We have been working for nearly nine months with Passwerk now, the organisation that finds jobs for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Forget about Dustin Hoffman in Rainman, but think instead of Einstein or Darwin and other illustrious predecessors with whom the borderline between being socially handicapped and being a genius was razor-thin. Precise and extremely thorough, highly focussed and with an eye for the smallest detail - these are just a few of the characteristics of people with ASD. Research shows that more people with ASD are to be found around places like Cambridge and Silicon Valley, which perform magic tricks with technology and data. At AXA, we are cautiously taking the first steps in IBT², the IT and Business Transformation department. And that experience is good. Very good - according to a recent survey.
"It's part of our corporate culture to help people with a handicap and give them opportunities," says Ingrid Anthonissen, Manager of the Delivery Center Testing Bank. "In this case there is even a win-win situation. For the WEVOL project, where we provide a new PC with Windows 7 and the latest Internet Explorer browser for all internal AXA staff, we have to test whether all our applications keep working. It is time-consuming precision work in which people have to look for differences between two apparently similar situations. A few years ago we already had a pilot project going because Els Blaton, our former Head of IT and Business Transformation, believed very strongly in this kind of project. We had already worked successfully with AXA in the past, but that was a long time ago.
Johan Cappaert, Test coordinator for the WEVOL project and himself a person with ASD was immediately sold on the idea of bringing in people from Passwerk. "Jelle joined my team in September 2011. Since we were delighted with his work and efforts, we asked Passwerk to send us a second person. So it was that Roeland joined the team in December. Working for a giant like AXA has its advantages and disadvantages. The good thing is that you can learn lots of new things. The not-so-good thing is that it's not always easy to find the right people within the company to ask for information about a particular application. People tend to lose their way in the huge structure that AXA is. Fortunately, here we can count on the help of Chantal Van Herck, Team Leader DCT, who helps in case of specific problems. Despite the fact that our little club of three consists entirely of people with ASD, close cooperation can by no means be assumed. We are three different individuals, and that fact that all three of us have ASD does perhaps bring us a bit closer to one another, but does not alter the fact that each of us chooses to take his own path. Our minds and personalities are very different - loners in the true sense of the word. That doesn't cause too many problems, so long as the work is clear-cut and we are not too dependent on information from outside. Give us an application to be tested, and we'll set to work. The way people work at AXA isn't always suited to people with ASD. To a large extent, people make time for consultation and explanation of what has to be done. For example, the whiteboard sessions don't always have the desired effect, because people only discuss the formal aspects of the work (due dates, planning, reporting, estimates, man-days, high-level test scenarios, etc.). The matter of content never comes up. What's more, the activity around the whiteboard is a group event, and that's precisely what people with ASD have difficulty with. Nevertheless, we succeed in finding a place that works for everybody involved. We know our place, complete our tasks and that sometimes has advantages, too. Jelle, Roeland and I prefer to do the work itself rather than talk about it." Jelle opines: "If, over the last six months, we had stuck to the actual work and not held discussions about it, it would have been done in one month. That speaks volumes!"
It is a given that AXA attaches great value to sustainable commerce, supports diversity and offers opportunities. So working with Passwerk fits in with that philosophy, but would never have been possible without the outstanding support of Els Blaton and her management team. We all win by deploying the skills of people with ASD in the Test team of IBT2. Defects are specifically sought and quickly found (nearly 500 up till now). People with ASD process information in quite a different way from those without it, and are little inclined to fanciful notions. Everything is concrete and absolute. So, sayings and proverbs mean little to them. But making analyses is just their cup of tea. They look at everything, store it, catalogue it and work in a highly structured way, which means that defects can be found faster and solved better.
As far as AXA is concerned, working with Passwerk is highly recommended. The quality of the work done is excellent and the Passwerk people are excellently helped and supported by Passwerk's job coaches, who regularly come along to make little suggestions about how the working environment could be adapted to the needs of people with ASD. At the moment, a third person is being sought from Passwerk to work for AXA. There is no finer proof that we are satisfied.