The Autism Council of Rochester’s fourth annual job and career fair took place Tuesday at the Memorial Art Gallery.
Organizers said the event is important, given the nearly 80% rate of unemployment for individuals on the autism spectrum.
Lawana Jones, founder and executive director of the Autism Council, said that’s a waste of talent.
"We can’t make any assumptions just because someone has that diagnosis,” Jones said. “And so, if we are able to kind of connect individuals who want competitive employment or want to do volunteer opportunities with businesses that are here and anxious to hire people that are on the spectrum, we can do our part. That’s what we need to do."
She shared a story she recently heard from a mother whose son was having trouble finding work. One potential issue: He doesn’t make eye contact.
"Some employers could possibly be looking for that,” Jones said. “But I connect with employers one on one and say, ‘Listen, these people are very, very talented and gifted. Let’s not look at those types of things to kind of weed them out. Let’s look at their gifts and talents and see if there’s a match, and if there is, how can we make this work.' "
Jonah Bauer and his mom, Julie, were in town from the Monticello area, which is about four hours away. They came to the job fair because of all the chemistry and design opportunities in the Rochester area. Jonah Bauer said he’s had difficulty searching despite having two college degrees.
"I’ve had a few interviews but nothing’s panned out so far,” he said. “So just checking and seeing."
Julie Bauer said she thought her son’s college would be more helpful, but they haven’t had any luck.
Jones said the goal of the fair is to get companies and agencies to provide rewarding opportunities to the autism community in Rochester. Jones has a daughter who is 28 and on the spectrum and said it’s difficult to make those connections between employer and employee.
This story was produced by WXXI’s Inclusion Desk, focusing on disabilities and inclusion.