As originally reported on the autism jabberwocky blog, The Los Angeles software company, Square One, is in the process of trying to help three different autistic people find employment as software testers. They have a pilot program in which these three people will be trained.
This has been reported in a business week article.
The article starts out with the annoying stereotype of all autistic people having intellectual superpowers and having savant skills and memorizing train tables and having Jerry Newport type calendar skills where they can tell you the day of the week you were born on.
Square One's efforts, however, are not unprecedented. The Danish company Specialisterne has also trained autistic people to be software testers. Another company in Chicago, Aspiritech, has employed persons with autism to test smartphone applications.
The difference lies in the fact that in socialist Denmark, which enjoys high revenue from Northern sea oil drilling, the funds were provided for this company. It is improbable that the U.S. government would fund an upstart like this. Aspiritech is currently a nonprofit company.
Square one aspires to be the first company to make a profit from the labor of exclusively ASD software testers. Is anything wrong with this? After all, it's the American way we're told. This is what happens in a capitalistic society such as the U.S.A.
However, CEO Chad Hahn states:
A lot of software testing is done overseas by workers in India. The case Hahn makes is that his software testers will work for $15 to $20 an hour—pay comparable to, or even lower than, that of software testers in India, but right here in the U.S. After all, he points out, people with autism don’t have a lot of alternatives—when they do find work, it’s usually bagging groceries or sweeping hospital floors at the minimum wage.
When Hahn was asked if he sees this as exploitive the article states:
he doesn’t see it that way. For one thing, he says, Indian software testers aren’t exactly sweatshop labor; they make about $25 an hour. And if paying less makes the company able to hire the developmentally disabled in the first place, he doesn’t see a problem with it.
“I haven’t had one parent of an autistic child come to me and say this isn’t going to work,” he says. “They say, ‘This is a way for my child to make more money than they would have made otherwise, and allow them to be more independent.’ They worry, what is my child going to do when I’m gone? And this is kind of a way out.”
The comparison between Indian software testers and American autistics who do the same thing is moot. The standard of living in India is lower than in the U.S. The Indian making $25/hour can probably live like the $75-100/hour American.
It's these kind of bigoted stereotypes and attitudes that it's okay to exploit people that help make things worse for those of us on the spectrum.
As a person on the spectrum with no intellectual superpowers or savant skills, I find the stereotypes from the article offensive.
The article stated that Hahn's wife does some sort of work with developmentally disabled people. Are the Hahns doing this out of the goodness of their hearts, or do they see some easy way to make money off the backs of those less fortunate than themselves?
I wonder how much they understand about the problems of the developmentally disabled in the workplace. Are non-handicapped employees going to put up with bad behavior and social skills. Or maybe this is a test of Ari Ne'eman's theory that social skills in the workplace don't matter.
Time will tell if this plan pans out for Square One.