Autism and your workplace  

A master in your field with incredible knowledge and passion which radiates brightly as you speak, but yet struggling with employment – or know someone who is?

Unfortunately, this is the case for many individuals on the Autistic Spectrum. In fact, 80% of adults with Autism are unemployed (UN, 2015). A barrier exists between talented individuals and the future workplace, and that barrier is the current mindset within workplace environments.

The challenge

Care and support for Autistic children is growing within the education system and it is clear that early detection and intervention are important factors for development. But what support is available for adults with Autism in the workplace?

It can be a daunting experience for anyone, leaving the education system for the ‘big, wide world of work’. That brings a mixture of nerves, uncertainty and a little excitement at new found independence. For someone with social difficulties where change and the unknown causes distress, this transition can be extremely difficult, especially in a world which doesn’t facilitate neurodiversity.

Only 3 in 10 employers include neurodiversity in their HR policies (CIPD, 2018). The processes put in place to hire and retain employees do not nurture the neurodiverse mind.

neurodiversity thought

The workplace is missing out on a spectrum of talent

Neurodiverse conditions are a part of human diversity with each making the world a more interesting and unique place to be. Those with Autism experience the world differently and offer original concepts of shared experiences.

A spectrum condition including diagnoses such as Aspergers, there are a variety of characteristics associated with Autism that can be advantageous to the workplace; heightened senses, strong eye for detail, intense concentration, ability to recognise patterns and solve problems, loyalty, strong memory, a literal mindset, logical approach and average to above average intelligence are just a few. Interestingly, individuals with Autism tend to be savants in their industry due to passionate enthusiasm around their interests.

“Autism…offers a chance for us to glimpse an awe-filled vision of the world that otherwise might pass us by” (Dr. Colin Zimbleman)

 

So, how can you be mindful of different minds?

Changing the workplace mindset means to recognise the diversity of each and every individual and be proactive in facilitating differing needs, from recruitment through to nurturing and retaining employees.

 

Recruitment and hiring

Begin by rethinking what skills are truly important for the role; the ability to make eye contact when communicating or, bringing novel ideas and a wealth of knowledge to the job? Job descriptions should be based on the actual skills required for the job and not related to generic social abilities.

During the hiring process consider ditching traditional interviews which can be difficult for individuals who struggle to communicate. Instead, offer work trials or tasks which allow potential employees the chance to demonstrate their skills. If this isn’t possible then make reasonable adjustments to aid the interview process; give the candidate the questions in advance so they have some time to process and prepare and perhaps allow an extra little bit of time for their responses.

 

Retain employees

Flexibility towards personalised working is key to nurturing employees with Autism. With a tendency to be hypersensitive, too many distractions can cause overstimulation. Provide quiet zones or noise cancelling headphones to aid a calm environment. Additionally, you can facilitate diverse ways of processing with the use of assistive technology.

Reduce anxiety and stress with structured routines; provide clear deadlines and help plan workloads by assigning time slots to tasks. Practice forward-thinking and adapt the literal mindset by being instructive; this reduces the distress caused by change and the unknown, and ensures clear expectations.

Finally, it can often be difficult for someone with Autism to express their feelings, especially if they don’t know who to turn to. Provide a support network with a dedicated ‘buddy’ and schedule weekly one to one check ins.

 

If you want to find out more about embracing neurodiversity within the workplace, download Texthelp’s Neurodiversity Guide.

 Business Disability Forum also has a Briefing for Employment adjustment for people with Autism, including Asperger Syndrome.

Supporting employees returning to work after a stroke

Angela Matthews, Head of Policy, Advice and Research

Angela Matthews, head of policy, research and advice at Business Disability Forum, looking ahead at the audience

Angela Matthews, head of policy, research and advice at Business Disability Forum

This morning, Stroke Association released new research which showed 15 per cent of stroke survivors returning to the workplace feel unsupported by their employer.  In fact, 37 per cent people under the age of 65 who had a stroke gave up work, and another 9 per cent either missed out on promotion or were made redundant after having a stroke.

Business Disability Forum’s CEO, Diane Lightfoot, spoke on Sky News this morning about this new research. She emphasised how stroke happens unexpectedly, and it is therefore not something an employee or employer can readily plan for in their usual individual workplace adjustments planning.

