Specialisterne: diversity as an asset

Stella Arcà - Specialisterne

Stella Arcà, Business & Marketing Manager di Specialisterne Italia

Last September, I was invited to the presentation of the latest issue of “Divercity” magazine, which included, among the other articles, the interview I had granted to Elena Belloni about disability and work. That event gave me the opportunity to get to know many companies and associations committed to inclusion at all levels and in every field.  Among them, the one that impressed me more was Specialisterne, a staffing company that trains and helps people with autism spectrum disorders or Asperger syndrome finding a job and effectively integrating into the company environment. Then, at the end of the presentation, I immediately got in touch with Stella Arcà, Business & Marketing Manager of the Italian branch, asking her to tell more about the company she works at on Move@bility. Here you have our chat.

How did the idea to found Specialisterne arise?

Stong perseverance, extreme precision and a great memory are valuable skills for the IT industry, and they are peculiarities that distinguish people with an autism spectrum disorder. Thorkil Sonne, who was employed at an IT company in Denmark, first realized it back in 2004, when, coming back from a journey in Europe with his family, saw his Asperger son drawing the map of it, completing it with 150 boxes and 500 alphanumeric types without having the original one under his eyes. Deeply impressed by that event, Sonne decided to go all-in on this incredible unexpressed potential: so, he resigned, mortaged his house and founded Specialisterne, “The Specialists” in Danish, a staffing company with the ambitious goal to value the great skills of people with autism and give them a concrete professional opportunity.

Which services does the company offer to candidates with autism?

Specialisterne a ful-time four-months training path, totally free and customized, to  build up a specific profile, aligned with the needs of companies working in administration and information technology. The training has two goals: a technical goal, teaching subjects such as software testing and whatever can be useful at work, and a social-professional one, with individual and group interviews designed to help the candidate overtaking difficulties and get used to the working context. The main goal of the course is to offer the candidate a professional career. Once the candidate is hired, the tutor becomes a bridge with the company and manages all the obligations needed to guarantee quality and top class performances.

How do you contact the companies that are potentially interested in hiring them? 

We mainly speak to the companies HR departements to offer our talents. Sometimes they directly contact us after having read about us on an article or having met at an event; sometimes we tempt the first contact, offering them the opportunity to take part in this diversity and inclusion project.

How long has been Specialisterne operating in Italy and how many people have you helped finding a job, so far? 

We’ve been working in Italy for two years and, so far, we’ve helped 25 people with autism starting a professional career at 8 different customers, including Everis or Flex.

Un consulente Specialisterne al lavoro

A Specialisterne consultant at work

What industries do the companies you present the workers who reach out to you operate in? 

We partner with all the companies that need IT or administration services. Then, they mainly operate in information technology, but we also have customers in banking, pharma, insurance that need our talents.

Once the candidate is hired by the company, how do you support him or her?

The onboarding of the consultant in the company is the first, important stage of a path that we design on the way. On a weekly basis, the coach meets the consultant, his/her manager and the team, supporting them with the goal to accompany the consultant all over his/her career, contributing to create in the environment a growing awareness, providing both the worker and the company with tools enabling to design a path that can be  functional to everyone.

How can the interested candidates or their families directly contact Specialisterne?

They can contact us sending an email to contatto.it@specialisterne.com, so that, based on the individual, his/her needs and specific case, they can be reached back by the right person in our Team, who will provide them with all the useful info.

What are the main “resistance” reasons from the companies, when you offer them people with autism to hire? 

The first resistance reason is fear, since autism is still poorly known and there are many stereotypes sorrounding it.  Changing the perception of autism  is an essential part of our mission and, to us, it represents a very important challenge we are committed to every day.

How did you succeed helping companies overtaking these resistances?

Many times we offer the companies to start hiring one or two workers to test their talents, so that they can realize by themselves their skills. Most of the times we have started with this approach, the customer company has asked for more resources after a year, realizing the success of the project.

Un consulente Specialisterne al lavoro

A Specialisterne consultant at work

Can you share a “success case”  with us?

Everis is the company in Italy that has hired more people with autism through Specialsterne. So far, our partnership with Everis has helped 11 people starting a professional path. The managers say that including these people has helped the company changing its culture.  Differences are eliminated, respecting the individual peculiarities and evaluating neurodiversity.

Looking more widely to the society we live in, what can be done, in your opinion, to change the -almost always distorted- perception of autism spectrum disorders? 

