An angry mother claims McDonald’s is discriminating against her Asperger’s son with a job advert that describes eye contact as a ‘must’.
Fiona Wallace, 52, said her son Robert would have been perfect for the customer service role but was dissuaded from applying when he saw that applicants must have the specific attribute.
The 21-year-old has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, which can make eye contact difficult during stressful situations such as a job interview.

Look, we’re all all for no discrimination against the disabled, the differently abled. But can we for a moment just be serious? We’re not going to suggest that the armless should be wallpaper hangers nor that Aspie’s should be put on the front counter at Maccy D’s.

There really is something called rational discrimination you know……

55 thoughts on “You what?”

  1. Pete must be looking down from heaven and saying to Dud, “See, I told you you weren’t cut out for that Tarzan role.”…

  2. Note that it was reading the advert that was discriminatory, not that he was interviewed and this brought up and not given the job.

    Do I get to retrospectively shout discrimination at the Bank of England for being put off for applying for the governors jobs as I had no experience of being a central banker, would would be keen and wanted the job?

  3. “But can we for a moment just be serious? We’re not going to suggest that the armless should be wallpaper hangers nor that Aspie’s should be put on the front counter at Maccy D’s.”

    You might not be. But the disability rights campaigners are!

  4. > Note that it was reading the advert that was discriminatory, not that he was interviewed and this brought up and not given the job.

    Exactly. McDonald’s these days are a famously good employer. And all job ads have a list of requirements which might be ignored if you’re clearly good enough for the job. He should have applied anyway.

    As a customer, I have to say the eye contact and friendliness do matter. But then so does getting the order right, which I’m pretty sure someone with Asperger’s would excel at. Swings and roundabouts.

  5. If I’m being served by an aspie who doesn’t make eye contact I might as well be served by a machine. Oh, wait…

  6. Think they’re Norwegian (might be just a memory blip that) and for code testing jobs, rather than programming, I think.

  7. Asperger covers a multitude of sins. My cousin maintains too much eye contact and couldn’t program anything, but he has excellent understanding of drainage systems and can play pretty much anything by ear on a piano.

  8. What is really depressing is the cringing response from McD’s.

    They should have put this mother firmly back in the box by telling her that, of course, they expect their ‘crew members’ to smile, chat and look at their customers and that anyone who couldn’t do this, Asperger’s or not, wasn’t fit for the job.

    Further, they could and should have said, ‘Of course, we discriminate. But only in favour of those fit to work for us and against those who are not’

    Fitness, covering a wide range of attributes and not in any way ruling out one-legged, lesbian, vegans if their other skills made them suitable.

  9. All those wishing to express solidarity with the young man’s condition, including his mother, should drive a pointy stick into each of their eyes.

  10. Gepff,

    > What is really depressing is the cringing response from McD’s.

    You thought it was cringing? I thought it was explaining the bleeding obvious that a job ad is a wish list and that they don’t always get everything on the list.

    I just find it appalling that the poor guy’s mother, instead of teaching him that you shouldn’t take job ads too literally and encouraging him to apply for the job anyway, instead PHONED THE DAILY MAIL. Cause that’ll work.

  11. Tim,

    Yes, there was a Norwegian (or maybe Danish) firm, but a British bloke with an autistic son liked the idea and set up a British copy a few years back. Last I heard, they were doing well.

  12. Gepff003

    “And just who are mothers to decide their sons “would be perfect for the job”?”

    Glenys Kinnock?

  13. SQ2: “I just find it appalling that the poor guy’s mother, instead of teaching him that you shouldn’t take job ads too literally and encouraging him to apply for the job anyway, instead PHONED THE DAILY MAIL. Cause that’ll work.”

    It often does. Often enough that they’ll keep doing it.

  14. Julia,

    Depends what you mean by “work”. Even if her complaint were to get her son this one job, it still won’t teach him about how to get jobs in general.

  15. A tale which speaks volumes about Modern Britain. Will the guy be able to get a position under ISIS I wonder?

  16. “Note that it was reading the advert that was discriminatory, not that he was interviewed and this brought up and not given the job.”

    Possibly an urban myth, but I seem to remember that some sharp guy made quite a bit from compensation claims around the time that the discrimination regulations changed in respect of job adverts.

    He kept an eye out for adverts which made some reference to age and then applied for it. Didn’t matter what the job was or whether he was qualified. Usually it was for a small company which hadn’t kept on top of all the regulations. He would then point out the “discriminatory” advert and demand some compensation on threat of going to the authorities. It was easier for the companies to pay the guy a few hundred quid than risk a heavier fine.

    Don’t think the scam lasted that long, but he got a good return from not a lot of effort.

  17. Frankly I would prefer to be served by someone who did not make eye contact, got my order right, and did not make small talk nor smile. I am buying a burger, not chatting up the staff,nor setting out to enjoy a gourmet meal.

