Employment for Autistics in Ontario: The Need for Private and Public Sector Collaboration

by Anne Borden

A4A recently had an info table at Toronto’s annual SpectrumWorks job fair. The job fair brings hundreds of autistics together with companies to interview for jobs such as banking, service, IT, admin and others. Neil and Xavier, the organizers, are committed to creating a better environment for autistics to find, enjoy and retain work in our province. It was really cool of them to reach out to #actuallyautistics such as our organization!

We met lots of autistics and talked about the job search process, workplace rights and other issues. We also did some education to the broader community. We were glad that the event organizers asked us for input to make next year’s interview processes and event space more autistic-friendly. It feels like we are on the cusp of an important breakthrough on the issue of unemployment in our community. The fact we were invited is a big step in self-representation and it is encouraging to see the private sector recognizing the strengths of autistic workers and actively recruiting.

But….

Efforts to train, educate and recruit employees in Ontario seem to be coming almost entirely from the private sector. Where is the Ontario government? Our rights in the workplace are protected by Ontario law (under the umbrella of disability), but how can we even exercise these rights if we’re not able to find employment? The Province is shutting down all sheltered workshops by 2019 –an essential step in human rights–but where are the proactive programs for autistic and/or disabled who are seeking employment?

There is great work being done by the private sector and some not-for-profits, but that’s not enough. Our provincial government needs to partner up on these initiatives, identify the scope of the challenges and come up with solutions. Most importantly, it needs to shelve its terribly misguided Ontario Autism Program.

Over the next few months, we will be doing an employment study of autistics in Ontario, both to assess needs and to get feedback and ideas from autistics across the province. This has never been done before and it is needed.

We will also be looking into sharing resources on autistic mentorship and networking activities around employment and workplace issues.

If you would like to be involved in this project, please Contact us. We will be updating our social media and blog as the project develops further.