Young adults with autism face many barriers to competitive employment, but for West Side Chicago public high school students who get jobs through Urban Autism Solutions, access to transportation isn’t one of them thanks to a generous gift from Lyft.
“The goal of our LyftUp program is to increase access to transportation for those who need it,” said Lamar Brown, Community Strategist at Lyft. “We’re thrilled to partner with Urban Autism Solutions to remove transportation barriers for young adults to get to work and support their vital work across Chicago.”
Urban Autism Solutions works with young adults from West Side Chicago public high schools who have autism and other learning differences. These students come to the UAS West Side Transition Academy from their schools to participate in community immersion programs, receive speech-language and occupational therapy, engage in social-emotional learning and develop communication and transferrable job skills. Many of these students, who range in age from 18 to 22 years old, have not yet held a job. Not all of them will.
According to research from the A. J. Drexel Autism Institute, young adults with autism have the lowest rate of employment compared to their peers with other disabilities, with only four out of 10 working in competitive employment in their 20s. Not every student who works with UAS is employment-ready. For those that are, the UAS team identifies employers who are willing to hire young adults with autism and related challenges and then works with students to help them prepare their resumes, submit an application. Once the student is hired, UAS provides on-the-job support.
Thanks to Lyft, students can get access to free rides to and from work, eliminating one of the most common barriers to employment for this population.
“Every student we help get hired is bucking a pernicious trend of unemployment for young adults with autism and other communication challenges,” says Heather M. Tarczan, executive director of Urban Autism Solutions. “But what really breaks our hearts is when we have a job-ready student an eager potential employer, but the student can’t work because of concerns with taking public transportation. The generous gift from Lyft has effectively removed that barrier, and allowed us to place more students into their very first jobs.”
Alejandro, 21, is one of the students who uses Lyft to get back and forth to work.
UAS helped Alejandro, a student at the Ray Graham Training Center, secure a job at Walmart Neighborhood Market in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago in January. He works bagging groceries and bringing in shopping carts.
At seven o’clock in the evening on a Wednesday, Alejandro clocks out at his job and texts Tucker Kelly, a job coach at Urban Autism Solutions, to let him know he’s ready to request a Lyft ride. Without Lyft, Alejandro would have to take two different buses to get home from work, which gives him pause. “Usually, my family picks me up on the weekends, but I’m not comfortable taking the bus by myself when they can’t pick me up,” says Alejandro.
Once the car arrives and Alejandro gets in, he’ll be home in about 15 minutes compared to up to 45 minutes on public transportation. “I like feeling safe in the car,” says Alejandro. “Waiting for the bus and sometimes on the bus, you don’t know what can happen and I sometimes have anxiety.”
Many students Urban Autism Solutions works with live in high-crime neighborhoods, and some parents are concerned about the safety of public transportation. Some parents prohibit their son or daughter from working if they can’t drive them to and from work themselves, making employment all but impossible.
Tarczan says that being able to offer students free rides through Lyft is a game-changer.
“We spend the majority of our lives in adulthood, and employment is a huge part of adulthood for any person,” says Tarczan. “When we can get a student their first job and remove that transportation barrier while they are transitioning to life as an adult, that’s going to have a deep and lasting impact on that young adult for years to come.”
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Lyft was founded in 2012 and is one of the largest transportation networks in the United States and Canada. As the world shifts away from car ownership to transportation-as-a-service, Lyft is at the forefront of this massive societal change. Its transportation network includes the largest shared mobility network in the United States and brings together ride share, bikes, scooters, car rentals and transit all in one app. Lyft is singularly driven by its mission: to improve people’s lives with the world’s best transportation.
About Urban Autism Solutions
Since its establishment in 2012, Urban Autism Solutions has served more than 1,000 young adults through innovative, person-centered programs that focus on the acquisition of life skills, community integration, social interaction, and vocational training. Whether we are serving West Side Chicago public high school students at our UAS West Side Transition Academy or at Growing Solutions Farm, or offering opportunities to the broader autism community for socialization through our Network 1212 social programs, UAS believes that all young adults living with autism and other learning differences are valued members of society.