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.

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

Understanding how accessibility affects us all

Fara Muneer, The Centre for Accessible Environments

The Centre for Accessible Environments (CAE) is passionate about delivering inclusive environments and a critical part of CAE’s mission is to raise awareness through training, offering consultation to organisations to create the right environment which plays many roles. Firstly, that the right environment is inclusive and comfortable for staff and secondly, will attract and retain customers.

This goes hand in hand with staff training to embed the values of being an inclusive organisation.

The payoff for CAE is seeing the impact first hand of delegates having a wider influence on diversity and accessibility with their newly acquired knowledge and skills.

‘Understanding how accessibility affects us all’ was how one of the delegates summed up her training, which was critical to her role within a leading gallery where she was responsible for visitor experience.  Jo who is a Chartered Ergonomist, recently had this to say about a course she attended: “A brilliant and informative course; including teaching and practical elements so that we could apply what we’d learnt…. the trainers, are extremely knowledgeable and provided lots of real life examples. I am already utilising the knowledge I gained.”

CAE Centre for Accessible Environments logo

Three scenes of training provided by CAE: Left - people looking at a diagram, top right, a man talking, bottom right, a man wearing glasses

Various scenes of training with CAE

CAE deliver both bespoke courses for organisations and in addition offer open courses, last year CAE trained over 400 delegates –  a win for CAE, as these delegates now have a higher level of access knowledge and understanding of the practicalities of access improvements in light of the Equality Act 2010.

One of CAE’s clients is the Government’s housing accelerator who work across regional offices throughout England. As their teams had a variety of roles including staff from office roles to more specialist housing teams CAE delivered a mix of training from half, one and two-day training courses for them on disability awareness to more specialist training.

As their training partners, CAE’s biggest outcome was not only supporting their strategic plan to put equality and diversity at the heart of their work but also the knowledge that CAE’s training will impact the housing needs of more diverse communities.

Although CAE gets a variety of requests for training, courses cover:

To see upcoming dates and to book for any of CAE’s upcoming courses please click here.

World Mental Health Day 2018: ‘Young people in a changing world’.

By Charles Clement, Business Disability Forum

When I started my first proper job for a large insurance firm about 20 years ago, I remember we had a welcome reception with wine and cheese (now that shows how long ago this was).

This was a chance for new recruits to meet senior staff and was part of the formal induction process. After quite a lot of cheese and some wine I got talking to a Director from a different part of the business. My tongue loosened by the wine, I told her that I was very unhappy in my new post. I didn’t think I fitted in, felt very anxious and I was probably depressed, having experienced depression in the past. After a few awkward moments the Director excused herself and went to mingle and I went home. The next day I went in to work and was immediately asked in to a meeting room by my Manager. I was told in no uncertain terms that he did not appreciate me talking about the department to other colleagues and that if I wasn’t happy then maybe it wasn’t the job for me. After this things were, not to put too fine a point on it, awkward – and I left soon after. To be honest Mental Health wasn’t widely spoken about back then so I don’t hold any ill will towards my Manager and as a new entrant to the labour market, I thought his reaction was pretty normal.

I contrast my own experiences to those of someone fairly new to the world of work. I recently spoke to Andrew who has been a Management Consultant at EY for about four years. Andrew, like me, had experienced depression at school and university. When looking for a graduate scheme to join, EYs reputation as a people centred business played a part in Andrew’s decision.

EY logo

EY

When he joined EY, Andrew wanted to explore whether he could create a wellbeing programme that was tailored to young people joining the world of work supporting them to manage their mental health and wellbeing, – perhaps they had moved to a new city away from family and friends for instance. Not only was this project supported by leadership at EY, it was positively encouraged. Andrew knows he can be open with his managers about his depression and has the flexibility to balance his own time with client needs in a way that works for him. So, it does appear that times, are changing.

So what does the future hold? Undoubtedly, mental health is spoken about more widely and has a greater profile in the media. This has gone some way to removing the stigma associated with poor mental health. However, as mental health becomes more widely discussed in the workplace it’s important that it doesn’t drop off the agenda or become a ‘non-issue’. Line managers should still be equipped to have conversations with employees who look like they are struggling with their Mental Health.

Technology is developing at an incredible rate. This allows us to have more agile and flexible workplaces, which can be of great benefit to someone who needs to work from home because of their mental health. Often, this new technology allows employees to work at times that suit them, which can be very useful if sleep patterns are erratic or a person is fatigued at certain times of the day. However, it is important that we make time to ‘check-in’ with our colleagues who work flexibly, to make sure they have the support they need. As in all things in life, getting the right balance is important.

Charles Clement

Charles Clement

The future provides challenges, certainly, but also many opportunities to get it right around mental health. I have worked at Business Disability Forum for six years and the progress made in that time makes me even more hopeful that in another six perhaps mental health will be discussed in the workplace, in the same way we discuss physical health.

Interested in more about mental health?

Business Disability Forum recently undertook a survey of 16-24 year olds to gauge their attitudes to mental health and the role of businesses and universities. While a huge majority of respondents wanted to talk more about mental health, few felt able to do so at their places of work or study, showing how outdated approaches are holding back the next generation.

For the full findings, visit our Media Centre. A report on the findings will be released in January 2019.

