Returning to work post-pandemic might be a bit scary. A useful article addressing the psycho-social issues discusses universal design as a wellbeing solution. That is, to place equal weight on the wellbeing of all employees.
Against the backdrop of COVID-19, Bonnie Sanborn argues that universal design principles increase employees’ perception of being valued at work. For example, adjustable workstations and social spaces with easy access for all employees. Being able to freely express concerns and ideas without fear of reprisals gives a sense of psychological safety.
Suggestions include creating layouts where all employees have equal access to the best views. This might mean allocating this space as a common area. A blanket standard for ergonomic features on furnishing might sound equal but doesn’t cater for differing needs. Giving people the right tools and equipment for the job shows the boss understands the nature of their job.
If 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.
When 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.
The 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 Dunnin 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 Foundationshows how simple things make a big difference – it doesn’t have to be perfect.
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 beencutting 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.
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.