Today, on the RecruitingDaily Podcast, I’m talking to Lisa Marie Clinton, Founder & Director of Avail by CentralReach. Avail Support is a leading neurodiversity program created to work with and support individuals who have autism or a cognitive related disability in the workforce, aiding employers to accommodate more successfully.
After a decade of working as an Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) practitioner and assisting individuals in a range of support settings, Lisa earned her Master’s and pursued her interest in the use of technology to promote independence for individuals with a cognitive related disability.
We start the conversation with a look at both the benefits and challenges of hiring in the neurodiverse community. Then we go deep and ask the hard questions. As an employer, how do you get started? For that matter, why haven’t you already?
This is a fun, essential conversation that you need to hear.
Listen in and let us know your thoughts.
Listening Time: 34 minutes
Enjoy the podcast?
Thanks for tuning in to this episode of The RecruitingDaily Podcast with William Tincup. Of course, comments are always welcome. Be sure to subscribe through your favorite platform.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup, you’re listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast. Today we have Lisa Marie on from CentralReach, we’re actually gonna be talking about neurodiversity, some of the advantages and challenges of neurodiversity. And it’s gonna be a really fun topic. And the topic that we don’t really get to talk about that often. So I’m really excited. Lisa Marie, if you do us a favor? me a favor, and the audience favor and introduce both yourself. And CentralReach.
Lisa Marie 1:05
Perfect. Yes, thank you. And thank you for having us on the line. My name is Lisa Marie Clinton, I’m the Founder and Director of Avail Support by CentralReach. Avail is, Avail Support, I suppose is a leading neurodiversity program and offering that works with those who have autism or a cognitive related disability. And CentralReach are leaders in the autism and technology space across the US. So we’ve partnered together, which is has been great. Quarter one of this year, actually, so quite recent. And we’re excited to explore how we can enhance and how we can support neurodiversity and employment for those with, you know, cognitive related, or any kind of sort of disability that looks at with their different impairments.
Sure. Well, let’s start with some of the basics. When we say neurodiversity, what should HR and recruiters the hiring managers, what should they, how should they frame that up in their minds?
Lisa Marie 2:18
Yeah, it’s a, it’s quite broad. So it covers anyone who may have would say, a disability, so both visible and invisible. And we know that the invisible disability, that 39% of employees with disabilities don’t disclose this to managers. But it may cover you know, as I mentioned, autism, intellectual disability, but also mental health, diabetes, ADHD, and dyslexia. So it’s quite broad. And but really, I think if we looked at each individual, we all have different traits. We’re very individualized. And we have different learning styles.
So I think it’s just maybe making accommodations and being inclusive to, yes to, you know, all types of disabilities, but all approaches and all kind of individuals and kind of all walks of life.
And so we’re gonna be talking about advantages and challenges. So why don’t we talk about the advantages, first? Of thinking about our applicant pool, and thinking about again, this is a part of inclusion, right? So when we say diversity, inclusion, belonging, equity, equality, neurodiverse candidates and applicants and employees is a part of that mix. At least maybe we should think of it like that, at least. But let’s, let’s start with, we can start to start with advantages or challenges. Which one would you like to start with?
Lisa Marie 3:46
Look, I think there are more advantages than challenges. I always start there. Yeah, well, look, and I think there’s, there are multiple different frameworks that we should take of this. One, obviously, firstly, being employment. And you know, we have great stats out there. An organization in Canada named Odin has noted that inclusive businesses grow profit margins by 3% faster than their competitors. Another stat is that businesses hiring people with disabilities experience 75% increase in productivity.
So here, when you look at the HR business side of them, why would we, why should we put in processes or develop programs that is in line to be more inclusive in diversity and exploring a wider talent pool? You know, there are powerful stats that businesses should be looking at and Avail has. In addition to that, we have 1.3 billion people who live with a disability. And that equates to a trillion dollars in spending power when we look at their extended support network. So both we know the hiring process and hiring people with disabilities, but also be inclusive and assessable to recognizing people with disabilities as customers and their support network as customers.
So, you know, there’s really quite unique evidence and stats there to warrant HR and CEOs and money management and executives to stand up and actually look at this as an untapped market, both in employment and as a customer base.
So, two things, first of all, let’s talk about the customer base. Because thinking about neurodiverse, both, what is, I think you used the phrase seen and invisible or seen and unseen. But think of them as customers. So although we’re talking about them as candidates and employees and things like that, which is good, which is exactly what we should be doing. They’re also they’re also customers. This is a group of people, that also is a block of people that that could also spend money if your organization is supportive. And not spend money if your organization is not supported, right?
