Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Jobs for the Disabled

Via Slashdot, it has been announced that Wrigley, the gum company, has had new success in getting software testers, because the person they hired was autistic. Autism is a brain disorder that cripples the social abilities of people, although some variants allow a person greater intelligence in other areas, such as math. Essentially, the social part of their brain is replaced with an additional math part.
I'm interested because autism is normally seen as a massive disability when it comes to job seeking. After all, autistic people will almost assuredly botch the social things you expect your employees to do, like look you in the eye, properly greet guests and customers, and hang out at the company social gathering. That said, the article proclaims that the increased math and computers proficiency allows them to do tasks that others would find maddening, like poking at a computer for 12 hours at a time to fully investigate that one problem, and report back in writing.
This made me curious about tasks that other disabled people could do. After all, the disabled in all manner have a significantly higher unemployment rate, and the mentally disabled far more so.
Take the intellectually disabled. Most jobs go right over their heads. But a simple, repetitive, and constant job, like food service, is rewarding and challenging to them, while normal people would be bored out of their skulls and suffer morale problems. And some jobs are boring, repetitive, ongoing, and need to be done.
Or paranoid people, who obsess about a shadowy conspiracy to thwart their every move. Properly trained, they would make excellent security consultants. Just tell them that "they" are out to steal the company secrets to use against them, and have them obsess about a way to prevent that. Suddenly, someone who would otherwise be an annoying obsessive idiot is now a useful employee. (Naive paranoid people would be less useful, because their ideas would likely be wrong, like one guy who sought to prevent poison gas attacks by spreading mayonnaise across the ceiling.)
It's depression, the most common mental disorder to afflict Americans, that poses the most challenge. People who suffer from depression feel tired, listless, and self-critical. Studies have suggested cognitive benefit from this, mostly an increase in analytical ability. A ruminative person that can solve complex problems if left alone. Given a private office, maybe they can surmount that problem that has plagued your company since the beginning.
Schizophrenia is also challenging to work with, because it negatively affects speech, cognition, and almost every aspect employers desire in an employee, but it's good for helping people be creative.
Employees may which to start and stop treatment for the most beneficial effects. It is said that a drummer in a Jazz band who suffers from Tourette's syndrome will stop his treatment before performing, because those twitchy little movements that the disorder gives him helps him better perform a jazzy rhythm. Hollywood depicts Tourette's syndrome as some kind of involuntary potty-mouth disorder, but swearing is only one of many possible compulsions, and not all that common. More likely are having to do strange gestures, grimace, or make odd noises with one's throat. One possible tic is to swear, since swearing is controlled by a different part of the brain than usual speech, and another possible tic is to "do something wildly inappropriate to the situation," but the vast majority of tics are just gestures, facial expressions, or odd noises.
Psychologists may also suggest other systems to help people with other disorders.

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