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 addressed 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 was 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. 

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

It was 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

And find the full programme here.

Key messages from speakers 


“We have moved beyond the need for awareness to a need for autism acceptance”
Melissa Fleming, Under-Secretary-General, UN Department of Global Communications

“Recovery is also a chance to rethink our systems of education and training to ensure that persons with autism are afforded opportunities for realizing their potential”
António Guterres, Secretary-General, The UN

“Being a recognized team member and appreciated can make me feel included”
Sarah Bosibori, Panellist, Kenya

“We need government, business and civil society to work in partnership and better pathways between education system and employment”
Adam Harris, Panellist, Ireland

“We need to think about employment and accommodations for all autistic persons who want to work”
Hari Srinivasan, Panellist, USA

“Most autistic persons in Morocco do not have access to education or other services”
El Mehdi Benmoussa, Panellist, Morocco

“Ways of working should be centered around the people and how to meet their needs in order for the to be able to give their best”
Juan José Sibaja, Panellist, Costa Rica

“Gender inequality must be eradicated”
Siena Castellon, Panellist, UK

“Create job opportunities in companies and focus on strengths, skills and talents and provide encouragement and support and an inclusive workplace”
Asha Sreedhar, Panellist, India

“We do need to hear the voices of autistic people from around the world more often”
Charlotte Valeur, Moderator, UK/DK

“Creating practices and environments that value neurodiversity – for and with persons with autism – requires the targeted attention and full cooperation of all stakeholders, including governments, civil society and the private sector”
Maria-Francesca Spatolisano, Assistant Secretary-General, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs

“If we would look 6 years ahead, I think we would see a movement and a progression from the education system into employment. Hopefully, work and school environments will be redesigned for that”
Thorkil Sonne, Founder, Specialisterne Foundation