  18. Perhaps the Mail could give him a job? Surely they wouldn’t discriminate against him because he has Asperger’s?

  19. Plenty of people, from Nixon onwards, had difficulty looking right when on TV.
    So they hired media advisors, voice coaches, etc.
    If it’s just training your son to look people in the eye, something that a lot of teenagers have difficulty with, why doesn’t mum find a coach for her son?

  20. If you’re being served by someone who doesn’t make eye contact then it feels like they’re not paying attention and a customer will either be thinking “He’s going to fuck this up, isn’t he?” or might even have a go at the lad. I don’t think McDonalds wants either of those.

  21. I see the BBC have apologised for Alliss’ remark in commentary that the winner’s wife would now want a new kitchen. Note that there is no word that Alliss could have used instead of kitchen that would not have let to protests.

    Stupid of me to think that the Beeb would even televise the Tarzan sketch, even if it did come top of a viewers’ poll for best ever sketch…

  22. As a customer I do not make eye contact with staff when giving my order or waiting.
    Would have no trouble hiring with certain disabilities for non customer roles, ability to get on with the job being pretty important. I know McDonalds have hired people with certain limitations in the past – had some working at ones I use.

  23. Sadly Aspies and programming doesn’t always work so well as my employer found out.

    The main problem is that their thinking seems very fixed. They may know everything you could ever want to know about a particular language/database/programming environment in minute detail. But then a job comes along which requires learning something new and a certain level of winging it before you understand fully what you are doing. This is when the problems appear.

    The other issue is that contrary to popular opinion programming is rarely a solitary occupation. A good programmer has to deal with other programmers code , make his his code integrates with other people code and most importantly understand what the customer actually wants. Quite often the spec for a project is written by management and makes little sense so this needs interpretation rather than being blindly followed. Again sadly Aspies aren’t so good at that.

    Incidentally these days there does seem to be over diagnosis of this condition. I have been sent a couple of work experience kids but prior to their arrival I get a phone call or visit from a parent (usually the Mother) who explains to me that little Joey has been diagnosed with this and I need to make special allowances etc etc. Along comes what appears to me to be a normal teenage male with slightly geeky interests who then fits into the office perfectly. He might know bugger all about football and music but his Andrioid programming is great and learns all about Labview programming in the next week. I have a feeling that these lads are just bright and bored out of their mind at school the management of which push the Mother to get a diagnosis.

  24. Notall

    Spot on – the much discussed ‘Progressives; of yesterday’s ire are horrified to learn how many pupils with ‘Special Educational Needs’ there are in China (any guesses) with a population of more than a billion. Meanwhile in the UK (Around 1/20 the population), the school I taught in had dozens and I was in a more affluent part of London. In places where my colleagues taught like Hackney and Newham nearly all the pupils were ‘statemented’ – a veritable cottage industry with which the educational authorities are happy to collude.

  25. In 10+ years in software development I’ve met plenty of people who are socially awkward in one way or another but only two who I would say were even borderline Aspie. It’s very difficult to succeed in any profession if you can’t get along with people, coding is no different in that regard.

  26. I tried to help an Aspie with his interview technique. I started with a general question “OK, x, tell me a bit about yourself” Response: “What do you want to know that for….?”

    He’s still unemployed.

    Another reason he is still unemployed, is that he thinks he has been “Trained in media” (whatever that is) and has been told by well-meaning teachers that he is “excellent”, when he clearly isn’t.

  27. Matthew L yes I realise it makes me slightly worse than Jimmy Saville 🙂

    It is interesting though as the brighter lads become frustrated and bored with it in a couple of days.

  28. I have a nephew who is definitely well round on the Asperger’s spectrum. If I didn’t have a elative I come into contact with on a regular basis I’d be sceptical myself but he just seems to see the world with different criteria than most.

    I have tried to get him down the casino to play blackjack but my sister gets very funny about that.

  29. Bloke in Costa Rica

    I hate things like LabVIEW. You spend more time fighting the tools than designing.

    Software engineering, outside the spotty geek in his bedroom paradigm, is an intensely social activity. A lot of firms won’t permit (or sharply limit) remote working because for non-trivial projects face-to-face interaction between team members is as important as the coding skill of any individual member.

  30. @ Notall
    i’ll believe you – bright kids are frequently bored out of their mind in a modern comprehensive.
    My elder son came home and moaned to me when they introduced A/S levels that the two text books for A/S and A2 chemistry were jointly only two-thirds of the size of the old A level book. In his first year t the school he and two other kids were put on a third-year maths course by a good teavher while the rest of class did standard year 1 – the next year a different teacher put them back onto the year 2 course after they had finished the year 3 course (and refused to believe him when he found an error in the textbook – definitely an error, I checked).
    There is a difference between someone with ADHD and a kid who is 50% brighter than the class average – the latter regularly gets 90+% in exams – but poor teachers don’t notice any other. I was lucky with my maths teachers and was taught trigonometry and the Argand diagram to keep me amused when I was 13, but very probably some of your kids were less lucky.