Lisa Marie 6:17
So, so one of the things I wanted to ask you about was what did we learn here? We’re still technically in COVID. But what did we learn from the, on the upside? You know, again, the advantages of working with diverse neurodiverse talent through COVID, in remote, remote work, and work from home, etc.
Lisa Marie 6:42
Yeah, well, I think we have recognized that, and I think individuals with disabilities, now depending on, you know, the different type of a disability, that work still continues, some, you know, enjoy. So maybe someone with autism who finds the social element and interactive quite difficult might have found it more comfortable to be working from home and might have excelled in that format. And for the management, they can witness and see their productivity isn’t impacted.
For those maybe with a physical disability that, you know, not having the need for, you know, transportation and support that having to work from home, then my, you know, obviously be a lot easier for them. You know, there might have been difficulties maybe for those, and other types of jobs that would have been maybe on site on in a supermarket or whatever, and that then causes maybe challenges because that was quite restrictive.
But I think we have, as a whole, seen the opportunities through COVID that we can offer a diverse environment that supports those with some sort of kind of need to be accommodated and to excel within their current role. And you mentioned before the businesses. You know, how do businesses look at? Or what, how can they benefit? And what is the current even status as recognizing people with disabilities as customers?
And another stat is that only 4% of businesses are focused on making offerings inclusive to disability. And one that stands out to me is that there are more clothing lines for dogs than for people with disabilities. So, you know, here we’re like, and we see different examples coming up over the last year of where assessable clothing or clothing developed at nine others. You know, I saw a good example of a runner that was accommodating those who had maybe difficulties physically putting on the runners.
So, so it’s just like we need to be we need to do more. So even online shopping. How assessable is that for someone maybe with a visual impairment? So I think we’re a long way off. But I think if you recognize that, you know, to write your line of work or try how, you know, your customer journey, how we can be inclusive, would make a substantial impact on your bottom line. And this, again, is just customer-based.
We, you know, we do focus more on employment support for corporations and employers who may not know how to recruit or support those with more cognitive-related disabilities like an autism intellectual disability. Anyone who may need additional support, maybe in understanding the role and then being equipped to complete duties to the expectations of that hire.
Are you hearing you know, are you hearing about the remote, you know, about the return to work or return to an office. And the reason I’m asking this particular question is, you know, the hybrid work model, there’s a lot of shares, there’s a lot of in our industry, at least, there’s a lot of discussion around what it looks like, what it’s going to be. Is it going to be really bespoke? Every company is going to do something a little bit different, etc.
I’ve got a good friend, you know, that works on Wall Street, and their firm is returning everyone, period. Like, if you want to work here, you have to come back to the office type stuff. Which I don’t really like or agree with, or think that that this is a great strategy to to retain talent. But again, you know, every business is going to go about this a little bit differently with.
With the community that you interact with, are y’all are you already starting to kind of hear things about return? I say return to work, we’ve always been working. It’s not like a return to work. It’s more or less if a company has a headquarters, and they want people back in their headquarters, have you, are you starting to hear about it? If so, is that a good thing? Bad thing? Is or, is there, what are you hearing?
Lisa Marie 11:17
Look, I think options are always good. I know, we have a great CEO, and we have a blended approach that works. And I’m based here in Ireland. So we know that that, you know that flexibility can aid, you know, a happier, more comfortable kind of employee base. For people with disabilities, sure, of course.
You know, I suppose, you go back to what is the goal? So what does each role mean, and what do we have to get done? What are the expectations based on our duty? And you would think that the environment, unless it’s required to, you know, work on-site with different teams, surely, if we get the work done, and it’s, you know, quantifiable, and it’s visible, then that should be, we should be meeting their expectations, as, you know, a competitive, you know, I suppose employee.
For those that we work with, a number of those roles are more on-site-based. So, it may be you know, we work with TJ Maxx. We work with different maybe small employers, large employers, and some of the requirement was customer-facing roles and may warrant someone to be on site.
Now, what we have the opportunity to do with Avail is that we can extend learning or extend in, you know, onboarding, and induction, and learning of skills beyond the on-site. So we can prepare someone for what that role looks like, what their duties are, and how they can prepare and become confident prior to prior to actually getting on-site.
So some of the majority of the individuals that we work with are may have higher support needs. And they’re more at risk of being, we’ll say, unemployment, so you know, another stat we have. You’re probably getting all the stats today, William. But I think it’s great to quantify this space.
But you know, unemployment for those with autism and developmental disabilities is at 85%. So they are the most the farthest away from the labor market. And that’s our mission is to empower and support those individuals to get the opportunity and to be successful in their employment role. So yeah, so we do offer, like a blended learning approach for that kind of, you know, potential employees.
