Labor Day, autism and unemployment

A Wall Street Journal article (subscription only) this summer, titled “Erasing ‘Un’ From ‘Unemployable’ “, opens with a story about Harrison Mullinax, an 18-year-old in Anderson, SC who has autism.

“Unlike most who are autistic,” the article reads, “he now has a real job.”

The article goes on to talk about efforts to enable those with disabilities to hold regular jobs.

I am one of those people.

I am blind. I use a talking computer to do this “regular” job. As far as I know, I am the only blind woman in America being paid to moderate a blog.

The simple fact that I am employed at all puts me in a minority. A story in the New Standard titled “Unemployment, Poverty Higher for People with Disabilities” says only 38 percent of nearly 21.5 million people with disabilities between the ages of 21 and 64, or what is determined as “working-age,” are employed in the United States. That figure compares to just over 78 percent of people without disabilities.

Monday is Labor Day, and I’m celebrating Easter Seals’ efforts to make “real jobs” a reality for people with autism and other disabilities. Easter Seals provides job development and employment services in many geographic regions.

And Easter Seals is not alone. Other organizations are working to erase the “un” from “unemployable” when it comes to people with autism and other disabilities. APSE (formerly the Association for Persons in Supported Employment) is another resource. APSE and the Autism Society of America recently partnered to present a conference focusing on the employment needs of people with autism.

Also worth noting: the U.S. Business Leadership Network’s 10th Annual Conference, “Building the New Workforce — Inclusion and Innovation” is set for September 23 to 26 in Orlando. The national event is intended for business, community leaders and Business Leadership Network chapters that have an interest in hiring, retention and marketing to people with disabilities.

Don’t get me wrong — I’ll enjoy my day off! But like many people with disabilities, I look forward to getting back to work, too.

Happy Labor Day!


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  1. Beth Finke, Blog Moderator Says:

    Just found out that ABC News and Good Morning America are asking viewers to send in stories of problems they’ve had with the US health care system. They’ll take email or video submissions, and some of the stories will air on those shows. Your story is so compelling, if you choose to share it I think ABC might air it. Whetehr or not it airs on TV, though, it’d be worth sending in just to show what an important and vital topic this is.

  2. Beth Finke Says:

    Not surprised to hear that a Long Island school would have such a great program, and that other Long Island Schools are copying your program. I was fortunate enough to be asked to teach a memoir-writing course to educators in Long Island last year – we met at a place called the OWL Center? — and the teachers and counselors I met were top-nothch.

  3. Bernice Toran Says:

    I am a vocational counselor in the Half Hollow Hills School District. My department consists of four counselors and a Transition
    Coordinator. We provide life skills training and job coaching to students with various disabilities up the age of 21. Our school program has been copied by several others in the Long Island area.

  4. Patricia Wright Says:

    Heather – great to hear about your work with transition aged youth with autism. The needs of this age group are significant. Your students will have a greater likelihood for future vocational success and their quality of life will likely be higher if they secure employment prior to the end of their public school entitlement services (typically at age 21). Your program and committment to employment will have a long-lasting effect on the students for whom you provide support.

    Easter Seals works in collaboration with many universities. I appreciate you taking the time to comment and share your contact information with Easter Seals and our many blog readers. You WILL be hearing from us!

  5. Heather E. Gragg Says:

    My name is Heather E. Gragg,and I am the Transition Classroom Teacher at the Auburn University Autism Center. We work with Clients aged 17 to 21 with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, and our main objective for our Client is employment. Please let me know if you would be interested in further information about our services or if I can assist you in any way.

    Thank you.
    Heather E. Gragg

  6. Anne Linds Says:

    Disabled people who are mentally and/or medically affected hardly dare to work for fear of losing their disability benefits. There are many levels of disabled. For instance, being blind does not affect mental functioning or medical wellness. A blind person can many things other typically functional seeing person can do if he/she has the necessary adaptations. Someone who has a disability requiring regular support services would be ill-advised to do anything that would interfere with their government benefits.

    Let’s visit the fairy land in which a disabled person actually finds a job that pays enough to have a roof over their heads, food on the table, clothes on their back and at least the minimum of insurance coverage that will actually offer affordable coverage for medications/services related to their disability. The chance of that happening is worse than winning a major lottery, but for example sake let’s play pretend. That would be absolutely fantasic! They would lose their disability benefits, but they wouldn’t need them because this fantasy job is a job that pays an actual living wage, provides benefits that service their disability, etc…

    Then, they lose this dream job. After all, there are NO job guarantees. They’ve lost their government disability. The process to reapply for benefits is intrusive, tedious and time consuming. By the time they requalify for them, they’ve been missing their daily meds because they couldn’t afford them, they are homeless because they fell behind in their rent, they can’t move back in with their family because their family is broke (divorce, financially, emotionally from all the years of paying for meds/services for their child because they just lived outside the income/asset lines drawn for them by the government to receive benefits for their child), their living assistant no longer visits because they were only a friend as long as they were paid, their service personnel are also absent from lack of payment…and so it continues.

    Plainly, it’s not worth it for a mentally/medically affected disabled person to work. We would not advise it nor are we going to encourage it for our own two disabled sons. We’re hanging on, barely. Once they reach 18 and we are no longer considered in the benefits process, they will finally begin receiving adequate constant support services. Which they will lose if they accumulate anything above the government asset/income guidelines. They can work. But only enough to stay below the income range of losing their benefits.

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