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.

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

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

Be part of the inclusion revolution – accessible HR software survey: now open!

Lucy Ruck, Business Disability Forum

Global business leaders are tasked with one universal goal – to differentiate themselves in an increasingly competitive marketplace while driving performance, productivity and efficiency. In the context of an ever-evolving digital business landscape, CEOs are increasingly looking to HR to spearhead the digital transformation process to achieve this goal.  

That’s why many organisations choose to invest in HR software solutions, or as they’re commonly referred to, Talent Management Suites (TM Suites), to engage employees and help them to be more strategic and productive. These tools can be immeasurably useful to seamlessly share information, open up communication, develop employee competencies as well as help HR professionals to plan for, attract and retain a blossoming workforce.

A bird holding the clipboard with the writing that says "Want to be a part of the inclusion revolution?"

Designed to improve workforce engagement, collaboration, and development by allowing staff to complete tasks such as expense reports, performance reviews and setting goals or connecting with new team members as part of the on-boarding process, TM Suites need to address the core assistive technology features that enable all employees to participate in the very best way they can.

What we hope to achieve

Business Disability Forum and Texthelp have seen first-hand the tangible benefits of developing truly accessible applications from the ground-up, and we want to use the survey to create a clear and up-to-date picture of accessibility and the user experience within HR software solutions.  

We will use the findings to develop what we hope will be one of the most informed pieces of research on the topic, helping us to understand how we can meaningfully include everyone in the workforce through HR software solutions with built-in accessibility.  We are also keen to utilise the results to explore how organisations can realise the untapped benefits of prioritising accessibility within HR software to help everyone achieve their full potential.

Survey details

The survey is quick and easy to complete and will help us to further our understanding of the user experience and current accessibility within TM Suites, as well as identify areas of success in terms of accessibility.

We are calling on anyone with experience of TM Suites, either as a user or administrator, to take part in the short survey.

Findings from the survey will be circulated through the Business Disability Forum newsletter and the Texthelp and Business Disability Forum social media channels / websites.

Respondents will remain confidential, however, the opening questions of the survey will aim to determine both the size of the organisation and industry sector that you represent.   If you complete the survey and don’t mind us getting in touch for further information on your responses please provide us with your contact details at the close of the survey.

Support the inclusion revolution by taking our short survey today.  The survey closes at 8am on Tuesday 9th July 2019.  

To complete the survey in a different way email n.branagh@texthelp.com

 

Changing perceptions one project at a time

camden

Ebunola Adenipekun, Business Disability Forum

Costain-Skanska Joint Venture is working with CamdenAbility and Business Disability Forum to improve dialogue between employees with disabilities and managers

CamdenAbility is a collaborative project funded by Camden Council and co-delivered by Cross River Partnership and Business Disability Forum. The project works with businesses throughout the London borough of Camden with a view to improving how organisations attract, recruit and retain people with disabilities. The ultimate aim of the project is to identify employment opportunities for Camden residents with disabilities, impairments and long term conditions.

Costain-Skanska Joint Venture (CSJV) has been working with CamdenAbility for 18 months. CSJV is delivering the High Speed 2 enabling works in and around Euston station through to West Ruislip. It has teamed up with CamdenAbility, jointly headed up by Adrian Ward, Senior Disability Consultant in the Specialist Solutions team at Business Disability Forum and Cross River Partnership’s Specialist Workplace Coordinator Parma Sira, to help find ways to ensure employees were comfortable sharing personal information about their disabilities.

Alice Jennison, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Manager at CSJV shares how working with Business Disability Forum increased participants sharing their information:

“Using the consultancy support available via the project we approached Adrian at Business Disability Forum for some help to increase the number of staff who provide details of their protected characteristics. At the time, 52% of staff had not communicated whether they did or did not have a disability. This made it really difficult for us to understand the needs of our staff, and also know what positive interventions and support should be put in place.

“Adrian offered insight into why staff might not feel comfortable to share their personal information, and produced a communications plan to relaunch our survey. He also provided advice on the best ways to discuss disability, and rephrase the question to be more positive.

“We changed the wording of the questions in line with the Equality Act but also to broaden the scope of what we mean by the term ‘disability’. The rate of preferring not to say went from 52% to 14% in less than a year. The result is that the information we hold about our staff is more accurate now – 9% have told us that they have a disability (it was 1% before the survey).

