♫ You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas
I am strong when I am on your shoulders
You raise me up to more than I can be…♫

Music and Lyrics by B. Graham, R. Lovland, recorded by Martin Hurkens.

What does it take to practice law successfully? That list of abilities would be as diverse as the spectrum of lawyers out in practice today. Many of us would wish for a photographic memory combined with an intellect that allows that large amount of data to be assimilated and processed. That is exactly what Haley Moss, a lawyer in Florida, does. Joseph Zumpano, the co-founder of the law firm Zumpano Patricios, that employs Haley Moss, said he believes Moss is the first “openly autistic” lawyer to be admitted to the Florida Bar. Moss gives his business an edge in complex areas of law, Zumpano says, because of her “extraordinary” capacity for analysis and information processing .

Of course, not every person with autism possesses a photographic memory or has a capacity for deep analysis. People with autism have a range of abilities and  challenges. Employers such as SAP, JPMorgan Chase, EY, Microsoft and others  recognize this diversity and are part of the Autism at Work program, which  seeks to take this range of abilities by employing over 160 colleagues in 13 countries.(https://www.sap.com/corporate/en/company/diversity/differently-abled.html)

According to StatsCan, 22% of Canadians have at least one disability, which represents 6.2 million people (2017). That is a huge pool of people that could play a role for many employers, law firms included, from being lawyers to acting in other careers.

There are more attorneys with autism than people realize, according to Shain Neumeier, an autistic lawyer from Massachusetts as reported in the ABA Journal.

The ABA Journal continues: “I think people are becoming more willing to be out of the closet because some of the stigma is gone. It’s not just a bunch of people who are sitting in corners banging their heads; we are fully functioning,” says Michael Gilberg, a special education and disability rights attorney in New York, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome when he was 18. He graduated from Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University in 2007 and is admitted to practice in New York and Connecticut.

The goal would be for all individuals to be recognized for their strengths and abilities that they bring to a workplace, not just for how they are challenged.

“I want to see us being meaningfully included and have opportunities that are aligned with our skills,” Haley Moss stated, “as well as what we’re capable of.”

Employers, particularly law firms, who have a deep role to play by advocating for the rights of those with differing abilities and challenges, can also play a leading role in recognizing and employing individuals who have amazing attributes and strengths to build meaningful careers and help raise them up to be more than they could be…

The Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation in 2005 reported on a study that found that 92% of consumers felt more favourable toward those employers that hire individuals with disabilities. Furthermore, the study showed that people also had strong positive beliefs about the value and benefits of hiring people with disabilities, with 87% specifically agreeing that they would prefer to give their business to companies that hire individuals with disabilities.

AtWork outlines further benefits of hiring people with disabilities.  These include:

Improved productivity: Effective job matching fits the employee’s abilities to the employers’ needs. The right person in the right job makes everyone more productive.

Reduced turnover: Having trouble finding good employees? Many repetitive or entry-level positions are well suited to people with disabilities.

Improved morale: People with disabilities want to work and contribute. They are motivated and reliable coworkers who add value to any team. Their enthusiasm and positive attitudes are contagious – and great for morale.

Higher retention: People with disabilities are reliable and dependable workers, with some of the highest rates of retention of any employee group.

Low investment, high return: There is no additional cost to you, other than the employee’s wages.

Win-win situation for all: Hiring people with disabilities benefits the workers, the community and your company.

What resources are out there to assist you in employing people with disabilities?

CASE: The Canadian Association for Supported Employment, established in 1999, was initially an informal network of service providers and stakeholders committed to the full participation of persons with disabilities in the Canadian labour force. CASE is a national association of community-based service providers and stakeholders working towards the Employment Inclusion of people with disabilities. This association strives to promote full citizenship and personal capacity for persons with disabilities through the facilitation of increased labour market participation and outcomes. Through such workforce participation, CASE also promotes social inclusion for Canadians with disabilities.  Joining CASE signifies your organization’s role in being part of the national voice for employment inclusion.

CASE lists a number of supportive organizations that can assist in the role of employment inclusion in BC:

Family Works BC

AspectBC

Community Living BC

The Provincial Networking Group Inc.

Work BC 

Inclusion BC

There are real and tangible benefits to hiring those people with differing abilities and challenges. As lawyers we are justly concerned with rights and freedoms; I trust we are equally concerned with opportunities being equally available to all.

(originally published in BarTalk, a publication of the BC Branch of the Canadian Bar Association.)