Kelli Fisher is a marketing and media specialist at Spectrum...

Kelli Fisher is a marketing and media specialist at Spectrum Designs in Port Washington, and on the autism spectrum. She came up with the ad campaign and is featured in the nonprofit’s newest commercial. Credit: Danielle Silverman

A new marketing campaign by a Port Washington nonprofit aims to highlight the capabilities of adults on the autism spectrum in the workplace.

Kelli Fisher, 34, is the creative mind behind a new advertising campaign and TV commercial for Spectrum Designs, a Port Washington-based nonprofit maker of custom apparel for businesses and organizations. The campaign, launched on April 1 in recognition of Autism Awareness month, was inspired by her own experiences as an adult on the spectrum.

Fisher, a Plainview resident, is the first employee on the spectrum to work in marketing for the design outfit.

“Autistic people are often seen in a box,” said Fisher, who joined Spectrum Designs five years ago at its now-closed sister operation, Spectrum Bakes. “People assume things when someone says they're autistic.”

The nearly 40-second commercial, airing locally on WABC-TV, opens with a shot of Fisher standing in front of a black backdrop with a cardboard box on her head.

“This is how the world sees people on the autism spectrum. We’re all the same,” Fisher says before removing the box, revealing her face. “We’re not. Trust me.”

The rest of the commercial highlights other employees and the products Spectrum Designs makes, including T-shirts, hoodies, hats, backpacks and mugs.

Fisher said the idea behind the box campaign was to bring to light how often autistic persons are not recognized as distinct individuals and are assumed to have the same traits, skills or attitudes.

“If you’ve met one person on the spectrum, you’ve met one person,” Fisher said. “The spectrum is a spectrum for a reason — because people are so different.”

Fisher with Spectrum Designs co-founder and CEO Patrick Bardsley, center,...

Fisher with Spectrum Designs co-founder and CEO Patrick Bardsley, center, and production assistant Jarrius Show, right. Credit: Danielle Silverman

Job hunting can be a frustrating endeavor for anyone, but for those on the spectrum, even those with a college degree like Fisher, the process of interviewing can present extra challenges.

Before joining Spectrum Designs, Fisher recalled, she had an interview for a part-time job at a fitness studio  for which she thought she was well qualified. But early in the interview, she said her lack of eye contact became an issue, a common attribute among some of those on the spectrum.

“I remember in the first five minutes, the manager said he can’t hire me because I don’t make eye contact,” she said. “I knew everything about the company and the job. It really upset me.”

Those difficulties helped inspire Fisher to come up with the nonprofit’s new “Out of the box” campaign.

She is not alone in having encountered hiring obstacles.

Nationwide, only around 14% of adults on the spectrum have a job, and about 80% of those adults have no paid job experience after leaving high school, according figures from the National Autism Indicators Report.

Autistic job seekers can struggle in interviews, as their communication styles and social interactions often differ from their neurotypical peers.

“Employers may lack a full understanding of their strengths and abilities, leading to the oversight of highly qualified candidates,” said Richard Piana, business development manager for West Babylon-based Winters Center for Autism, a job-training and placement nonprofit for autistic adults.

“Moreover, individuals with autism often encounter difficulties in social interactions and communication, which can pose hurdles during the interview process,” Piana said. “Interpreting nonverbal cues and engaging in small talk — crucial elements of interviews — can be particularly overwhelming for them.”

Adjustments pay off

Piana said for employers, minor adjustments to  procedures have the potential to open doors to pools of highly motivated and talented individuals on the autism spectrum.

Since the launch of campaign, the tagline of which is “The best things can be done”  — another idea from Fisher — the nonprofit has seen a big boost to its social media presence.

While Spectrum Designs, founded 13 years ago, has a mission of employing autistic adults and has around 75 employees, half of whom are on the spectrum, Fisher is the first to work in marketing for the nonprofit. 

“We challenged ourselves over the last 12 months to look at managerial roles,” said Patrick Bardsley, co-founder and chief executive of Spectrum. Bardsley said it was important to look at ways Spectrum could bring more workers on the spectrum into leadership roles.

“Kelli and this whole campaign is a really good example of what happens when you do that,” Bardsley said.

“This has been the most successful campaign we’ve ever launched,” he said. “Our social media followers are the highest they’ve ever been. That’s because of Kelli and the team.”

Since the campaign's launch earlier this month, the TV spot has been viewed more than 70,000 times on social media, web traffic to the Spectrum Designs website is up 300% to 400% from the same month last year, and the nonprofit has seen a 200% uptick in customers seeking quotes for potential orders,  Bardsley said.   

Bardsley said the organization and its mission  have made for good business.

“We’re successful not in spite of the neurodiversity we have, but because of it,” he said. 

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