Stroke survivors are often still recovering when they return to work. It can often take longer to recover than an employer’s average sick pay policy covers. This means employees may try to come back to work before they are ready, because they don’t want to experience personal financial hardship (43 per cent of stroke survivors said they experience financial hardship following their stroke). As stroke survivors’ bodies are often still healing when they come back to work, they might be physically slower, they might now have to complete tasks in different ways (using different keyboards, assistive technology, or carrying things differently, for example), or they might be using mobility aids; but this does not mean they are now unable to work or are intellectually less capable.

The usual ways of supporting any employee at work apply, such as ensuring they know they can talk to someone (a line manager or employee wellbeing support professional, for example); making adjustments specific to the employee’s situation; and regular, support meetings to review recovery, workload, and working conditions. There are however some specific things that managers supporting stroke survivors should also remember:

  • There are lots of medical appointments after a stroke – consultants, speech and language therapists, counsellors, nerve tests, physiotherapy, for example. Time off (ideally, paid) for appointments is often hugely appreciated. Check your absence and time off policies and advise the employee how they should discuss and request time off for these.
  • Redeployment as a reasonable adjustment and job carving are so under-utilised and poorly understood, but they can be the difference between a stroke survivor leaving and staying in work. Check that your HR teams and managers know how to discuss and arrange such new working patterns with employees where appropriate.
  • Ensure return to work procedures, approach to making workplace adjustments, and phased returns are available and supportively managed. If arranging phased returns or reduced working hours, ensure you also re-prioritise and re-consider the employee’s workload. Giving the employee the same workload on reduced hours does not make for a supportive return to work and will not help the employee recover as much as possible.
  • Stroke survivors may now move in a different way and their confidence in their own mobility might be reduced for a while. They may now need to use the lift instead of the stairs. Check if you need to discuss new Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs) with employees where appropriate, and ensure there is an effective review period in place to manage this.
  • Be patient. Stroke survivors are often still getting used to how different their body now feels, learning to do things differently, and trying to re-gain mental and physical confidence after an unexpected, frightening, life-changing event when they come back to work. This is as new to them as it is for you as the employer or manager.

For more information, Members and Partners can contact us to get a copy of our briefing on supporting stroke survivors in the workplace.  

Going places at our summer reception

By Diane Lightfoot, CEO of Business Disability Forum

Diane Lightfoot at the summer reception, addressing the crowd

Diane Lightfoot at the summer reception

Last week we held our annual Business Disability Forum summer reception where it was wonderful to to be joined by some new as well as some more familiar faces!

Our summer reception has historically been our Partner group reception but this year we wanted to open it up to members too and judging by the number of people in a room, that decision has been very well received!

This year’s reception – fittingly for the time of year – was on the theme of “Going Places” with a focus on summer holidays. Huge thanks to our Partner Sainsbury’s for hosting us and providing a selection of foods from around the world which certainly got us in the holiday mood! Our sponsor for the event was the Go-Ahead Group and we were delighted to have their support not only as a very important part of going on holiday is “getting there”, but also because we launched the initial findings from our accessible transport survey at the event.

A colourful banner for Business Disability Forum's summer reception 2019

Summer reception 2019

In May, we launched an accessible transport consultation as part of our “Going Places” campaign, titled “Getting There: How accessible is UK public transport in 2019?”. We wanted to find out more about disabled people’s experience of using tubes, trains, taxis, buses, trams, coaches, and planes travel whether for work or leisure. The results are based on the experiences of 236 people who got in touch with us to share their views. The results are perhaps not surprising:

Our headline finding is that inaccessible transport is preventing disabled people from going places.

Travel difficulties are preventing 4 out of 10 disabled people from going shopping and a third from going to work or going on holiday. At the same time, a quarter of disabled people said they found it hard getting to the GP or hospital.

The research found that:

  • The most popular type of public transport used in an average month is train (59 per cent of disabled respondents use the train regularly), followed by bus (50 per cent), and taxi (34 per cent).
  • 44 per cent said they have been prevented from taking part in leisure activities (such as going to the cinema, theme park, or exhibition) due to inaccessible transport.
  • 38 per cent said they couldn’t go shopping.
  • 34 per cent said they have been prevented from getting to work
  • 33 per cent said they have been prevented from going on holiday
  • 25 per cent said they find it hard to get to the places that help them manage their condition or get treatment (such as the GP, hospital, rehab or physio).

