On Sunday January 8th, I went over to the Sojourner Auditorium at Virtual Ability Island. This weekend, Virtual Ability was hosting three discussions, called the “Waiting for the World to Change” series. On Saturday the 7th, Phelan Corrimal (Kevin Feenan in real life) had given a talk on “Workplace Accommodation Toolkits” to help with accommodating a workplace to be more accommodating to someone disabled. For Sunday, it was Hydra Shaftoe, noted in Second Life for having co-hosted the popular game show “The 1st Question.”
Gentle Heron turned the discussion over to Hydra, who spoke in voice and narrated for him for those whom couldn’t hear, “This is mostly my opinion. My disclaimer: I am not here to make us feel good. I won't say, ‘You are an inner superman.’ My perspective is as a manager. Money is what I am after. I say ‘ differently abled’ because it is more accurate than ‘ disabled. ’ Disabled means you can’t do something. Differently-abled means you can do some things.
“I have experience in my work life with autism. Autistics ... there are down sides to hiring them. But you get many benefits from hiring them. Autistics are laser focused. If you need someone to hang in and complete the project perfectly, you want an autistic. But you don't want to give them distractions or unpredictability. Don't bring them into annual performance reviews. That hurts productivity. You want to maintain productivity.”
“With an autistic employee, say a coder, think of a bathroom stall. 500 people sit there every day. The environment is minimally sensory. There are few distractions, no teamwork required. Put them in isolated environment and don't disrupt them. Let them work without interference. Autistic people mostly aren't team players. Put them where they can be uninterrupted. Give them individual projects. If you are developing an ap, you want to be sure languages are built in, and you are on a deadline. If you have 22 of 30 done, pass the project to the autistic person and let him finish the language pack and get it out in the form of a patch. They take pride in their work.”
“The whole purpose of this presentation is to show PWDs can be given meaningful jobs. I get pissed off about hiring quotas for PWDs. Autistic folks often get janitorial positions. You have to be able to manage these people so their capabilities are focused to aid the team's work. You need to coordinate these efforts. The autistic person may not form social bonds. They aren't going on smoke breaks, or water cooler chats. For many people, your management responsibility is to help them form teams. But autistic people can take breaks on their own. Give them an area of silence to allow them to refocus themselves. Chaos offsets autistics.”
“In Second Life development, Second Life tends to attract autistics. The structure is well ordered and sensory deprived. I'm not autistic, but I come here to focus. I prefer to hire autistics. This is a conducive environment. I am a proponent of large corporations of using a virtual environment to employ autistics. Especially social media. They can limit the channels of information input. In real-life, people come and talk to them. You can't push a button to ignore Louise while you finish with Jim. You have communication control, limiting sensory input.”
“Autistics run at 110%. If you are a super rockstar manager, you can help them focus on the work, and they will produce well. These are not machines, they are real people. Put them in an environment where they can do the most good for the company. They work hard, and you make real money for the company. There are always unexpected. Suppose you are past the production date, and you're not finished. You need to make something happen quickly. This is when autistics shine. Make them responsible. Show then you trust them to handle this. From my experience, that has brought them to tears... because they were trusted to work on their own. Let them manage it... figure out their own schedule. They will get it done. You gave them a purpose, something to focus on.”
“At the risk of offending some, and I probably will, I've often found autistic friends and employees are sometimes spoiled. They have been told they need special treatment. You can overcome that by giving them responsibility. Work is meaningful, but failure has consequences. Hold them accountable as you would with any employee. Gentle told me PWDs want to feel useful. Give them a little help. But hold them to a standard. That’s part of the teamwork. Even if the team member is noncommunicative and works in a bathroom stall.... hold them accountable. You do not need annual performance reviews. But do hold them accountable.”
“Using the app analogy, perhaps the Board wants to add scope creep. For the autistic person who has been working on this project, they may be half way through, but you need to make a change. That will distress them. Explain it to them, treat them as adults. Do not treat them as children. Thats what I said about them being spoiled. Everyone on the team has to adapt. Don’t leave an information vacuum. Some managers will give info on need to know. The autistic person may be smarter than you are. The autistic person may be smarter than you are. Tell them of the reasons for the change. ‘ Because I said so ‘ doesn’t work as an explanation. An autistic person will question that. The benefit to treating autistics as an adult is that they will break out of socially enforced self-loathing.”
“A friend had been borderline suicidal, and I gave him a job on a hard project for about 4 months. Every possible issue happened. At the end he said ’ I don't hate myself any more.’ Now he works for Entertainment Arts. Before he was playing video games all day. That was all he thought he was good for.”
“As a manager you need productive employees. You can erase their self-prescribed limits. That sums up my thoughts: Decent work isn't just getting a job, it's also doing a good job and taking pride in it. Sometimes people need help to understand their abilities and how to use them.
Gentle Heron then invited others to speak, “Now it is time for our stories. Please post your short employment stories now in Local Chat.” One responded, “ I was employed once at an agency where i told them about my disability...had to take off time due to my disability and when I returned to work after being off sick, I was fired.” Gentle Heron asked, “Did they try to accommodate your disability?” “No, not at all.” “Will you share what your disability is?” “Crohn's Disease.” “ It's sad. So common. It's easy to replace people now with this unemployment. It's more profitable for companies to do that than to accommodate someone with a disability. ... You may have legal recourse.” “I want to explore that and see if it is a possibility.”
