A New Talent Market: “Coolabilities”, Enhanced Abilities in Disabling Conditions

Chally Grundwag, David Nordfors and Nurit Yirmiya

We all know someone with a disability who is extremely talented, right? That’s because disabilities often come with other enhanced abilities. We are giving them a name - “coolabilities” — and they are a door to a new world of opportunities. Generally the job market cares about what people can do. The problem is that the talents of people with disabilites are overlooked in this market. “Coolabled” people, on the other hand, have strengths and competencies which are valuable in the workplace and society in general. We are doing research on these possibilities as a part of our engagement as members in the i4j Innovation for Jobs Leadership Forum, aiming to disrupt unemployment.

People with disabilities are undervalued, and often discriminated by the education system and the job market. With one emerging exception, especially in Silicon Valley: people with High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder, ASD, (a.k.a. Aspergers syndrome). There are many excellent software engineers among them. The industry is beginning to look for people with ASD to recruit them as highly payed engineers. They are recruited because they often have enhanced abilities, coolabilities, that make them especially atractive in this field. For example a strong sense for detail and pattern recognition. Other disabling conditions have valuable abilities too. Until now they did not have a name. Coolabilities is that name.

For Human Resource Management (HRM) the concept of coolabilties can be useful when recruiting, interviewing and training. It can help HRM to focus on the competencies of the individual. For example, in an interview of a person with ASD, “lack of eye contact” is not a sign of dishonesty or lack of competency. Tests which require fast reading or writing will not reflect the valuable competencies of people with Dyslexia. For the job seeker or the employee, coolabilities can describe her legitimate superior assets while also making it easier to acknowledge the disabilities that come with them.

Dyslexia is neurologically-based and creates difficulties in spelling, reading, decoding words and comprehension of texts. Many children and adults with Dyslexia are stigmatized as unintelligent and slow. Standardized tests, usually based on reading comprehension, work to their disadvantage . They are underrepresented in STEM higher education, despite having the same talent and interest as others. But there is no lack of knowledge. Dyslexia often comes with coolabilities like creativity, original problem solving strategies, visual perception, innovative thinking, and understanding the bigger picture.

Attention Deficit/ Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) is a lifelong neurological disorder characterized by impulsivity, hyperactivity and problems with attention span. Recent research suggests that ADHD traits often have coolabilities like innovative thinking, novelty seeking and risk taking, all valuable abilities for entrepreneurial initiatives and in the startup world.

With as much as 20% of the population struggling with dyslexia, whereof many remain undiagnosed, and about 11% of children between 5–17 diagnosed with ADHD, as well as approximately 4% of the adult population, the concept of coolabilities can change what is being seen as a widespread disabling condition to a demographic resource for attractive special abilities.

It is possible to understand different types of coolabilities, like this:

  • ‘Contextual Coolabilities’: a trait that is disabling in one context (environment) becomes non-significant in another, such as people with ASD who have very specific (“limited”) interests, and extreme attention to detail, can become experts where the specific knowledge is valued, an attention to details is an asset
  • ‘Compensational Coolabilities’: When one or more abilities are strengthened at the loss of another. For example a person who lost one limb and trains the remaining ones to compensate for the loss
  • ‘Singular Coolabilities’: abilities that do not exist in other people, such as when blind people reorganizes and reassign neural pathways in the visual cortex giving rise to coolabilities such echolocation. People with such abilities perceive and act in ways unimaginable to others

Coolabilities can open new horizons also for the counseling professions. They could increase the resolution of the diagnosis for parents of children with autism spectrum disorder. The knowledge that a child with ASD may have valuable, exceptional coolabilities moderates the otherwise so negative picture. Developing a child’s special talents provides a good purpose for overcoming the challenges.

Coolabilities can be additional indicators increasing accuracy in diagnosing conditions, too. Disabling conditions that come with valuable coolabilities, such as High Functioning ASD, ADHD and Dyslexia are both disabling and enabling conditions.

Many of disabling conditions can be renamed and rebranded as special conditions, because they are coolabling, too!

Read more: Our research working paper is available on ResearchGate. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.28296.83206