“Since being involved with the CamdenAbility project people’s perception of being disabled in our organisation has changed. It might have been the visible disabilities people thought about, but at 9%, nearly 1 in 10 people have disabilities in our organisation – and line managers now realise there are people who would benefit from conversations about this.

“This means that we can have a pinpointed dialogue with managers now – to talk about what these disabilities are, how to lead conversations and how we can support our staff.

“The impact of working with Business Disability Forum has been organisation wide – we recently gained Disability Confident Employer status to enable us to tailor support to existing staff, and ensure our recruitment is open to all.

“We look forward to Adrian and Business Disability Forum hosting more events such as the Construction Roundtable hosted in February. It’s vital we work as an industry together to attract the best and brightest talent. Health and safety is obviously an essential element in this – we would love to work further to understand how disabled employees can contribute to our projects as employees.”

To find out more about how CamdenAbility could work for you, go to: https://businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/our-services/consultancy-services/camdenability/

 

Conference round up: Who really leads the way?

Angela Matthews, Head of Policy and Advice

Martyn Sibley, one of the panellists at the conference looks on

Martyn Sibley, one of the panellists at the conference

We have been thrilled to get such great feedback on last week’s conference titled ‘Disability leading the way’. Throughout the day, we heard from: business leaders on what they have implemented to ensure disability stays on the agenda at every level of the business; senior diversity leads on the role in mobilising and advancing change in workforces; and disabled people on the change they wanted to see and be for the future of disabled people’s rights.

Some fascinating directions were debated. Below, I give my thoughts on three key topics that came up from the perspective of my role as Head of Policy: legislation, campaigning and leadership.

Do we need more legislation?

I recently asked this question at a roundtable where the delegates were business leaders and heads of disability and employment third sector organisations. One of the business leaders shook his head enthusiastically and said, “No way”. At our conference, I was taken with Hector Minto’s (Senior Technology Evangelist, Microsoft) words during the penultimate panel of the day (“Leading the way: our Disability-Smart Award winners”). He spoke about using the law to help businesses understand what they need to do. As an example, the law on accessible websites is clear and gives a description of what an accessible website needs to be. Practice can then be built upon this, for example, Microsoft’s in-built accessibility checker on Office 365.

(From left to right): Change in our time? Leaders of today panel: Asif Sadiq, Mike Clarke, Caroline Casey, Victoria Cleland and Brian Heyworth. Caroline Casey is talking.

(From left to right): Change in our time? Leaders of today panel: Asif Sadiq, Mike Clarke, Caroline Casey, Victoria Cleland and Brian Heyworth.

In addition, in November 2018, we responded to the Government Digital Service’s consultation on the UK’s implementation of European Union’s regulations on the accessibility of public sector websites. While collecting evidence for this, we heard from more than one hundred disabled people who said digital barriers remain huge and, as a result, they wanted more legislation and monitoring of inclusive websites.

Ultimately, as much as we hear about ‘legislation fatigue’, the law has changed things for disabled people and has provided methods for recourse for when these rights are denied (figures this week show a rise in employment tribunal disability discrimination claims).

But who made such law happen? Who were the leaders?

Making way for change ‘on the ground’

A common theme throughout the day was that “anyone can be leaders”. While this can be true, those leading change are often different from those implementing change. As an example, disability rights legislation (or any rights-based legislation) did not come from the State all of a sudden upon deciding that disabled people should have more rights. There were years and years of campaigning ‘on the ground’ to make disabled people’s experiences visible.

In America during 1977, after almost a month of street protests, hundreds of disabled people took over state buildings to put pressure on the Department of Health, Education and Welfare to move forward legislation that would secure rights and access for disabled people further. After years of campaigning, the Americans with Disabilities Act became law. Similarly in the UK, the Disability Discrimination Act did not happen overnight. It took years and years of disabled people speaking their stories outside Government buildings, blocking the streets, chaining themselves to public transport.

Wendy Irwin (Head of Equality and Diversity, Royal College of Nursing), also on the panel, used a key word: “agency”. It needs people at ‘grassroots’ level, exercising agency, to make way for change – and then others need to take over and make that change happen. Change needs both the campaigners and the strategists; the campaigners make space for the strategists to effect change. This is why inclusive leaders at senior level are so crucial.

