There’s no argument that over the years, significant and essential changes have been made to adapting the workplace when it comes to our colleagues who identify as having neurodiversity and autism. I hope in writing this article it’s an insight into what others can do to improve our wider understanding and develop the measures companies already have in place.
When we talk about accessibility, what do we mean?
For most, accessibility will just be aligned with tools or resources for people to thrive in the workplace and to make the spaces we work in equal. However, accessibility shouldn’t just be about how we are changing spaces and tools but also our understanding and education of what it means to be part of the neurodivergent community.
As someone who was diagnosed with aspergers and a whole host of other things, it’s always been really key for me to work in places that don’t just brush ND and autistic people aside. I’ve always sought out organisations that truly offer genuine opportunities for neurodiverse/autistic people to thrive; however, that isn’t always the case, and 9 times out of 10, there is a lack of understanding.
Why should it matter?
According to the National Autistic Society, 1 in 100 people are on the autistic spectrum, and there are around 700,000 adults and children who fall onto the spectrum! There are thousands of adults in work who are also currently undergoing diagnosis for this as well.
Speaking from personal experience I’ve often found myself masking in the workplace because I felt like it would give me more protection than if I was just myself. In reality, maybe that was just me saying… this workplace isn’t accessible enough. It is not uncommon for people to mask in the workplace and appear fine when actually they’re experiencing something completely different.
We need to actively break down barriers to provide safe spaces where people can thrive and increase social mobility.
What can we do to create change?
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it’s key to remember that accessibility, like anything, is constantly moving. So what areas can we actively choose to work on when it comes to improving accessibility:
Training and development, there are a whole host of speakers and neurodivergent professionals who will come in and work with your staff, industry professionals who have years of experience and will be able to provide insightful ways to improve understanding.
There are also a number of books and articles on Neurodiversity in the workplace available, more notably Neurodiversity at work by Amanda Kirby and Theo Smith, a book I highly recommend.
Creating spaces that are accessible for all is important. 9 times out of 10, people who are on the spectrum actually suffer from sensory overload. Having offices where loud music is playing and lots of background noise can be distracting and often off-putting. It can increase things like anxiety and can put people off from coming into the office all together or interacting with members of staff.
It is hard to try and please everyone and without creating isolation, you can encourage music to be on a lower volume setting. There are also great pieces of audio sensory equipment like earplugs, especially Loop - you can signpost to people who are interested. Alternatively, you can also create quiet spaces for people where it's a lot calmer and more sensory-friendly.
We often just want to jump the gun, without really listening and speaking to our neurodiverse/autistic employees we run the risk of getting things wrong. Everyone has different experiences, and by creating spaces where people can talk openly about this is beneficial we also ensure that we are doing the best possible job of helping our ND and autistic employees thrive.
What are we doing to help?
Over the last few months here at CTI we’ve been developing our employee lead Intersectional ED&I committee, which has allowed us to create an environment where staff can come together and help improve accessibility, equality and equity for all. This is a blend of people who come from different backgrounds and communities in order to represent every possible group within the business. We are also working on creating our first awareness library where employees can access information if needs be about various things that fall into the ED&I educational umbrella.
Investment is key, there are a whole host of benefits when it comes to having neurodivergent/autistic people in your business, and they can bring a lot of insight to the workplace, and through appropriate education, this would become quite clear.
Actions speak louder than words, and through education, developing your work environment and listening, you allow ND and autistic people to thrive. We will all, no doubt, at some point come across someone who is neurodiverse or autistic, and how you approach that will be a game changer in your company's journey.
To hear more stories this World Autism Acceptance week, read Heather's story on her experience of having autistic children and Lucy’s blog on her experience of living with autism.