Local community leaders recently heard from renowned autism advocate Temple Grandin on employing people with disabilities and workplace inclusion.
Developmental Pathways serves individuals with disabilities or developmental delays in Arapahoe County, Douglas County and the City of Aurora. That's an area with approximately 1 million people, said interim CEO Matt Vanauken.
On Sept. 9, the organization invited leaders from local government, the K-12 school system, higher education, hospitals and the business community to a roundtable discussion with Grandin.
Grandin is a Fort Collins resident and Colorado State University professor known for her work in animal welfare and autism advocacy. Diagnosed with autism as a child, Grandin has authored numerous books and gives lectures offering a firsthand account of living with autism.
She largely spoke Sept. 9 on workforce needs and employing people with disabilities.
Grandin bemoans the loss of trade skills and jobs in the United States. She says children aren't being taught hands-on activities like they once were. She gave examples as simple as a child learning to make a paper snowflake up to the decline of shop programs in schools.
“It's a lot harder to train them as grownups,” she said.
She believes it's a problem in a world where technology is replacing some jobs but not all. Computers will never suffice in lieu of plumbers, welders, electricians and mechanics, she said, calling those high-end trades.
“Don't stick your nose up at it,” she said of trade skills.
Grandin also discussed what job opportunities should exist for people with disabilities.
There are positions, like making copies in an office, that are great training jobs, Grandin said, and for some people bagging groceries is appropriate. But others are well-suited to work in Silicon Valley or as a professor like herself.
“I want people in jobs they're going to like,” she said.
People with autism are often highly skilled in one area but struggle in another. Grandin is a visual thinker who thinks through images. She struggled as a student and in subjects like algebra.
But her visual thinking helped her to revolutionize the design of cattle handling facilities. Roughly half of America's cattle are in systems Grandin designed, according to her website.
Her work in animal science and the cattle industry was featured in the HBO film “Temple Grandin,” which won seven Emmy's and a Golden Globe.
Grandin urges businesses to employ all sorts of thinkers — visual, mathematical and verbal. They each bring a different skillset and expertise to the workforce.
She uses phones as an example. Apple can't make an iPhone without the artists who design the interface to be user-friendly and the engineers that actually make the device function, she said.
Grandin said it's important for people with disabilities to be stretched — to learn to work outside the family and home.
Kim Tenure, a policy education and advocacy manager for Developmental Pathways, said the organization would like to see more inclusion in the workplace for people with disabilities. The organization can help employers find resources to help them make their workplace open to people with disabilities.
People with disabilities are less likely to be employed than those that do not have a disability, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The proportion of people with a disability who were also employed was approximately 19% in 2018, compared to 66% for people without a disability.
She said the trade skills Grandin spoke of can also be opportunities to hire people with disabilities.
“We talk all the time about these jobs that we can't fill,” she said. “What do you really need in this job? Is it something that could be taught to a person with a disability?”
Mostly, Tenure said the organization wants competitive employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
“You learn and you grow with every job you have," Tenure said. "People with disabilities are the same."
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