Our research is published a year on from the publication of the Government’s Inclusive Transport Strategy, which aims to create an equal access transport system for disabled passengers by 2030, and at a time of increased campaigning around the inaccessibility of public transport across the UK.

It shows the huge impact that inaccessible public transport is having on the lives of disabled people and the subsequent knock on effect on the economy. People are telling us that transport difficulties are making it harder for them to get to work. This is particularly worrying when you consider the growing numbers of organisations which are becoming multi-sited or are looking to relocate. We are also concerned that transport issues may be limiting the roles which disabled people feel they can apply for, ruling out those which require travel.

Inaccessible transport is also preventing disabled people from spending their income, by influencing decisions about where to shop and to spend leisure time, and whether to go on holiday. With the collective spending power of disabled people in the UK standing at £249 billion, this represents a significant loss to business.

But the other thing we are seeing is that one size doesn’t fit all. For example, lots of people are saying how easy airport signage and communications are, and then others are saying they can’t read airport signs and that departure boards are very inaccessible. What this tells us more than anything is that people are different! We all do things in different ways and need to use things differently. So, flexibility and a range of options is the key to the future of inclusive transport.

We are also really encouraged by the number of transport companies who have joined us as Members and who are really committed to making a difference for their disabled customers. We are seeing some examples of real innovation in this space, such as Network Rail’s approach to inclusive design, TfL’s refurbishment of priority seating to help raise awareness of the needs of people with non-visible disabilities and Gatwick Airport’s Lanyard scheme. Great ideas don’t have to be complicated; Brighton and Hove Buses have an award-winning scheme called “Helping Hand” that empowers bus users to discreetly and directly advise the driver of any assistance they need. The yellow card holds a brief written instruction for the driver that can be shown upon boarding the bus so that the driver is immediately made aware of the customer’s needs or requirements without the customer having to verbally communicate it. It’s been particularly useful for people with non-visible disabilities and is now being used off the bus as well – in taxis, shops and cinemas. For example, the “Please face me I lip read” can help anywhere at any time.

So, things are changing and changing for the better and we need to keep that momentum no matter what the future is about to bring us. Now more than ever business needs the best workers to get to and travel for work and we all need to be able to access rest and relaxation.

We will be using the research to make a series of recommendations to the Government as part of their current consultations on transport accessibility and as part of our Going Places campaign. You can follow the debate with the hashtag #BDFGettingThere

Last but not least, a huge thanks to all our Partners and Members for being on this Disability Smart journey with us and for driving change not just in your businesses but across society. Inclusion itself is a journey, not a destination, but thanks to your support we can make it easier for everyone not to only to be Going Places but to be Getting There as well.

Diane Lightfoot
CEO

Ps We are looking at the “Getting on” aspect of our Going Places theme with our new career development courses taking place this October and November, generously hosted by our Partner RBS in Edinburgh and led by Phil Friend and Dave Rees. There are a few places still available on this 3-day residential course – heavily subsided thanks to RBS’s generosity – so if you are interested please have a look here

Case study: Sainsbury’s accessibility audit with CAE

Sainsbury’s, one of the UK’s largest retailers, sought the help of Centre for Accessible Environments (CAE), via the recommendation from Business Disability Forum, to transform its headquarters in central London into an accessible hub for its 3,000 staff and visitors.

CAE compiled an access audit of the company headquarters’ 8 floors and 35,838 square metres and provided advice on how to make the building more inclusive for all disabled people.

Tim Fallowfield, Company Secretary and Board Sponsor for Disabilities, Carers and Age in front of Sainsbury's groceries

Tim Fallowfield, Company Secretary and Board Sponsor for Disabilities, Carers and Age

The retailer is part of Valuable 500, a movement which urges large corporations to place disability inclusion on their agenda. The audit was part of Sainsbury’s plan to be the most inclusive retailer, supported by Tim Fallowfield, Company Secretary and Board Sponsor for Disabilities, Carers and Age (pictured right). The audit has had a positive impact on the organisation, sparking a focus on disability inclusion across their 30 regional offices across the UK.

