Jefferson Award Winners Help Those With Autism Find Work

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Jefferson award winner Luby and Andy Aczel. (CBS)

Jefferson award winner Luby and Andy Aczel. (CBS)

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – The CDC estimates one in 50 babies born in the U.S. today will be on the Autism spectrum. What will happen when they grow up? A San Francisco couple is working to make sure they’ll have jobs that match their abilities.

Since Nicholas earned a degree in graphic design, he’s had a handful of jobs, including this one:

“I was delivering mail that arrived within the building to a couple of different floors,” he explained. “It just didn’t last very long and was below my skill level.”

Today, he has a high tech job.

“I find this job very fulfilling and it’s challenging me,” Nicholas added.

Nicholas can thank Luby and Andy Aczel, who co-founded The Specialists Guild two years ago. The San Francisco nonprofit provides high tech training and employment for people on the autism spectrum.

“I’ve seen them blossom,” Andy Aczel said. “I see their self confidence increase.”

This husband-and-wife team is tackling a very high unemployment rate – they say more than 85% of adults on the autism spectrum do not have a paying job.

“They don’t never get a chance because they don’t do well in the interviews – because their disability is not intellectual, it’s social and communication,” Luby Aczel explained.

The Specialists Guild is training several interns to test websites for software problems. The Aczels say the job is perfect for those on the spectrum because it’s very technical, with low social interaction. The interns work for three companies that pay $12 an hour.

Luby Aczel says the goal is for businesses to hire the interns permanently.

“They give us projects and the’re blown away at how good our guys can do these projects!” she said.

Jeffrey, who has a history degree, thanks the Aczels giving him high tech skills.

“What they’re doing is very beneficial to me,” he said. “It’s helped me to discover potential I didn’t necessarily know I had.”

The Aczels, who have been married 35 years, have an adult son on the autism spectrum. They started the nonprofit when he had trouble finding a job. Today, they help employers discover that people on the spectrum are often excellent workers.

“They tend to be very focused, persistent. They don’t mind repetitive work,” Andy Aczel said. “There’s no reason for society to not put them to work.”

The Aczels are focused, too: Andy gave up his high tech career to give the participants technical training and find them jobs. Luby applies for grants and teaches communication skills.

“These guys have the potential to do incredible things,” she said proudly.

So for their commitment to train adults on the spectrum for fulfilling jobs, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Luby and Andy Aczel.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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