One in 59 kids is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. These children face challenges like communication obstacles, developmental and learning differences, and other related conditions.
Georgia Tech student Jhillika Kumar‘s brother Vikram is one of those children. He is non-verbal, and had a hard time interacting with the world — until he received an iPad.
“It completely changed his life,” Kumar tells Hypepotamus. “I realized how technology was so instrumental to help him be independent and help him feel more fulfilled and engaged.”
“That inspired me to found AxisAbility,” she says.
Kumar and co-founder Conner Reinhardt started researching the autism community to understand the major challenges.
After doing customer discovery with several organizations, they found out about the high rates of unemployment or underemployment for adults with autism. Autism Speaks estimates the underemployment rate to be as high as 90 percent.
“The biggest issue for a lot of the adults with autism is that once they age out of government support systems and educational programs, they don’t have any support and often can’t find meaningful employment,” says Kumar.
Individuals with autism may not possess strong soft skills such as communication and ability to collaborate. While they’re often able to perform the actual job tasks, companies often fail to provide accommodations.
AxisAbility’s neurodiverse hiring platform, Mentra, connects corporate recruiters with job candidates who have autism. In addition, the platform attempts to close the gap in understanding accommodations of the disorder.
“These individuals are extremely intelligent, but often they don’t even get through the first round of interviews, or even apply to the job because the process is so intimidating,” says Kumar.
To make sure they were on the right path, the team spoke with Microsoft’s Autism Hiring Program. The program lead said that they largely rely on word-of-mouth, and their biggest challenge was access to a talent pool.
Like other candidate marketplaces, Mentra allows individuals to add experience and skillset to a profile, along with specific requested accommodations. An algorithm matches candidates with recruiters and places them into interviews.
“I want them to go into more depth about how their autism can add value to the company rather than take away from the productivity,” says Kumar. “What can the company do to accommodate them; for example, a quieter environment.”
Kumar’s UX design background helped her identify design elements that would appeal to and engage individuals with autism. The background color, the way the questions are worded, and the clear, concise prompts were all thought through.
The Atlanta-based startup onboards employers on a subscription basis. Mentra is currently in beta before going live with corporate partners later this year. They will open up fundraising at the same time to fuel customer acquisition and increase their talent pool.
“We want to create a neurodiverse workforce and celebrate the unique strengths of individuals with autism,” says Kumar.