With a building in the heart of central London, CAE’s first focus was to highlight priority actions that Sainsbury’s could carry out straight away. Some of these priorities included quick wins such as better signage or glass manifestations – which were low cost but had a big impact on accessibility for staff. CAE also provided medium and longer term recommendations which can inform future works for Sainsbury’s. Following the audit, Sainsbury’s has carried out over 100 changes, which have been well received by staff and leadership.

Sainsbury's Holborn HQ

Sainsbury’s Holborn

Sarah Beisly, Sainsbury’s Diversity and Inclusion Manager said, “The audit that CAE undertook for us had a huge impact on our business. We could not have asked for a more robust and easy to use report”.

Fara Muneer, Head of Business Development at CAE, says: “it’s fantastic to see the impact of our work and to be a part of Sainsbury’s plan to support a more inclusive workforce”.

Find out more about CAE at cae.org.uk

Not all value is as clear as dollars and cents

Jodie May 2019

By Jodie Greer, IT Accessibility Lead at Shell Information Technology International Limited

How many of us would have a business, or a job if there weren’t other people somewhere in the chain? Be that colleagues, customers, potential new recruits, suppliers etc. So how can you really put a value on accessibility?

In many forums I hear the same familiar questions, wanting to put a $ mark against accessibility goals and wanting to know the number of people impacted. Well, what if I told you there aren’t any statistics?

Some people would disagree with me and research shows that globally there are more than 1.3 billion people living with a disability* and together with their friends and family that group has a spending power of $8 trillion**.

Those of us in global organisations also contend with the numerous legislations around the world, meaning in some countries we cannot ask staff to share if they have a disability and sadly we all contend with the stigma that is still very apparent with regards some disabilities that makes people reluctant to share voluntarily.

In the workplace and with your customer base can you really put a value on making people as productive as they can be and/or enabling people to make use of your goods and services? Let’s not forget that accessibility doesn’t only enable people with disabilities, these good practices can prove beneficial for many. Some examples, captions can be invaluable for someone with a hearing impairment and can be just as beneficial for someone facing a language barrier, colour contrast can make all the difference for some people with a visual impairment to access information and also help those of us with good vision to stop squinting as we try to decipher what’s in front of us and good meeting practice can ensure we all take away the same messages without relying on the ability to recognise sarcasm or distinguish what’s said by motivated people all speaking at the same time.

The reason I suggest there aren’t any statistics is that the world keeps turning. Not just literally, but the demographic you are serving today will be different tomorrow and again the day after and so on. Staff who do not require adjustments today may do tomorrow, customers who can use your products today may not be able to next week. Are you prepared to lose them? That’s the true value of accessibility.

Most of us love a statistic, so I would say think about the value you put on your staff and customers and whether you can run an effective and commercially viable business without them (if you can please share how as that sounds like an opportunity not to be missed and the lottery isn’t working out for me) and then translate that in to $$ to decide if you can afford to be anything but truly accessible.

Accessibility is simply good business sense and the Business Disability Forum’s Technology Taskforce provide support and guidance to those who want to be successful.

Data sources: *The World Bank and **The Global Economics of Disability

Why should you attend our Career Development Course? Part 2.

Business Disability Forum in association with the Royal Bank of Scotland in Edinburgh is delighted to be able to offer new career development courses specifically designed for disabled people. The programme will be delivered by highly experienced personal development coach and Business Disability Forum Ambassador, Phil Friend and his non-disabled colleague Dave Rees, a trained expert in neuro linguistic programming.

Robert Oldham, Continuous improvement manager at Royal Bank of Scotland (pictured right) did the course and said:

Robert Oldham

Robert Oldham

“During the course I learnt that I am disabled [Multiple sclerosis (MS)]. Before then in staff surveys I would tick the no box when asked if I had a disability. After the course I ticked yes. Technically I meet the legal definition but more importantly, I acknowledged that the world as it stands isn’t geared to be inclusive; not through ill-intention but through lack of understanding. People think about and design for the majority. The course gave me the confidence to talk about myself and my health condition.

