International Specialisterne Community

Specialisterne Foundation

Specialisterne Foundation is a non-for-profit organization that works to enable one million jobs for people with autism and similar challenges. The foundation owns Specialisterne Denmark and the Specialisterne concept and trademark.


Inclusion in the Workplace: Challenges and Opportunities in a Post-Pandemic World

Virtual Event: Thursday, 8 April 2021, 10:00 – 11:00 a.m. EST/16:00 – 17:00 p.m. CET


The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and heightened glaring inequalities around the world, especially when it comes to income and wealth distribution, access to health care, protection under the law, and political inclusion. Persons with autism have long faced many of these inequalities, which have only been further exacerbated by the pandemic. It’s a problem made worse by long  recognized discriminatory hiring practices and workplace environments that present major obstacles for persons with autism; all of which contribute to the unemployment or severe underemployment of a large majority of adults on the autism spectrum.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals adopted by world leaders at the United Nations in 2015 provide a blueprint for addressing the major challenges facing the world, including strategies for reducing inequalities that hinder prosperity for people and the planet. One of the aims of Sustainable Development Goal 8 (SDG 8) – Decent Work and Economic Growth – is to promote full and productive employment and decent work for all, including persons with disabilities. Article 27 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities also recognizes “the right of persons with disabilities to work, on an equal basis with others,” and to a “work environment that is open, inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities.”

Some employers have recently launched inclusive employment programmes, which  accommodate people with diagnoses of autism and related conditions, such as ADHD, OCD, etc., often referred to as neurodivergent persons. Based on the experience gained from these programmes, and motivated by the desire to both be socially responsible and to gain a competitive advantage by benefitting from the skills and abilities of a more diverse talent pool, an increasing number of employers are now creating  models to make the workplace and hiring practices more inclusive generally.

The pandemic has undoubtedly impacted the efforts of companies to implement these new models, at a time when the international economy is undergoing the worst economic recession since the great depression, with the loss of hundreds of millions of jobs. At the same time, new ways of working, including remote working and the use of new technologies, have created opportunities for employees on the autism spectrum that previously found it difficult to thrive in traditional workplace environments.

The 2021 World Autism Awareness Day observance will address these issues through a virtual event that will include moderated panel discussions with individuals on the autism spectrum who have themselves experienced the challenges and seen these new opportunities in the employment market.

The event is organized by the UN Department of Global Communications and UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, in collaboration with the Specialisterne Foundation.

As presented at the 2015 UN observance of World Autism Awareness Day, the mission of the Specialisterne Foundation is to leverage knowledge gained from the employment of autistic persons to support the creation of meaningful and fulfilling employment for one million persons, in a world where there are equal opportunities for all in the labour market.

Event Programme

10:00 a.m. Welcome and Opening Remarks

  • Maher Nasser, Director, Outreach Division, Department of Global Communications, UN
  • Melissa Fleming, Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, UN
  • Thorkil Sonne (MC), Founder, Specialisterne Foundation

10:14 a.m. PANEL 1: Disparities and Discrimination Exposed by the Pandemic

The panel will discuss the challenges that persons with autism face in finding employment, as well as the
lack of support and training available during the transition from school to the workplace.

  • Moderator: Charlotte Valeur, Founder, Global Governance Group, Denmark/UK
  • Sarah Bosibori, Computer skills trainer, Step Up 4 Autism, Kenya
  • Adam Harris, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, As I Am, Ireland
  • Hari Srinivasan, Student and student instructor, University of California, Berkeley; Board Member,
    Autistic Self Advocacy Network, U.S.

10:32 a.m. PANEL 2: Ensuring Inclusion as we Build Back Better

Recovery from the pandemic provides an opportunity to reset and rebuild to address the inequalities of
the past. The panel will discuss the transformation needed to make hiring practices and the workplace
itself inclusive, as well as the opportunities that new technologies and new ways of working have created
for employees on the autism spectrum.

  • Moderator: Charlotte Valeur, Founder, Global Governance Group, Denmark/UK
  • El Mehdi Benmoussa, Business owner, Morocco
  • Siena Castellon, Neurodiversity and autism advocate; Young Leader for the Sustainable Development
    Goals, U.K.
  • Juan José Sibaja, Scrum Master, Procter & Gamble, Costa Rica
  • Asha Sreedhar, Quality Associate, SAP Labs, India

10:52 a.m. Closing Remarks

  • Maria-Francesca Spatolisano, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, UN

11:00 a.m. Event Concludes


Event Live Streaming may be accessed from the following links:
UN WebTV – http://webtv.un.org/
UN YouTube channel – http://bit.ly/2021WAAD_YTLive
Twitter Live – http://bit.ly/2021WAADtwitterLive
Facebook Live – http://bit.ly/SPFfacebook

The event is organized by the UN Department of Global Communications & UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs,
in collaboration with the Specialisterne Foundation.

It is co-sponsored by the United Nations Permanent Missions of Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Ecuador, France, Italy, Malta, Poland and Qatar. 

Support provided by Wells Fargo, WorkDay Foundation, IBM and Google.

Read UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ message for World Autism Awareness Day here.