So let’s not think of these as challenges. Let’s, let’s, let’s think of these as, what HR what recruiters and hiring managers, when they’re interacting with, and again, we’ll start with the hiring process first and when we’re dealing with neurodiverse candidates. What are the things that they should be aware of? So just, let’s just kind of walk them into the world, the wonderful world of neurodiverse candidates and, and kind of get them excited about, okay, here’s, here’s how this, here’s how this, here’s how this is and here’s how to be really successful at it.
Lisa Marie 14:30
Yeah, and you know, I’m not saying it’s, it’s, it’s really easy to do. So I’m saying we have to get creative. And I think, I’d like to see creativity within each, you know, cooperation or employments. And I think what, you know, first of all, what is the role? What are we expecting?
And you know, I’m a very visual person, and those with an intellectual disability or developmental disability are very visual. So I think even starting there that we can demonstrate what the duties are, what our company is, what our mission is, and what the expectation would be is a great first step. And we may need to look at that differently to you know, how you look at the higher end. Those who, you know, just are kind of your typical kind of, you know, potential employee.
But there are benefits for all. There are so many examples. And we’ve seen it from implementing our programs, where employees say, okay, or employers say, this is actually a great tool for everyone. And that’s, you know, that’s what we want to do that we are creating. Yes, we focus on those with, who are neurodiverse, but everyone can benefit from it. So we generally, we would kind of work with the corporation and employer to identify what the role is, to present it in a way that is accessible and informative, to a neurodiverse market.
And you know, how that hiring process is, making that environment, comfortable, and I suppose, preparing the individual for what is expected. And so, you know, we all know how daunting it is without or with a disability, walking into like a boardroom and seeing seven people maybe sitting on the other side of a table, and, and you just don’t know what’s to come.
So you can imagine that very heightened for anyone who may have autism, or, you know, look, anyone, I suppose. So having that expectation of what is to happen, and trying to prepare that individual for that stage of the hiring process.
And then we do you know, the next stage is that we work with the corporation, say, TJMaxx. I’m just giving an example, because there’s a video on our website, that anyone that’s interested can have a look at. To create the job stack and the roles that are created to the stack that the employer wants that individual to complete it.
So again, here we have clarity, we have an example, and we have an effective tool that teaches this type of learner that has a different learning style. So we really might look at would say that job stack is, whatever the job stack is, there might be 20 tasks that are associated with that role. We support the employer to create those digitally. So use of video model and pictorial audio and text prompt to the exact stack.
Because have you ever found that you may be explaining someone to something to a fellow employee, and you explain on one way, they understand it another way, and they interpret a different way. And you know, you’ve missed the whole, the whole, I suppose, approach that you’re meant to take to a certain role, where we really have it black and white, and it’s quite kind of, you know, quantifiable. We lack subjectivity, which may confuse, you really have kind of repetitive instructions of how to complete something.
And that’s really where the success happens both in, you know, presenting a role and onboarding. And that, you know, we’ve done an analysis of with Avail and without Avail and when onboarding on an employee who has a disability, and they master those skills or the onboarding process has increased by 70%. Because they have this program that is very aligned with the expectation, and this transfers from the employment sent to home that they can now be learning those skills and prepping for work before they get to work. And you can imagine the anxiety levels goes down, as well.
So they can build, you know, good relationships with fellow employees, they become competent, and confident employees at a faster pace, and they’re going to be more successful. And then it leads into, obviously, the productivity piece, which, you know, I mentioned earlier.
Right. Right. So what will you know, we want to say we’re open for business, right? And we’re open for business for neurodiverse talent. In particular, I’ve got three things, but you’re going to have more, you know, job descriptions, what can we do, you know, in our job descriptions, when we post those that may convey that we’re open for business, that we actually care about the neurodiverse community, and we want that type of talent, you know, to apply. So one, one job descriptions. We’ll get your take on that.
Career pages. You know, where we send them to then learn about the company the job, you know, all that type of stuff? How do we do a better job of conveying again, that we’re, that we care about this community?
And then also kind of sourcing? Where what kind of how do we how do companies and what advice do you give to folks that want to do more? They maybe, but they don’t know where to start in terms of where what communities and where they can go and find this talent? So and then those are just three kinds of easy things. But just like, how do we if you’re gonna have HR and TA leaders listening to this, and they’re going to be turned on by all the stats, everything that you’ve told them, how they get started?
What do you, what’s your advice, generally on how they kind of, you know, put the shop’s open sign on the door?
