication and restricted, repetitive behaviour, interests and activities.

And recent data suggests that employers are missing out on the abilities of people on the autism spectrum which they have in greater abundance than 'neurotypical' workers do – such as, heightened abilities in pattern recognition and logical reasoning, as well as a greater attention to detail. But hurdles to employment for those with autism include a shortage of vocational training, inadequate support with job placement, and pervasive discrimination.

World Autism Awareness Day – marked globally on 2 April – aims to foster greater understanding and empower parents into seeking early intervention therapies. It also invites policy-makers to encourage schools to open their doors to students with autism.

“We encourage public offices, corporations, and small businesses to have a closer look at the way they perceive people with autism, to take the time to learn about the condition and to create life-changing opportunities,” the UN chief said.

This important mission can only be achieved with appropriate vocational training and adequate support alongside a recruitment process that can allow people to successfully integrate into workforces around the world, Mr. Ban continued.

The UN General Assembly unanimously declared 2 April World Autism Awareness Day to highlight the need to help improve the quality of life of children and adults, who are affected by autism, so they can lead full and meaningful lives.

In that text, the Assembly called for training for public administrators, service providers, care-givers, families and non-professionals to support the integration of persons with autism into society, so that they can realize their full potential.

Today's event, which will focus on measures required to support growth in employment opportunities for people on the autism spectrum, will feature opening remarks by Mr. Ban as well as the Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information (DPI), Cristina Gallach. Joining them in the day-long discussion are members of academia, finance, small businesses as well as country representatives to the United Nations.