IWA took a road trip on March 9th to a nearby company in Highland Park, IL – Aspiritech.  In their own words, Aspiritech is “Harnessing the unique abilities of Testers with Asperger’s syndrome and high-functioning autism to offer competitively priced, human-powered testing services.”  Aspiritech provides Quality Assurance testing for companies to ensure the products and software they are making are free from errors and bugs.

We were excited to see the operations of such a company and were very pleased when they offered us a tour.  We were greeted by Robyn Kacyn, Development Specialist.  She was incredibly open and friendly – proud to show us what they do and where they do it.  The office space was open and fairly quiet with people working in a long row with computers and…Bose equipment!?  Bose is one of their biggest clients!  The boxes sitting in the front of the office were filled with equipment tested and ready to go back to Bose. Wow – we were already impressed and we just got there.  This company means business.  Some of the employees made eye contact, most kept to their work as our tour passed by.  There was nothing within these first few minutes that said this company hired people with autism.  If we hadn’t researched the Aspiritech ahead of time, there was little to give us any indication they were any different than any other tech company.

Becky noticed right away the Star Wars figures in the front and a T.A.R.D.I.S set up in the back…that’s right…T.A.R.D.I.S.  If you don’t know what that is, it is a time and space machine that looks like an old British phone booth from the show Dr. Who. It is used as a small, quiet space where people can go if they need a moment away from sensory overload. This T.A.R.D.I.S. is not bigger on the inside, but it does it’s job.  Perhaps this room was the first indication that there was something different about Aspiritech.  Then again, in my corporate experience, there are quiet rooms if someone feels ill or needs privacy.  None were as cool as a T.A.R.D.I.S…but I digress.

Robyn pointed out other spaces that had been set aside for the unique sensory challenges of their employees.  There was a room with a couch, fidgets and other things that could be helpful to someone with ASD in order for them to self-regulate.  There was a break room/kitchen where no talking was allowed, partially because people might need a quiet space and partially because they might annoy the working employees.  There was another breakroom that was more closed off with a yacker tracker – an ear-shaped device on the wall that would light up and indicate when the noise level was too high and might distract workers outside the room.

It was obvious the office was bursting at the seams, growing at a very fast pace.  We quickly moved to the floor above – newly renovated to fit the overflow.  Their success was exciting to us.  According to HR Digest 66% of adults with autism are unemployed.   This is something at Independent with Autism we are passionate about.  We know those with ASD can offer employers loyal and exceptional workers if given the chance and the atmosphere built for their success. In fact, upstairs we noticed an empty set of cubicles. This team was ahead of schedule and therefore needed to ramp down while waiting for the next segment of the project to catch up with them.

At this point, Robyn had gone back to her daily routine and we were being led by Brenda Weitzberg, Executive Director.  She was equally as gracious and informative.  The upstairs area was newly renovated and looked a lot like other small tech companies.  There was a refrigerator and foosball table in the front and the cubicles were all in the open allowing for collaboration and communication.  It was becoming clearer to us that while Aspiritech did not skimp on the bottom line and the expectations for their business they also wanted to explore all the skills and talents their employees held.  Who wouldn’t want to work for a company like that?

They had decided to name their conference rooms after mythical creatures and took advantage of the artistic skills of some of their employees to draw pictures for the doors of the rooms.  These were far from the stick figures in my skill set.  Once again Aspiritech was harnessing the abilities of the individuals as a whole – not just what was profitable for their business model.

There were small rooms set up on each floor for one-on-one sessions and times when an employee might require extra attention.  We were introduced to some specialists putting together plans for employee growth.  However professional and capable this company is they have not lost sight of the fact their employees have special needs to go along with their special skills.

We retired to Brenda’s office for some brainstorming for how we might partner to serve this community of people.  I encourage you to go to www.aspiritech.org to read about how this company has grown over the past 10 years – particularly in the last 3.  We saw a successful, fully functioning business with caring and dedicated staff to support dedicated employees.  We did not see any coddling or babying – the expectations for performance were being met.  Brenda meets and interviews employees whose skills may not be right for Aspiritech and is looking for other businesses to step up and fill the gap for these capable and intelligent people.  The dedication of her and her husband – founders of the company – is inspiring to say the least.

We left feeling excited about what Aspiritech was doing and we hope to maintain a relationship with them going forward as we are both interested in empowering people with ASD to be independent.  Once again, please see their website, www.aspiritech.org and follow them on Twitter and Faceboook @aspiritech.  They are a non-profit organization who could use support and their story is quite compelling.