Lisa Marie 20:53
Yeah. We’ve a lot to cover there, William.
This is just part one of the podcast. There’s a part two.
Lisa Marie 21:01
Yeah, I know, we have to continue on at least nine other podcasts. And but let me take a shot at it. I think, let’s get kind of practical. Look at the current processes and break it down as in what do you do currently? And let’s look at, okay, well, how do we you mentioned that some of those processes, how do we ensure that we’re inclusive?
So first step, I think you mentioned was, you know, the job stack or that. We’ll look at your fonts, look at how you’re presenting this. Make sure there is accessibility guidelines out there that, you know, everyone should be following. And for us, it’s really kind of, especially for the individuals that we serve, that it’s visual. I prefer, yes, I don’t like reading, you know, documents of text. Show me examples of what it looks like. Share your message with me.
I think another great example is peer, peer to peer feedback. If you have, you have an inclusive and diverse kind of program and you are starting that journey. Well, you know, want to hear from someone else who’s worked in that company and feedback from them. Maybe not the HR manager or the CEO, I want to see on the ground what the process was like for them, or even have like a different kind of internal referral, you know, a program where you can connect. And that will put someone maybe at ease, as well.
So just so I understand that, or and the audience understands that. That’s that, and this is true of a lot of different types of candidates, I will tell you, that neurodiverse candidates want to see and hear from other neurodiverse employees in the hiring process. Is that, am I wording that correctly?
Lisa Marie 22:54
Sure, yes! Yeah, no, like, you can, you know, and especially if it’s inline, maybe with, you know, a similar disability that you have. You know, it’s like ringing up or finding someone, maybe in the company and saying that, what is it like to, to work here? Understanding maybe, you know, is there, are they okay with accommodations? Do I feel comfortable disclosing my disability? Or am I not? Are they, you know, have they experience in doing this in the past, and if they have, I’m probably gonna disclose it because I know other people have disclosed, and it was a success. They were comfortable, and they got the support that they needed. And so I think it would be. I think that a, you know, an element that would give a lot of comfort.
And I think knowing that they have a program that is accessible for their needs, as well. So something like Avail that is, you know, we can show that. You know, for the individual, they can show that this company has invested in it. And because I know they have a program, I know that have, you know very much kind of detailed spec on how, because I might have additional learning needs, I need a lot of repetition to master a skill. And I can see that this program works for me, because one, I see multiple examples of videos of how it supported others and I have heard feedback from other employees. But now I can see that I have something that I can because I might need more learning to master a skill, I can have this outside of employment, as well.
Because people with disabilities, they’re so, their desire to be successful and to contribute to society, and to have those connections and employment, is so strong that they will do their utmost to meet the needs of employers and be inclusive just like any other employee.
And I think one of the other points that you have, I’m not sure if I’ve covered all, William, but the last one is, who do you, who might you reach out, or who might help you to see how you might recruit or what might be those networks that may have, you know, outer suites, different talent pools. And when in each state, you have a division of vocational rehabilitation. So again, I’m kind of speaking about more, you know, those cognitive disabilities, but also those of mental health or vision, visual or hearing impairments.
To the department of vocational rehabilitation, really are the funders and provides services to those who may have additional needs. So they have maybe funded programs on the Walgreen or Amazon or large, quite large kind of corporates, as well. And they definitely are a great kind of signpost to support you and, and would love to have corporates to develop programs. And again, so look at, look at your local area, and see who might be supporting those, or where they might be in contact, who they might be in contact with.
And again, we try to match that up, so we work with the employer, but we also work with, with service providers or with the states, and who are already maybe training, maybe doing pre-training, or maybe working with individuals in schools, and they’re preparing them for employment. So we, as part of our model, we do try to match up individuals kind of locally, with the the the the corporate or the employer, and then mold a program together that sits.
I love this. So one of the things that that that I’m learning, as I’m studying and, and kind of opening myself up to more content about neurodiversity is that neurodiverse candidates are also part of other communities.
So let’s say, as a recruiter or an HR person, you’re looking to increase your position and, in support of the LGBTQ+ community. Well, inside of that community is also neurodiverse talent. And so thinking about it, and you can look at it both ways, right? So neurodiverse talent is all of those things. And within those communities is also neurodiverse talent. So if you if you’re from a D&I perspective if you’re thinking about, you know, going after a particular type of community, and maybe you’re not thinking neurodiverse, specifically, within all of our communities, is neurodiverse talent.
And so, so so you can kind of hit both goals if you just kind of be open to it. And, and also just acknowledge that maybe things are a little bit different during the application process or the interview process. But also in recognizing that, I think one of the things that you made very clear early on, is that there’s visible and invisible.
