A recent job fair for adults with autism drew about 350 attendees to the State Services for the Blind office in St. Paul. The fair was meant to facilitate the job hunt — something that can be hard for autistic workers.
It was a lot like any other job fair: employers gave out business cards, snacks and branded pens; attendees could learn about work opportunities and pass on resumes. But this fair had several accessibility measures built in. Attendees could head to quiet break rooms, grab free snacks and use fidgets piled on tables. Staff were on hand to review resumes and help people talk to potential employers.
Ashrum Henson was one of the attendees. He said he appreciated the chance to meet employers and get resume help.
“I think it’s really nice that they set this up,” Henson said. “This gives us a better opportunity for [employers] to meet us on a more personal level and I feel like that’s gonna help people actually go out and get jobs.”
Sheletta Brundidge organized the fair. She’s the founder of the media company Sheletta Makes Me Laugh, and she has three autistic children. She got the idea for the fair when she started hearing about National Disability Employment Awareness Month, which happens in October. The month is meant to bring attention to unemployment among disabled people.
In Minnesota, 9.8 percent of adults with disabilities are unemployed, compared to 3.7 percent of adults without disabilities. Finding a job can be challenging for adults with autism — children with autism have resources in school, but adults are often left to figure it out on their own.
Brundidge said she saw a lot of notices recognizing the month, but not many events or actions.
“Everybody’s doing these proclamations [about] disability employment awareness month — that proclamation is not going to help these people find a job,” Brundidge said. “Work is going to happen when we take community leaders and community members and businesses and come together to make it happen.”
Several employers with a wide range of open positions came to the job fair, including HyVee, Metro Transit, Andersen Windows and Doors and Bremer Bank. Brundidge said she trained all the employers before the fair started.
She wanted them to understand that some people they meet might not want to shake hands or make eye contact and might need to step out of the room — all things that can be hard in a typical interview.
(Source: Minnesota Public Radio)