Slight digression: A long, long time ago, we worked for an academic journal in the company of several Ph.D.s who we could then only describe as “eccentric”–for example, one apparently owned a single pair of pants at a time, always tie-dyed. We hadn’t thought of them in years until reading this New York Times article summarizing new writings on the critical contributions of people with autism-spectrum disorders to not only academia but also major technology companies such as Cisco. Indeed, a Danish software testing company specifically hires people with Asperger’s, not as a charitable move but because of their relevant strengths: persistence, strong memory, and attention to detail, to name a few.
Given this, what can universities and software companies do to build accommodations into their physical environments? For example, many autistic people are hypersensitive to auditory distraction–can software companies take that into consideration? Can work station layouts be configured so that anyone who prefers to avoid contact with others can do so? Would it be more complicated and costly than, say, having to buy seating for everyone who doesn’t bring a wheelchair? Most importantly, do people with autism get a say, not only in the design of their workplaces but in features they’d like to have available in mainstream products?