They’re gonna be things that you can clearly see and notice, and they’re gonna be things that you just don’t, they’re not gonna say, they’re not gonna talk about it until they’re, if and if and if they’re ever comfortable talking about it, and that’s okay. That’s a that’s, that’s absolutely, totally fine. Being supportive of a community is also understanding, you know, that, you know, people will talk about, you know, whatever’s going on in their life, they’ll talk about it when they want to talk about it. Not on our terms, which is good.
What’s, what parting advice would you give to HR and to TA as they look at this community? We already know the importance. Like you killed it. You stated and covered like, yeah, if you’re not doing this, you’re just missing on it from a business perspective. That’s it. Hard stop. So there really isn’t, I would hope at this particular point in history, there really isn’t a business case for not doing it.
It’s now more or less, okay, how do you do it and how do you do it better? So what advice, parting shots, do you have for folks on just how they do a better job of going after this particular type of talent?
Lisa Marie 29:23
Yeah, and you may have one, you know, employers that are just like, what does even first step? Like, you may have a desire, but it’s like, where do we even start?
Lisa Marie 29:35
It might not be, you know, top of their list because God knows what can be going on. And we’re coming out of COVID, now, and it’s like, you know, there’s probably a massive, you know, recruitment drive on maybe because things have slowed down, or whatever way it would be.
But really, so first step, I think, you know, obviously, as you said, there’s a serious business case to be made to recognize, and that and that, you know, for some might be a major driver. But for others, I think it’s kind of just like being open and seeking support and advice from those who either have done it before or from a professional in the space that you have seen an example may be that matches what you like to do maybe in a certain industry. Or, you know, look for help from those who are experts in the disability space, depending on where and then on neurodiversity.
It’s just, I’m kind of focused maybe on the cognitive-related disability side, right? It’s much broader, as you said to that, so just to note that it’s a smaller segment that that, oh, well, it’s a large segment, but we focus on that side of things. And so I think it’s outreaching to those professionals, and I think, you know, committing to implement a program. And it may just be quite small or farce.
But again, it’s just like, okay, you know, we have a program here. It matches our industry. And, you know, there’s probably a bit of a budget to be put aside. And, you know, even if it’s just a pilot, or to explore what it looks like, and then you see the impact. And it’s not going to be that much of really an investment, but you really see what is to gain from that and then hopefully, then extend and, and hopefully then, at a certain stage, obviously being inclusive just across your whole processes. And it becoming the norm as opposed to a specialized program.
Right. Well, that’s the bit with every almost anything, right? You got to start somewhere. Yeah. And so not doing something is not an option. From the business case alone. We just don’t even have to get into the moral and ethical and the right thing to do type stuff. It’s just like, it’s foolish not to do it. All right. Okay. Fair enough.
Lisa Marie 31:57
It’s a no-brainer, alright. But, you know, if you’ve never done it, that’s fair. It’s just, you know, like, I’ve talked to people in the past where they’ve never done, this is completely non sequitur, but they’ve never had interns. So they, you know, I literally talked to this person about, okay, here’s, here’s how to go about this. You know, here’s, here’s how you work with career centers. Here’s how you put job descriptions together. Here’s how you put pay together. Here’s how you put a great internship program together. And once they get it, and, you know, do it, you know, a couple times, then they’re off to the races.
Lisa Marie 32:36
Yeah, I think it’s probably a bit of fear of the unknown. So, even if.
Yeah. Of failure.
Lisa Marie 32:43
Yeah, well, or like, what, what might happen? Well, let’s look at what can happen and ask any questions that you may have, and to build that awareness. And to me, that means, you know, speaking to us to say, okay, well, you know, what do you think about this or someone that’s in your space that you can just have a call. They’re like, we shouldn’t be, we want to reduce that fear. We want to raise awareness. And we want to have just an open conversation about it. Because I think I think part of one of those barriers is the fear of the unknown. We haven’t done it before. You know, we don’t want to do something wrong. You’re probably already doing it wrong.
Yeah, that’s it. Let’s start there. You don’t want to do it wrong. Well, not doing anything is technically wrong. Well, Lisa, Lisa Marie, this is again, part one of nine. So thank you, thank you so much for coming on the show and explaining, you know, just, first of all, just kind of breaking down some of the stuff for folks. I really appreciate you and really appreciate the time.
Lisa Marie 33:50
Brilliant. Thank you, William. Thank you for your interest, and for sharing awareness because that’s, we need more of that.
And thanks to everyone that listens to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Until next time.
William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.