Over the last year, as agencies have made and reaffirmed their commitments to diversity, they’ve shared metrics and started initiatives to enhance multicultural inclusion.
But diversity isn’t always about race or identity, and the disabled and neurodiverse community is often left out of the conversation.
Nearly 70 million people in the U.S., or 20% of the population, have learning differences such as dyslexia or ADHD. Among the neurodiverse population, nearly 85% of individuals on the Autism spectrum are either unemployed or underemployed.
Those who are employed are often offered part-time or minimum wage jobs that may not have appropriate accommodations for their conditions. Some face discrimination due to a lack of infrastructure and resources to support their needs.
Nonprofit organization Creative Spirit is dedicated to creating employment opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities in the creative industry. To help agencies hire more neurodiverse creative talent, the organization operates a pro-bono consulting business for companies looking to hire from the community.
Creative Spirit has partnered with agencies and holding companies including Omnicom, Interpublic Group and MRM to establish a hiring pipeline. Brands such as Discovery, Disney and Verizon have also participated in the program.
“Companies are looking for a partner,” said Laurel Rossi, co-founder of Creative Spirit and chief partnerships officer at Organic. “Employers need help.”
As a result of the agency’s partnership with Creative Spirit, Christopher Smith was able to leave behind his retail job to land a human resources coordinator position at MRM. Smith secured an HR internship role at MRM in 2019 and was promoted to the full-time gig in February.
“Every day, I went into my [retail] job and felt isolated, like I didn't have anyone to go to,” Smith said. “Part of that was because I didn't think there was anyone who would understand [my] individual situation.”
Smith connected with Creative Spirit, who paired him with a mentor that understood his needs. The organization worked with MRM to determine how best to accommodate Smith for an interview, later resulting in his hire.
“I think when someone discloses that the candidate comes from Creative Spirit, companies should not see that as a negative,” Smith said. “Companies should and think, ‘This person might need a little extra help.’ Keep an open mind. Don't let that be the end of reading the resume.”
Nathan Friedman, CMO of Understood.org, a non profit organization dedicated to providing children and adults with disabilities tools and resources for learning and working, said companies should take it a step beyond hiring by ensuring that all practices, including the way companies reach consumers, are inclusive. Understood has worked with brands including Pepsi and UPS to launch inclusion initiatives that have led to more than 65,000 jobs for people with disabilities.
The organization also pushes for companies to be more inclusive in how they build products, including digital products such as by using AAA compliant fonts and sonic branding.
“[Companies] need to make sure they are not only providing an experience that is accessible for all, but that content is accessible for all with universal design principles,” Friedman said. “It's not enough to bolt accessibility onto a website, content, commercial or campaign. It has to be embedded from the beginning.”
According to the CDC, one in four adults in the U.S. has a disability, including invisible developmental and learning disabilities, and tend to report suffering from mental distress nearly fives more frequently than adults without a disability.