  31. Over here, McDonalds are solving the ‘discrimination’ problem by… replacing order-entities with touchscreens.

    Be careful what you wish for. The future of fast-food burgers is likely to be entirely automated, and nonsense like this will just accelerate that trend.

  32. Dongguan John

    On the contrary, I find that those staff members at MacDs or pubs and bars, or waiters in a restaurant, who make eye contact and engage in small-talk and ask you how you are feeling etc are much more likely to get the order wrong…or at least to approach you after a while and ask you to repeat the order. Are you, perhaps, one of those people who demand that their interlocutor looks them in the eye when they are being addressed? I thought that attitude might have gone out with the demise of National Service/conscription.

  33. In my first two years of secondary school, I learnt one piece of maths: what a triangular number is. That was it. My parents got called in to the school to address my shitty attitude. My parents, aware that I’d been buzzing through maths books for fun since before I’d started primary school, suggested to the school that they tried teaching me something. The school effectively refused.

    I was being “taught” using a system called Secondary Maths Individual Learning Education, or SMILE. As if you couldn’t tell by the name, it was utter fucking shite.

    In third year, they stopped using SMILE and I immediately jumped to the top of the class and stayed there. I also taught half my GCSE class to do quadratics because our teacher failed to.

    This was in supposedly one of the best state schools in London. That’s a low bar, mind.

  34. No, I just find a bit of eye contact when conversing with someone gives confidence that they are paying attention rather than bothering themselves with something else. I always assumed that was just rather normal human behaviour. I’m not expecting them to join me in some inane pleasantries.

  35. . . . and the jobs go to China.

    Or employers hire illegals, who left the drama in their home country.

    Under the ultra-fascist U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act, a one-armed paper hanger must be provided with an assistant. So the employer pays two people for the work of one, the assistant.

  36. The touchscreens that Edward M. Grant refers to are already in some London branches. This has revolutionised by McDonald’s experience as I no longer need to have a philosophical debate about the meaning of “plain cheeseburger”.

  37. Bloke in Costa Rica

    S2: this is where fee-paying schools really have the edge. There is such a tight coupling between money spent and results (£30000 a year on fees will have that effect) that there’s no way this would be allowed to slide for so long. By the time we came to start A-levels, we already had learnt complex numbers, matrix and vector algebra, general binomial theorem, differential calculus and so on. Integral calc and differential equations waited until A-level, but nonetheless we were pushed (it helped that our teachers all had maths degrees from Oxbridge or Russell Group unis).

  38. Incidentally these days there does seem to be over diagnosis of this condition. I have been sent a couple of work experience kids but prior to their arrival I get a phone call or visit from a parent (usually the Mother) who explains to me that little Joey has been diagnosed with this and I need to make special allowances etc etc.

    In my day it was dyslexia that every third child/student had and hence was entitled to extra time in exams so they could “read the questions properly”. I was always highly skeptical of the numbers claiming dyslexia and was more inclined to think most of them couldn’t read well because they simply hadn’t read enough and/or they were a bit dim. Naturally, the parents couldn’t countenance this so were quick to assign a medical condition. Interestingly, my best teacher was dyslexic and he lobbied for no special privileges for dyslexic children because he thought it would not prepare them for the real world where no such allowances were available, and they’d be better off putting in the extra effort to overcome the problem on their own. He was ploughing a lonely furrow with that one.

  39. BICR,

    > There is such a tight coupling between money spent and results … that there’s no way this would be allowed to slide for so long.

    Well, quite. The thing is, there’s really no difference: parents pay through the nose for state schools too. But there’s something about the mechanism of taxation that warps attitudes. Teachers don’t regard parents as their employers, though of course they are.

    I know a few teachers, and they do like sharing complaints about bloody parents on Facebook. Cartoons hilariously showing how parents are to blame for teachers’ inability to teach. Parents who demand results and who complain to teachers about the fact that their kids aren’t learning anything are apparently particularly to blame.

    Unless the kids succeed, of course. That’s all thanks to the brilliant teaching.

  40. Too late I fear for anybody to get the joke, but I shall post it here for posterity.

    Re Julia M,

    “SQ2: a triangular number?

    Oooh, I know! It’s ‘4’, right?”

    YES IT IS, if you are writing in Greek numerals! Though if you are the old fashioned sort who wants to write in Attic numerals (which evolved into the Roman numerals we are familiar with today) then the number represented by a capital delta is actually ten. So there you go.

    Incidentally the Greek numeral system is still used in modern times, to represent ordinal numbers (i.e. “the fourth”) in a similar way to how we often use Roman numerals in settings like “Henry VIII”.

  41. My autistic younger son has just pointed out that this is massively discriminatory against blind applicants.

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