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Division project utilizes people on the autism spectrum to get the job done right

In recent months, the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs’ State Historic Preservation Office has been utilizing the skills of two young men on the autism spectrum to digitize information about Delaware’s historic properties for preservation purposes and to make it more accessible to the public. This information is part of a vast quantity of printed files, photographs, microfilm and microfiche that the office has accumulated since it was created in 1970 as a result of the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.

One of the preservation office’s 33,000 photographic-inventory cards that are being scanned by CAI associates.
One of the preservation office’s 33,000 photographic-inventory cards that are being scanned by CAI associates.

Bob and Paul (their actual names have been changed to protect their privacy) work for CAI (Computer Aid, Inc.) a global information-technology consulting and services firm that employs more than 3,000 associates worldwide, with over 800 working in Delaware. CAI’s workforce includes several people on the autism spectrum whose unique skills help the company address its customers’ needs.

In February, 2015, the Delaware Department of State contracted with CAI to utilize the company’s autism-spectrum associates in scanning photographic-inventory cards and microfiche from the preservation office, as well as materials from the Delaware Public Archives. The Department of State sweetened the deal by loaning computers and scanning equipment to CAI for the project.

CAI’s Dana Slachta, who supervises Bob and Paul, as well as many other people on the autism spectrum, noted that they are “the perfect fit for work such as scanning, data entry and quality-assurance testing. Their strengths include focused concentration, attention to detail, an ability to recognize patterns and deviations in data, and thinking outside the box. … We focus on the unique skills that they can bring to our company, and try to accommodate the difficulties that they face such as discomfort in social situations.”

Alice Guerrant, manager of the preservation office’s research center, noted that “the quality of work done by the CAI associates has been outstanding. Previous digitization projects have been slow, tedious and prone to errors due to the repetitive nature of the work … and when we tried to have the scanning mass-produced by machine, the results were less than perfect. With Bob and Paul, we know the job will be done right because they scan each file by hand and they pay attention to detail.”

Promotional image from the Specialisterne website.
Promotional image from the Specialisterne website.

The journey that led to CAI’s work with people on the autism spectrum began after Delaware Gov. Jack Markell read a New York Times article that spotlighted the work of Specialisterne, a Danish company that uses the characteristics of people with autism as a competitive advantage, and as a means to help those people secure employment. Markell subsequently invited representatives of Specialisterne to meet local stakeholders, including CAI, to discuss opportunities for the company in Delaware. The governor chaired the meetings and the result was a strong commitment to support the establishment of Specialisterne in Delaware as a hub for the Mid-Atlantic region and the United States.

On May 29, 2013, Specialisterne and CAI announced a National Founding Partnership to train and hire people on the autism spectrum. The two associates working on the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs’ project were early graduates of this training program and were subsequently hired by CAI. That’s good news for the division which is now getting a large chunk of its historic-property files digitized. In turn, this information is being made available to the public through digital vehicles such as the Cultural and Historical Resource Information System (CHRIS), a geographic information system on historic properties that are located in the state.

Go to the following for press articles on Specialisterne and its partnership with CAI.

Specialisterne links businesses, autistic workers
News Journal, Wilmington, Del.—May 19, 2014

Creating Great Employees (Who Happen To Be Autistic)
Forbes Magazine, New York, N.Y.—Oct. 28, 2013

Delaware organization matches people with autism and tech jobs
Newsworks, WHYY TV 12, Wilmington, Del.—Aug. 28, 2013

The Autism Advantage
New York Times, N.Y.—Nov. 29, 2012

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