“In large businesses you get to go on many courses. Usually it’s a nice day out but it doesn’t change anything. With this development programme, you get a nice lunch but there are real action takeaways and practical tools that will help you. You learn that you’ve got an impairment and you can’t do anything about that. You can, however, do something about being in an office not getting the support you need and not getting ahead in your career. You really can do something about that. I had to write a one page summary about me which said “this is me and I have MS and this is what I need from you”. I sent it to my manager with a guide about MS from the MS society and said “ask me anything you want”. My manager responded really positively. She said that no one had ever done that before. She found it informative and said that she now realised that fatigue is one of my biggest challenges. On a bad day it’s better for me to go home early to get some rest as it meant I was more productive when I returned rather than just being present at work and unproductive.

“This one page summary is kind of like an alternative CV – without cub or scout badges you’ve earned. It says “this who I am; this is the health condition I have; this is how it affects me and this is what I need from you to be the most effective individual I can be”. When I first started it was the length of War and Peace but getting a friendly pair of eyes to review it helps you to refine it. Often you can think something is really important only for someone else to tell you that it really isn’t that important. My previous manager was my friendly pair of eyes and she gave me some great feedback.

“In 2011, just after the height of the financial crisis Lloyds (then Lloyds TSB) was restructuring and I left the organisation. It took a while to find a new job and I was very aware that setting up as a contractor wouldn’t work for me as it didn’t offer the same protection as a large organisation. I joined RBS in November 2012. I confess that I joined without telling them I had MS. On my first day I had coffee with my manager and told him. I wanted to show how committed and capable I was so didn’t share my one page summary with him but I did give him the MS Society guide. He turned out to be a terrible manager who didn’t understand MS at all and I had challenging time but I’ve stayed with RBS in a variety of roles.

“Now I’m part of health advisory team in RBS. We provide adjustments for people across the bank. When RBS said it wanted to introduce a career development programme for disabled it re-jogged my memory about the course. When you get comfy you get out of good habits. I was one of guest speakers on this course – explaining what RBS had done in the disability space. I was also one of founding members of ENABLE, the staff disability network.”

People who have been on the course at RBS describe it as ’empowering’ and ‘rewarding’ and said that it has given them confidence and broken down barriers. The course enables you to meet people who have a lot of commonality in terms of challenges even if they aren’t just like you. We’re all disabled.  The key thing for me is that it helps you find your identity again and gives back confidence that you might not even know you’ve lost. After the course I was able to reground and re-focus.

The Career Development course helps you to learn that things are still possible. It gives you tools and strategies to manage your disability that allows you to be as effective as anyone else. In the last few years my fatigue levels have gotten worse and I don’t have energy for home and work life and so I have to consciously choose where I expend my energy and I’ve chosen prioritise home life. I have three children who keep me busy. Conscious decision making is one best things I’ve learnt.  One of biggest challenges is that no one can tell you what your disability will mean for you in years to come. I have a degenerative neurological condition so it will get worse. I’ve lived my life not paying too much attention to that because no one knows what’s going to happen next week or next month or year. I’ve learned to ignore it in a productive way.

Find out more about the Career Development Programme here 

 

Construction sector network roundtable round-up

construction-sector brighter

Earlier in June our second construction network roundtable took place at HS2 with the aim of sharing ideas and innovations in the sector, chaired by Adrian Ward and Karan Snuggs.

Pamela McInroy, Diversity and Inclusion Manager from High Speed Two (HS2) spoke about the linkage between Health and Safety and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) and how a fully inclusive site helps achieve a safe site and how this applies across all protected characteristics.

Maria Grazia-Zedda, EDI Workforce Manager at HS2 spoke about the approach that HS2 are taking to ensure inclusive recruitment, and how HS2 are using Gap Jumpers to help with some of their recruitment. “Did you know that 1/3 of the construction workforce will retire in the next 10 years? It makes sense to share practices that are disability friendly.”

Laura Crandley Executive Director Partnerships at Leonard Cheshire informed the group about the work of Leonard Cheshire and in particular focused on the organisation’s Change 100 initiative which is aimed at students and graduates with disabilities or long-term conditions.

Leonard Cheshire are looking for more employers to support this work and members of the construction network are encouraged to liaise with Laura should they wish to get involved with this initiative.

If you are a Member or Partner of Business Disability Forum in the construction industry and would like to be involved or would like more information, please contact Adrian Ward (adrianw@businessdisabilityforum.org.uk) and Karan Snuggs (karans@businessdisabilityforum.org.uk)