Hidden Talent: Autism at Work

A man stands with his back to the camera and is looking at lots of pieces of paper pinned to a whiteboard.You’re missing out by not hiring staff with autism. This is one of the points made in a FastCo article, about the ways to support staff with autism. It’s possible you already work with them now, but neither of you know. Common behaviours are social ineptness, lack of eye contact and blunt remarks. Sound familiar? The article gives a brief overview of some of the diverse ways autism presents. Many people with autism can focus for long time on a topic – if it interests them. Attention to detail and pattern recognition skills are often well used in technical occupations. Some have unique ways of viewing situations and can bring great insights to problem solving.

The article lists some of the ways to accommodate employees with autism, such as reducing environmental stimuli. Clear communication that doesn’t rely on social cues or facial expression are also recommended (isn’t this good for everyone?) The title of the article is, You’re missing out by not hiring autistic workers. It originally appeared in The Conversation.

See the Harvard Business Review article, Neurodiversity as a Competitive Advantage. The Sydney Morning Herald has an article on autism and academia – Autism, a neurotype not an insult.  

 

Diversity, Disability and Disbelief

A young man stands between library book shelves. He has a large book open in his hands.Requiring accommodations for inclusion can be an invasive process. When the disability isn’t obvious, disbelief by others becomes another barrier to inclusion. So just owning up and spelling out what you need is painful enough, but then not to be believed is the final straw. If you have a mental illness this can be devastating. A personal story by a library employee highlights how attitudes are just as important as any physical or workplace accommodations people might need. The title of the article is, The Impact of Disbelief: On Being a Library Employee with a Disability.

Abstract:  As a library employee with a hidden disability (post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD]), just going through the accommodation process is difficult. The process is invasive and includes an in-depth interview with a disability specialist who knows nothing about you. The process also requires a letter from a care provider detailing both the accommodation and why it is necessary. In order to get an accommodation, the person must first be diagnosed by a medical professional or a psychiatrist, which is often expensive and time-consuming to obtain. The process is made more difficult and painful when supervisors and administrators do not recognize the validity of the condition for which the accommodation is needed. This paper explores the accommodation process, its impact on the employee, and the politics and psychology of disbelief and suspicion surrounding disability accommodation. Through the lens of personal experience and reflection, I will explore how the library, while a place of learning and advocacy for knowledge, can also be a place of ableist views that limit the abilities and potential of employees with disabilities. I will also provide guidelines for combating ableism in the library workplace.

There is a companion article Disability, the Silent D in Diversity, which gives the library experience of wanting to have diversity, but not wanting it to be too difficult.

Barriers to employing autistic adults

Logo for Aspect CapableIf there is a supportive environment, many autistic people could be employed. Indeed, they could flourish and be an asset to the workplace. Employers need to know what sort of adjustments are needed so they can reach their potential. Often they are really simple, particularly if thinking from a universal design perspective. An interesting and informative article from London South Bank University covers the topic comprehensively. The open access article can be downloaded in Word from the university website. The title of the article is “Identifying and Addressing Barriers to Employment of Autistic Adults”. In the UK they have The Equality Act and The Autism Act which emphasise access to work. Good to see this topic being covered.

Aspect Capable website has more information on a Australian initiative and the video shows how autistic people can achieve in the workplace.

Designing for workplace diversity

An office with desks in a row with computer screens and people sitting at the desks.An inclusive workplace is one that values individual differences and makes people feel welcome and accepted. Workplaces and workplace polices need to think about how to be inclusive from the outset. As Pragya Agarwal says in her article on Forbes website, “Inclusive Design is not an afterthought… it has to be planned beforehand…” This also means that employees are not segregated based on any special requirements they might have. This is a thoughtful article and gives examples throughout. It is good to see universal design and inclusive thinking applied to both the physical and cultural aspects of the workplace.  The aim of a “diversity manager” is to make themselves obsolete – that is, the job is done.

From diversity to inclusion at work

A mosaic of many different faces and nationalitiesWhen it comes to workplace diversity and measuring business performance there is no one right way to do this. According to a systematic review, equality and diversity need to be “embedded in the business strategy, not treated as an ad-hoc addition”. As with all universal design thinking – it has to be thought of from the outset and then thought about throughout the design process, whether it is a building, a service or a business policy and strategy. The research was commissioned by the Design Council. The findings make for interesting reading because they discuss the benefits as well as some of the drawbacks that need managing along the way. There are several references to original research included in the article. 