The right leaders

Exercising agency is only one element of creating change. To make change happen, a body (a Government or business) must have the right leaders in place to both hear the issues and activate change. This takes us to the last panel of the day (“Leaders of Today”), where Brain Heyworth (Global Head of Client Strategy, HSBC) said, “If the leaders are not working [i.e. making things better for disabled people], change the leaders”. We then heard from Mike Clarke (National Diversity Manager, Environment Agency) that equality and inclusion is on the agenda at every senior level meeting at Environment Agency and, if a senior leader comes to a meeting having done nothing to further inclusion since the group last met, they are asked to leave the meeting. This was good news coming just after Diane Lightfoot (CEO, Business Disability Forum) and I had discussed that our latest research, The Great Big Workplace Adjustments Survey 2019, had found that 51 per cent of senior leaders said supporting disabled staff at work is not on their board agenda.

Diane Lightfoot holds the Welcoming disabled customers guide

Diane Lightfoot holds the Welcoming disabled customers guide

Moving forward

Everyone can be leaders, but leaders come with different roles. We need people to make barriers visible, and we need people to remove those barriers. When Simon Minty (Sminty Ltd and Business Disability Forum Ambassador) asked the panel of young people (“The Next Generation, Change Makers and Innovators”) what they wanted to see happen next, Abi Brown (disability rights activist and writer) said equal access to buildings, and Molly Watt (Accessibility and Usability Consultant and author) said better access as consumers and for businesses to recognise their role in influencing the future of disability rights.

It is then perhaps no accident that the organisations with the most effective disability inclusion strategies and whose data shows increasing levels of disabled employee engagement and development are the organisations where the disabled staff network and senior leaders have strong communication and are highly collaborative. We are seeing more disabled employee network leads at the meetings with senior leaders at the organisations we work with. At the same time, as above, disabled people throughout the day said they still can’t get into a high percentage of the shops or café buildings in their area.

Good things are happening, but there is no shortage of more to be done. Does your organisation have the right leaders, at every level, making way for and implementing the changes that are needed?

 

Our Welcoming disabled customers guide is available to view here

The great big workplace adjustments survey: now open!

By Angela Matthews, Head of Policy and Advice

Reasonable adjustments. Workplace Adjustments. Workplace support. Supporting you at work. Working in a different way. Being you.

All are terms commonly used by organisations to describe how they remove barriers for employees at work. The language is important. The process behind the language is even more important. But getting experience of both right is crucial.

It’s crucial for a number of reasons. At legal compliance level, employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments where they know or could reasonably be expected to know that an employee has a disability or long-term condition. At good practice level, employers want to ensure all employees can work in a different way whether or not the employee says they have a disability or condition. At leading practice level, workplace campaigns and communications focus on how enabling employees to work in different ways is integral to workplace diversity and allowing people to simply ‘be themselves’.

Male colleagues discussing using a tablet

Here at Business Disability Forum, our advisers advise people managers and departmental leaders every day on adjustments policies and related employee caseloads. Many of our consultants are commissioned to work with businesses on improving their adjustments processes; and almost all of our policy work comes back to how Government, employers, and public life in general removes barriers for individuals. Get a service provider’s or employer’s workplace adjustments processes robustly designed and defined in a way that suits who the business are, how they work, and what they need, and that organisation is well on its way to delivering an inclusive pan-diversity employee experience that meets the needs of every single employee, whatever they are going through in their lives, and at whatever stage in their career.

Yet, anyone keeping an eye on HR press or employment case law can see the adjustments processes employers have and continue to invest in are continuing to fail them and cost them greatly – both financially and reputationally.

And so we want to find out what works, what doesn’t, what managers love, and what employees loathe. This is why we have released The Great Big Workplace Adjustments Survey which will grasp a picture of how both employees and managers across the UK feel about adjustments, how they are discussed in the workplace, how effective they are, and how far everyone who needs adjustments actually have them in place.

Whether you are an employee, a manager, or someone else managing people and processes in your organisation, we are asking you to share your experiences of requesting and getting adjustments, or arranging and providing them for the people you manage.

You can complete the survey here.

Please share it with your colleagues, managers, and employee networks. The survey closes on Monday 8 April 2019 at 8am. Please do get in touch if you would like to complete the survey in a different way (email: policy@businessdisabilityforum.org.uk).

We’re looking forward to hearing what adjustments in an ever changing workforce are helping and hindering you, your managers, and your leaders to do and to be.