Bonum Certa Men Certa

Microsoft Grossly Exaggerates the Value of its Hiring Program for People with Autism, by Yuval Levental

Starting in 2015, Microsoft has announced a hiring program for Autistic individuals. Mary Ellen Smith, the Vice President of Worldwide Operations at Microsoft, portrayed autism as an advantage by talking at a United Nations event where the theme was “Autism, The Employment Advantage.” The announcement later talked about how "diversity" is all-important and that people with autism all bring strengths to Microsoft, writing that "some have amazing ability to retain information, think at a level of detail and depth or excel in math or code." (Source: http://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/2015/04/03/microsoft-announces-pilot-program-to-hire-people-with-autism/)



It is true that some autistics do have significant talents in those areas, but contrary to the media myth of the socially inept computer programmer (Source: http://www.washington.edu/news/2015/02/11/how-to-interest-girls-in-computer-science-and-engineering-shift-the-stereotypes/), the vast majority of autistics are unemployed or need structured employment.

Autistics that do have those talents are usually very close to functioning normally already. Interestingly enough, a follow-up article by Microsoft about the program cites an unemployment rate of 80% for autistics. It is very unlikely that special hiring programs can help most of those autistics (Source: https://news.microsoft.com/stories/people/kyle-schwaneke.html).

Additionally, from what is understood, the only legitimate difference is the hiring process. The demands of the jobs that the autistics are looking for are the same as most equivalent jobs (Source: https://news.microsoft.com/stories/people/kyle-schwaneke.html). Even for some autistics that do have talents in mathematical calculations or can "engage in an endless acquisition of facts", they need to be flexible and to be productive to work in technical fields, abilities which most autistic individuals lack, according to Fred Volkmar, an psychiatrist at Yale and an expert on Autism (Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/10/09/health/cases-a-disorder-far-beyond-eccentricity.html).

Out of 700 resumes submitted to this program application, only 10 applicants were accepted. This hiring process -- not an employment program -- can only help a very small percentage of autistic people, but Microsoft tries to portray it as a norm, talking about hidden talents and "breaking down the stereotypes" (which still apply most of the time unfortunately) and referencing the hiring company Specialisterne which claims without much evidence "many people with autism... could not only hold down a full-time job, but use their particular talents as a competitive advantage." (Source: https://news.microsoft.com/stories/people/kyle-schwaneke.html)

While this program will help some people with autism, it is more a way for Microsoft to gain attention for glorifying autism as being an advantage than to find a genuine way to resolve the problems of most autistic individuals.

Update to the Microsoft Autism Hiring Program:

Microsoft profiled an autistic individual named Kyle Schwaneke where they claimed that he had performed better than a regular programmer in helping port Cortana, Microsoft's voice assistant, to the Xbox. At least on Reddit, however, many users seem to be really frustrated with Cortana for Xbox, so maybe autism wasn't an advantage in this case like Microsoft claimed.

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