Turning disabilities into abilities

As someone interested in usability testing for disabled users I’m always on the lookout for information about the general characteristics of different types of disability be it physical or cognitive. However this usually means a list of limitations. So it’s refreshing when I hear the championing of disabled people’s capabilities every now and again.

This morning I read about Specialisterne (The Specialists), a Danish company that employs people on the Autism spectrum precisely because of their unique and valuable competences. Specialisterne specialises in software testing, quality control and information databases. The work is highly repetitive, number-based and prone to drop off in accuracy.

For people on the Autism spectrum who have an aptitude for attention to detail, a phenomenal memory capacity, untiring focus and excellence with numbers, this is perfect work. And it cuts both ways: “This is not cheap labour and it’s not occupational therapy. We simply do a better job.” (Independent.co.uk, 31 May 2009)

What I like about this story is how it dispels the ‘Rainman’ view of Autism and related conditions like Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and ADHD. Not every person on the Autistic spectrum is a genius and this is something I hear often in the groups I attend. At a recent meeting of DANDA a girl with ADHD told me:

they keep telling us about these geniuses like Branson, Mozart, and Einstein, to give us hope and motivate us but I’m not a genius, I’m just trying to get on with life and every day is really difficult.

A company like Specialisterne gives gainful employment to talented people living their daily lives under the weight of depression and lack of confidence as well as their condition. Let’s hope that the Autism Billcurrently making its way through Parliament succeeds not only in encouraging British employers to do the same but in a general comfortable acceptance of the differences between us all.

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