It’s all about the talent

Jodie

By Jodie Greer, IT Accessibility Lead, Shell

 

Do you consider yourself to have a disability?

Yes?

Not at the moment?

Some of us aren’t currently living day to day with a disability. But that’s just a temporary state. Be it due to injury, illness or age, personal circumstances can change at any time for any one of us.

Would your current employer be able to accommodate your needs if your circumstances changed?

More importantly, as an employer, if one of your employees becomes disabled, are you equipped to retain them – or do you risk losing them to a more accessible competitor?

I’m sure you don’t need much more convincing. After all, it’s simply good business sense to ensure your organisation is disability smart and fully accessible. Be the one who talented individuals consider first when planning the next step in their career, not the one who some talented individuals disregard because you’re considered inaccessible and therefore a potential obstacle in their progression.

Do you value the talent you’ve already successfully recruited?

What if one of those high performers were to become disabled, would you value them less?

Would hearing loss, sight loss or a mobility impairment make them less effective?

In many cases, only if you aren’t willing or able to provide the right tools.

Not only do you risk losing out, you could also get hit by unnecessary costs for recruitment, training and the reduced productivity which comes with the induction and initial training for a new role.

We all know, there is no need to quote sources here, that some disabilities e.g. hearing or sight loss, can be age related. With the aging working population growing it’s even more essential we are fully equipped to meet accessibility needs. Imagine losing all that experience to a competitor just because you hadn’t future-proofed your solutions. This includes some very simple changes like having magnifying and screen reader software readily available.

We live in a technological world and technology is ever evolving, in fact technology is way ahead of many of us when it comes to accessibility.

Need help seeing the right colour neck tie?  There’s an (free!) app for that.

Need assistance reading the text on screen?  Guess what, there are (free!) functionalities and software for that on multiple platforms.

Need your PowerPoint presentation reviewed to ensure it’s accessible?  You’ve guessed it, there’s a (free!) built in Accessibility Checker for that.

It’s really all about making accessibility part of your organisation’s DNA, so that it’s just business as usual (BAU); and, why wouldn’t you? At the Business Disability Forum Technology Taskforce, a question we regularly ask is: how can we help organisations to understand the true business value of accessibility?

I’m sure all my “free!” references above did not go unnoticed and that’s an important factor here.  I’m not suggesting for a moment that you should not invest in accessibility, after all how would you achieve innovation without investment in your people, services and solutions?  However, I am sharing with you that many of your concerns over the commercial impact may well be unfounded.  In fact, the average cost of a reasonable adjustment is just £30.*

Circular flowchart showing 'accessibility' leading to 'best talent' which leads on to 'good business' and back to 'accessibility'

Accessibility is good business sense: Accessible practices feed into getting the best talent, which in turn makes the business better and stronger

Why not take a few moments now to look up what’s available in your work place, or to have a conversation with your local IT and/or occupational health teams on how to make improvements?  The Technology Taskforce have a number of free resources available on their website, ranging from what is expected of an ICT Accessibility Champion to what you might look to include in your assistive technology catalogue. Don’t wait until you regret it, take action now and be confident you can attract and retain the very best talent to pave the way to success.

You can find out more about the Technology Taskforce and the resources available to you via the following links:

https://businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/membership/technology-taskforce/

https://businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/membership/technology-taskforce/technology-taskforce-resources-info-az/

*Source: RIDI

Unlocking the potential of employees with neurodiverse conditions

Sign for RBS Business School, Edinburgh

Royal Bank of Scotland have just achieved Gold in Business Disability Forum’s Disability Standard.

In this blog, Louise Ferguson, Operational Manager at Royal Bank of Scotland, talks about how they worked with the consultancy Lexxic to improve support for employees.

In October 2016, we began to make referrals to Lexxic for individuals affected by dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, AD(H)D, and other neurological differences. Lexxic are Business Psychologists and specialists in dyslexia and neurodiverse conditions.

Previously, support for neurodiverse conditions had been provided through our Occupational Health providers. Workplace assessments would be carried out by an Occupational Therapist where an adult screening test would be undertaken to confirm likely-hood of a condition and its severity. In addition to this they would provide recommendations to support the employee in doing their role.

Working with Lexxic has enabled us to provide access to industry specialists who offer us the options of diagnostic testing, work place assessment, e-learning modules and one to one support training. The move to Lexxic has been incredibly beneficial for our employees with neurodiverse conditions, as well as their managers and colleagues. A clear advantage of the service provided by Lexxic is that they can run ‘lunch and learn’ awareness sessions for managers and colleagues, allowing them to better understand conditions and how best to work with and support their colleagues. Feedback from employees has been very positive.

We work closely with Royal Bank of Scotland’s employee led disability network ‘Enable’ to raise awareness of different conditions, and the support available in the workplace. We’ve really seen the benefit of unlocking the potential of those employees with neuro differences.

A Lexxic newsletter recently highlighted the story of Chris, a complaints handler in the bank who has dyspraxia. He shared his story in a post called ‘There’s a lot of things that I can do better than someone who doesn’t have dyspraxia’. He talked about the importance of raising awareness, and using the highlighted tools to make adjustments to his working practices.

The support Lexxic have (and continue) to provide has been very valuable. They have a good understanding of our business, and the employees’ needs. It’s great to hear about their new strategic alliance with Business Disability Forum.