According to The Annual Disability Statistics Compendium: 2012, there are in excess of 8 million adults (ages 18 – 64) with cognitive disabilities (CDs) in the United States. An individual is considered as cognitively disabled if they answered ‘yes’ , when asked “if due to a physical, mental, or emotional condition, they had ‘serious difficulty remembering , or making decisions’. Of this number, approximately 1.8 million are employed, an unemployment rate of 77%.
Advances in neuroscience research is progressing at an astounding pace to unravel the causation and effects of many CDs. Increasing ability at diagnostics is revealing the higher incidence of many of these conditions, such as Aspergers Syndrome, that were not well-known a decade ago. The dichotomy is that many of these individuals, (as well as those with High Functioning Autism, or, HFA) possess technical skills that are in-demand, at a time when projections indicate a growing gap between the supply / demand of those skills. Many individuals with Aspergers posses unique abilities at testing computer software, a task that requires near obsessive attention to detail and an ability to focus. National Public Radio recently featured examples of individuals once considered mentally impaired in many circles, in possession of unique highly-sought professional skills.
In parallel, studies around Science Technology Engineering Mathematics, (aka, STEM) predict insufficient numbers of professionals with skills in STEM-related fields of study and industries. What is more compelling than developing these much-needed skills, critical to maintain technological competitiveness, from within a group of individuals considered ‘disabled’?
The employment of individuals with disabilities has acheived recognition as a priority including a Presidential, Executive Order 13548 — Increasing Federal Employment of Individuals with Disabilities. Reliance on the federal government is not sufficient, and there are examples appearing from individuals and companies with foresight. A great example is Chicago-area firm Aspiritech, on the leading edge of providing individuals with these skills to well-known technology firms.
We need to re-think our own individual bias and misperceptions around a word; i.e., ‘disability’. With unrelenting progress and discovery in ]science of the mind’, what other characteristics will appear in individuals that we now label and stereotype? It begins with changing our perceptions; perceptions that use words like ‘different’ and ‘disabled’ to shroud individual gifts that many have to give, but are not given the chance…….