A second spoke, “I am an individual with disabilities. I have also been in the position of interviewing and hiring people for a wide variety of positions. I understand (and live!) the concepts of equality and accommodation for disability. I also know that sometimes a person does not "fit" the job- and it is not their disability or the need for accommodation that is the issue. As an employer, I need someone who can do the job with or without accommodations.”
A third spoke to Hydra, “Hydra, you seem to have a fundamental misconception of what autism is. Autism is a spectrum. People on the autistic spectrum are not a bunch of laser sharp geniuses that work at 110%. It might be beneficial for you as a manger to read a few books about autism if you would like to work with them further in the business world. You need to tailor the job to the individual.” Hydra responded, “I agree. I am not claiming to be an expert. This is my personal experiences as a manager. This is my experience with those I've hired. I'm recruiting from virtual worlds,people I know on social media.” The person was not satisfied with Hydra’s answer.
At one point, Hydra’s tone took on a somewhat whimsical note, “I hire a lot of furries. They are prevalent on autism scale... geniuses and hyper focused. They may be nuts at time, but you can work around that.” This brought a few chuckles, Hydra being a furry as well as a few in the audience.
A fourth person spoke, “Indeed.. Much of my current and past employment was in fast food restaurants and a grocery store. It's absolutely chaotic. I have to try to stay focused while trying to deal with customers. It literally makes me suicidal sometimes. I have found that owning lands here in SL, and managing them, building, and scripting at my own pace, brings me to at a state of peace. I enjoy DJing as well, and own a club in SL. ... and another aspect is recently the corporate office for the grocery store I work at want at least 1 person there during the peak sales time, usually between 5 and 7 PM. It's the most chaotic time of the day, where customers are always trying to get in your way. because the crew is so small, we have to take turns dealing with the evening coverage.”
Spoke a sixth, “It is really interesting to me how this whole topic of teamwork fits in here. This is a huge problem. For some, being part of the water cooler chat might not be the best accommodation for their disability, but for other such as blind people, their biggest struggle once they have a job is having their colleagues include them in all that afterwork or water cooler chat. Do you have any experience with how to get the team to create a socially inclusive “
A seventh related, “In most organizations, including my own, the "fit" between an individual and the position is multi-faceted. It is not always only "can she produce the output". Can you say a few words about how your understanding and experience compares to the general HR (Human Resources) philosophy of ensuring a "fit" between 1) the potential employee, 2) the essential functions or responsibilities of the job, and 3) the culture of the organization? I suspect that attentiveness to "fit" is essential to success- regardless of the type of job or the type of disability a person might have. So, as an employer, I need to make sure all three of these are a "fit", including a fit with the culture of the organization.”
Hydra related one story, “At the University of Alabama, a fellow student who was my buddy, focused on what he did very hard. He was sociable, learning to be a radio DJ. We (his friends) had to accommodate him. We were playing X Box, but he would start adding to the music with his voice. He was talented! He could not do what we were doing, but he included himself. There are people like that in the working world. An audio engineer I worked with, he did it all with a screen reader, and he was completely blind. He could tactically manipulate the software. We didn't think anything of it, because he made incredible music.”
Another in the audience shared, “When I was first suffering from the MS, I had already lost my job at HP. They had suggested I take Voluntary Severance, instead of them having to fire me. This was because I kept falling asleep at my desk, and could not offer any explanation. My next job, where I was when I got diagnosed, the new manager and I did not get along. Personality conflict. I could have dealt with that, but he started asking very rude questions about how the numbness in my hands and other places affected love-making with my wife. (Now exwife). When I filed an objection, he fired me. I understand that I may have been the first person to win unemployment from that company. Not sure if this is what you were looking for.” Hydra laughed, “I had a manager who tried to fire me because I'm an atheist, and I live in the Bible belt.”
Another had a question, “Have you any advice for a "janitor with mop bucket" on how to convince management to give you a new project?” Hydra answered, “Yes I do! Tell them what you’re good at. Let's say you are good at web design, but you are doing lower level work. Do some volunteer work to show what you can do. You're not going to get paid for a demo. Keep a portfolio. Even put in things you think are unrelated, but show what you can do. The boss asks ‘How will she make me money?’ Good managers focus on that. Prove you can be productive,can do things better. Good managers won't care about your disability, but they will care about improved production. This is true for people with and without disability.”
Hydra concluded, “My ending message- You can't summarize people especially those on the autism spectrum into one group. But managers do this. I don't have time to look for specifics on every individual. My job and paycheck depend on putting out product. You can give reasonable accommodation. You can't really use someone who needs constant supervision, unless there is outside supervision. This may offend someone, but you need to balance reasonable accommodation and productivity. As a manager, the bottom line is key. Results are what matters.”
The audience thanked Hydra for his talk, Gentle Heron saying, “Thank you to Hydra for such a stimulating presentation. Of course, thanks to our very active audience. Your questions and comments make presentations come alive.” She announced the next speaker would be Thinkerer Melville (Dr. Selby Evans in real life), speaking on mental disabilities and social & educational issues.
Before leaving, Hydra was asked what line of work in real life he was now. He explained he was now a farmer, “got tired of corporate BS. Now I grow pecans.”