Open Plan Offices: What’s the verdict?

Looking down into a large open plan office with desks and partitionsThe debate about whether open plan offices make good places to work continues. A team of Harvard researchers found that they weren’t. But it seems they were looking at the extreme of open plan, and poorly designed at that. In defense of open plan design, architect Ashley L Dunn argues that the Harvard study chose offices where there were no partitions and no separate meeting rooms or places for private conversations. These are elements that make open plan effective. You can read more from Dunn in the FastCompany article. By chance, most open plan designs end up being more accessible for people using wheeled mobility devices. Toilets and staff rooms might be another matter though.

It would be good to see an article such as this also tackle issues of inclusion and accessibility in office design, particularly for people who for example, are deaf or hard of hearing, have back pain, or have low vision. Some solutions are simple such as moving clutter from walkways. The video below from the Rick Hansen Foundation shows how simple things make a big difference – it doesn’t have to be perfect.

 

Retiring Retirement

Red Green and Yellow balloons with 100 printed on them in white.Is it time to retire the word “retirement”? Does it have the same meaning now as it did 30-40 years ago? Ending paid work, especially if it wasn’t enjoyable, makes the idea of a permanent holiday a dream come true. But is it? For those who are not the retiring type, the notion of being on holiday for up to 40 years is not something they relish. They want to keep going past the nominated pensionable age. So this area has no one-size-fits-all solutions. But one thing common to all, is having the ability to get out and about and access everyday activities and be welcome everywhere, and to have a home that accommodates issues of ageing. That is, let’s have more universal design rolled out so we can have the choice to do what we want as we age. The BBC webpage has an interesting story about a 106 year old man who continues his medical work on a voluntary basis. Examples of centenarians still working include a barber, who has been cutting people’s hair for 95 years, and aYouTube star aged 107, who teaches her million followers how to cook dishes such as fried emu egg.  

Will you hire me?

Front cover of report showing hands and a keyboardInclusive employment practice is not usual employment practice. While businesses might have a positive attitude towards the diverse nature of their customer base this does not always apply to their recruitment practices. But a handful of organisations are giving it a try. The Australian Network on Disability (AND), which specialises in assisting organisations to be more inclusive in their human resource practices, has developed an index. This year the top performers are the Federal Department of Human Services, the Australian Taxation Office and ANZ. AND has just published their 2017-2018 benchmark report. It can be downloaded in PDF, Word, video or podcast.  

Employment articles

An older man carries a briefcase and looks in the window of a commercial building. A younger blonde woman carries a large red bag and is wearing a blue suit.The Financial Times has featured several reports on employment and disability. One of the articles asks employers to give themselves a chance to find hidden talents. Written by Lord Blunkett, past Work and Pensions Secretary in the Blair Government, it shows the importance of having champions at high levels of decision making. When it comes to budgets, disability is too often seen as a cost – and a cost that can be easily deleted. Lord Blunkett was there to make sure that didn’t happen under his watch. There are several articles and reports in this series on the modern workplace and disability, including flexible attitudes, and workplace adaptations.  

Artificial Intelligence: a re-think on inclusion

front cover with black upper case title, amplify accessibility with a purple V shape on its side and a young woman in sports gear runningAs technology and artificial intelligence (AI) evolves, businesses will have to consider the ramifications. Technology will determine the inclusiveness of our emerging digital society. These developments have the potential to bring many more people with disability into the workforce – provided accessibility and inclusive practice are considered today. Accenture.com has posted a report, Amplify You, on the state of play for digital inclusion. In the introduction they claim:

“As technology evolves and new platforms emerge, the way businesses design and develop new technology will determine the inclusiveness of our digital society. New technologies have the potential to bring an estimated 350 million people with disabilities into the workforce over the next 10 years—provided we design with accessibility in mind today.” 

The 24 page PDF report covers understanding the digital divide, design for humans, AI is the new UI, and more. I the last section, What to Do Now, it has bullet points under headings of: Understand the implications of accessibility, Design accessibility into your business, Build an ecosystem of accessibility – and continuously think about what is next.