As regular readers of this blog know, I've been unemployed for about five and a half years. I had to leave the workplace because my autistic disability made it so difficult. Therefore, I was intrigued to read some interesting ideas of John Robison's on how to solve or at least mitigate this problem.
Robinson proposes giving employers tax credits for hiring persons with disabilities. I'm not sure if this is just ASD's or all disabilities. He calls this a work disability credit. It entails giving employers between a 30 to 60% tax credit for hiring a disabled person depending on how extensively the person is disabled. Interestingly, he ties this in with Social Security Disability stating that the person unable to work and on SSDI could be evaluated for this program and be eligible for the work disability credit instead.
I see a number of problems with this. Robison, unlike myself, has never had to apply for disability. I doubt very much he has any understanding of what the process entails. What would be the eligibility criteria for evaluating people for this program? Would it be identical to SSDI evaluations? If the answer is yes, then merely having a legitimate diagnosis of autism or Asperger's wouldn't qualify people for these tax credits. They would have to prove they were incapable of performing any type of "substantial and gainful" employment, meaning a job that pays like about $1000 a month or more.
Proving one can't perform substantial and gainful employment is no easy task. At the time I applied for disability I had worked with the limitations albeit with great difficulties, so I didn't have a terribly good case and after a four and a half year fight, I was unable to collect. I was also told that if I couldn't be a medical transcriptionist, that I could perform work as a janitor or a washing machine loader in a dry cleaners by the person who testified against me for the government at my administrative law hearing. I know this is not the case, but I have no way of proving it in an administrative hearing or any other type of court of law.
In the case of other persons, the government does turn down probably close to 70% of people who apply for Disability. If you want to continue the fight, you have to retain a lawyer who, if they successfully get you the Disability money, keeps 25% of what you would have gotten retroactively.
My lawyer would not take my case to federal district court as he felt I had little chance of winning. Another law firm also declined to take my case and I gave up. Not long after that, I found out my lawyer had another autistic client whose case he lost in district court. One friend on the spectrum applied for it when he had never worked and was denied. Another person with autism I know was able to get it but it took her and her mother seven years of litigation. They had to give their attorney 25% retroactively. So, there is no guarantee the person would be able to get the credit, in fact the odds would be stacked against them. Also, how would the prospective employer feel about sharing the employment credit with an attorney?
So basically what Robison is proposing is another system in which tax dollars are used for litigation and people have to be frustrated in having to duke it out in the courts with the government whether or not they'd be eligible for this tax credit. Also, since Robison's plan does not involve a flat percentage but rather a sliding scale, a fight could take place for someone rated at 30% who feels the only way they can get a job is to be rated at 60%. So with all the years that SSDI litigation goes on would be exacerbated with Robison's plan.
Also, would the employer want this tax credit if the autistic person's behavior were too appalling (at least from their point of view) to employ them?
What does this do about the problem that most persons on the spectrum would not have the ability to receive the training to do skilled work? How would they be more marketable if the only jobs they could get were menial ones?
Robison claims this would prevent employers from sending the jobs overseas to let's say India where labor costs are substantially cheaper But he presents no cost-benefit analysis to show this might be the case.
Another issue I have with Robison's plan is he claims that this would help the self-esteem of those on the spectrum (or possibly other disabilities). I don't believe this would be the case. I don't understand what the difference is between someone having to collect disability and work when they have to take a way back door entrance. Also, the stigma and resentment among fellow non-handicaped employees that those on the spectrum would receive because they are being subsidized. I can certainly speak for myself if no one else on the spectrum. This plan, if this were the only way I could be employed, would certainly not raise my self-esteem.
This is also assuming Robison's proposal could get through congress. This is iffy as the deficit is already incredibly large due to all the wars and other things the federal goverment spends money on.
In summary, Robison's plan would jam the courts, raise taxes and/or increase the deficit, not address the issues of autistics lack of social and employment skills, and probably do nothing to raise at least a number of autistic person's self-esteem. Is this plan workable or feasible? I don't believe so.
Again, I want to emphasize there is no simple, quick fix solution to the employment problems of autistics without a cure or some sort of treatment which currently does not exist.