Autism Spectrum Disorders and Intellectual Disabilities: Private-Sector Workplace Discrimination in the U.S.A.

Friday, November 1, 2013
First author:
Wieren T. van
Work as Catalyst for Belonging

1 Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.

2 The National EEOC ADA Research Project, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia, U.S.A.

All authors:

Todd A. van Wieren1,2

Inclusive Employment
rights, workplace discrimination, autism spectrum disorders, intellectual disabilities


Two groups of Americans with disabilities protected from discrimination in the private-sector workplace by Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) are those with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and intellectual disabilities (IDs). Because of behavioral/communicative deficits, these individuals may be particularly prone to experience workplace discrimination. Data from the EEOC was analyzed to: 1) describe Title I ADA discrimination charges made by individuals with ASDs/IDs, and 2) compare/contrast the characteristics of ASD with ID cases.


Utilizing all resolved charges of Title I ADA discrimination made to the EEOC from 1992 through 2008, key dimensions analyzed include: charging party demographics, employer industries, location and size of employers, nature of alleged discrimination, and case resolutions. Comparative analysis of the ASD and ID cases was then conducted.


First, lower numbers of ASD/ID charges are made relative to other major disability groups. Second, ASD and ID cases are relatively similar to each other. Third, the differences that do exist indicate that ASD charges (v. ID charges) are made by individuals who are younger, more likely to be male, and more likely to be made against certain industries.


Reasons and implications for the low numbers of ASD/ID allegations are explored, including the possibility that these individuals and their advocates might not accurately recognize discrimination or fully exercise their ADA/EEOC rights. Second, vocational rehabilitation efforts for people with ASDs/ IDs are explored, considering the descriptive and comparative analysis findings of this study.