We first nee the society to be more informed about autism: that’s why we work on the awareness of the companies talking to their employees. Moreover, those who work with our candidates can realize by themselves that people with autism can work with a high quality standard.

Which advice would you give to someone with autism reaching to Specialisterne to find a job?

Rather than advices, we constantly try to provide concrete and individual feedbacks about different aspects, from attitude to strong and weak traits, with a focus on  social and professional topics, since feedback is often lacking in the previous educational and working experience od these workers. We also try to design ad hoc strategies with the individual, aiming to his/her personal and professional growth.

 

Once again, many thanks to Stella Arcà for her time and best of luck to Specialisterne for its truly important mission!

“Ascolta i miei passi”: autism meets prison

Autism is still an almost unknown disease, both as regards its causes and, therefore, potential treatments and, generally speaking, the most suitable ways to establish a contact with who is affected by it.  People with autism are often victims of bias and wrong certainties (also influenced by the way this condition has often been described in movies), as well as set aside because they’re seen as “strange” (and, then, potentially dangerous, according to many people). How can we understand the world of who lives with autism? How can we create proximity and dialogue? The “Ascolta i miei passi” (“Listen to my steps”) project, promoted by the Ortica Association in Milan aims to raise awareness towards this topic, starting from the direct listening of people with autism, who talk about themselves in short audio files, allowing others to know their daily life, their path, dreams and hopes.

Ascolta i miei passi

During the Disability Week (November 27th – December 2nd), Ortica Association brought “Ascolta i miei passi” inside a place that, according to collective imagination, also represents “a world apart”, despite being in the heart of the city: San Vittore prison. Thanks to an agreement with the prison management, during the five meetings organized, the prisoners had the chance to listen, using headphones, the stories told directly by people with autism. Not just it: they also had the chance to identify with the storytellers reality, symbolically wearing their shoes: those of children who have already been diagnosed, training shoes of the teenager who continuously walks up and down to let his angst off or, more, the shoes of a man who would like to become the protagonist of his own life, but cannot do that due to bias.

Bias are a common issue for people with autism- or other disabilities- and prisoners, after all. If we only knew these worlds closely, we’d realize that, all in all, differences are less marked than we used to think. And that’s exactly the meaning of the name chosen for the “Ascolta i miei passi” project. As a native American proverb states:

Before you judge my life or my attitude, wear my shoes, walk the path I’ve travelled. Live my pain, my doubts, my fears, my laughs. Remember that everyone of us has his own story. When you’ve lived my life, then you can judge me

EASs 2017: what’s new for disabled people

Last week, after 15 years of wait, the new EASs (Essential Assistance Levels) were approved, through a measure signed by the Prime Minister, Paolo Gentiloni. They include the updated list of all the services and activities citizens can obtain by the National Healthcare Services (NHS), to ensure uniformity of treatment for everyone, everywhere in Italy.

LEA - ospedale

The approved list of EASs includes some new services dispensed by the NHS, for free or paying a ticket; for instance, vaccinations against some forms of meningococcus, pneumococcus and HPV and the heterologous medical assisted fertilization. The list of rare and chronic diseases has been updated too, with diseases such as the celiac one passing from the first to the second group.

LEA - autismoThe approved EASs include news for disabled people too. It’s largely debated the fact that the Down syndrome, so far considered a “rare disease” (which implies the total dispensation from the ticket payment for all the healthcare services related to the specific disease), now passes among the “chronic diseases”, with the immediate consequence of restricting just to has had certified a 100% invalidity the total dispensation. News for people with autism as well: access to more advanced therapies, commitment to the inclusion and integration of the child with autism in the social life, through a stronger connection among healthcare, school and family.

Furthermore, the new EASs also redefine the prosthetic nomenclator, i.e. prostheses and aids that can be prescribed at the expenses (totally or partially) of the NHS, to facilitate the life of people with various disabilities. For instance, it will be possible to prescribe:

LEA - assistenza

  • IT and communication aids (including eye communicators and keyboards for people with severe disabilities);
  • hearing aids based on digital technology, home automation tools and sensors to command and control the spaces (e.g. alarms and online rescue services);
  • cutlery and furnishings for motoric disabilities, shower gurney, 4 wheels-scooter, wheelchairs with verticalizing system, wheelchairs for severe and complex disabilities, lifters both fixed and for bath tub, grab bars and armbands for the bath, stairlifts for interiors;
  • artificial highly technological limbs and vocal recognition system and eye pointers.

Yet someone says the EASs are going to be reviewed in the upcoming weeks: let’s wait and see!