Autism workplace campaigns

Autism awareness campaigns have highlighted the socio-economic inequalities experienced by autistic people. A new stereotype has emerged from autism workplace campaigns such as autistic ‘talent’ and autism ‘advantage’. The aim of these labels is meant to encourage employers to hire autistic workers. But what we really need is a universal design approach. A briefing paper from Queensland University of Technology examines this new phenomena.

A brightly coloured logo in the style of a jig saw puzzle for Autism Awareness.

Awareness campaigns are based on the desire to do the right thing to improve socio-political conditions and opportunities for employment. However, they can lead to focusing on specific traits as if they are special. It adds up to stereotyping.

Marketing autistic people with ‘autistic traits’ will not guarantee inclusion even if it results in employment. Indeed, such marketing can result in thinking that all autistic people are the same. Nevertheless, highlighting the strengths and skills of autistic people could change negative perceptions and open up employment opportunities.

But these kinds of awareness-raising initiatives rely on ableist assumptions and a hierarchy of difference. That is, society still regards non-disabled people as the norm so people with disability remain outside this categorisation. Then thoughts turn to specialised accommodations.

Universal design as an alternative

The authors invite readers to focus on re-organising work so that the most number of people benefit without having to be excluded before they are included. They propose a universal design paradigm for inclusivity.

Contrary to traditional diversity and inclusion approaches that define or limit what diversity and inclusion mean, who is diverse and how they might be identified, Universal Design creates the conditions for diversity and inclusion to occur naturally.

Calista Castles, & Deanna Grant-Smith

Many of the diversity and inclusion measures that segregate socio-political groups, could benefit us all. A universal design approach negates the need for raising awareness of differences and can transition society towards acceptance of human difference.

If social, work and learning environments were universally designed we wouldn’t need special initiatives. These initiatives only serve to reinforce the marginalisation and stereotypes by reminding people of human difference. Or that special accommodations need to be made.

The title of the short article is, Autism at work campaigns: Are they creating inclusion in the workforce? This is an interesting briefing paper that succinctly spells out the issues of positive stereotyping any marginalised group.

Diversity and inclusion: Can we co-design our work?

A woman is sitting at a dining table typing on her laptop. When home is the workplace.Employers are experimenting with managing the changing face of work and employee feedback is of course essential. So, will universal design principles and the practice of co-design come to the fore in designing work? Perhaps. Regardless it is the way to sustain and build diversity and inclusion in the workplace. 

Most employees currently working in a hybrid model want it retained. A report by McKinsey found this was the case across the board. They also found that marginalised groups wanted it more than others:

    • Employees with disabilities were 11 percent more likely to prefer a hybrid work model than employees without disabilities.
    • More than 70 percent of men and women expressed strong preferences for hybrid work, but nonbinary employees were 14 percent more likely to prefer it.
    • LGBQ+ employees were 13 percent more likely to prefer hybrid work than their heterosexual peers.

However, the McKinsey report highlighted potential pitfalls:

    • Hybrid work has the potential to create an unequal playing field if not done correctly.
    • Companies need to prioritize the most critical inclusion practices: work-life support, team building, and mutual respect.
    • Marginalized groups are more likely to prefer a hybrid work model and would be more likely to leave if it was not available.

Hybrid good for inclusion

In their survey, 75 percent of all respondents said that they prefer a hybrid working model. Only 25 percent said they prefer to be full time on-site. 

“Consider, for example, the employee who may be hiding a disability, gender identity, or sexual orientation to avoid the stigma that can come with declaring it. Research shows that efforts to conceal such identities may take a toll on an employee’s well-being and performance. Ideally, employees would be comfortable sharing these identities with colleagues, and organizations would provide the inclusive environment in which they could. When they do not, however, hybrid work environments can relieve some of the strain.”

As employers navigate their way through new ways of working they shouldn’t mistake hybrid as flexibility. Some organisations were able to manage issues of isolation and mental health during the pandemic. Nevertheless, these issues remain across the business landscape, particularly for some traditionally underrepresented groups.

The title of the report is, How can hybrid work models prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion?

The article was re-published by the World Economic Forum with permission. There are links to other reports and discussion about experimenting with managing the changing face of work. Will universal design principles and the practice of co-design come to the fore in designing work? We shall see. 

The Future of the Office in Australia

Sourceable reports on the changing face of the office – the place where hybrid work is possible. The article has a real-estate focus but includes a nod to access and inclusion:

“… employers are facing rising pressure to address environmental, social, and governance issues in their offices and policies. Buildings that are inclusive and accessible for all workers have become more prominent in the industry, with popular features of new office buildings including prayer rooms and gender-neutral facilities.”

Age and workplace competence

Aerial view of an open office with people seated at desks in cubicles. If we say older people make more loyal and reliable employees, what does that say about younger people? And anyway, are these stereotypes valid? Ironically, public policy uses age stereotypes to overcome stereotypes about older workers. However, the connection between age and workplace competence is not supported in the research. 

One of the key issues here is that there is no clear definition of what an ‘older worker’ is. This makes it difficult to build relevant public policy. The range of ages is between 40 and 64 depending on who is doing the research.

The other issue is how to manage the intersection of age with other characteristics such as gender and work type. So, there is a need for an approach that acknowledges people of a given age are not all alike. The stereotypes are a social construct and have little to do with individuals. Hence, employment programs should be based on individual need rather than age. Indeed, older age based programs only serve to entrench the stereotypes.

Age discrimination is not related to one age group. Younger people face discrimination in the workplace too. The research indicates that the attributes canvased by advocates of older workers are not necessarily those that employers seek. 

Firefighters and two firetrucks attending to a fire.
Emergency workers transfer knowledge to new contexts. Image by Jon Pauling.

Public policy that pushes for a longer working life also makes several assumptions. People who work in jobs that cannot be done in later life, are overlooked in this scenario. And ‘productive ageing’ might not mean paid work, or that retirement is unproductive.

Population ageing has brought calls to prolong working lives. This has the potential to be a good thing for individuals and the economy. However, not everyone has a job-type that will support the extension of their paid working life.

Public policy

Policymaking should aim for measures that support all people in transition, for instance, in entry to work, job loss and re-entry to work, based on the assumption that the needs of young and old are not
much different. 

Advocates for older workers might be doing them a dis-service by perpetuating stereotypes. Younger and older workers are not in competition. Consequently both will benefit from efforts to promote their sustained employment.

Philip Taylor and Warwick Smith provide a thoughtful overview of the situation in their conference paper, Rethinking Advocacy on Ageing and Work

Professor Philip Taylor is a CUDA Board Member and presented at the UD2021 Conference in Melbourne.

Workplaces: Lessons from the pandemic

Graphic showing a laptop computer screen with coloured squares each with a face of a person. Workplaces: lessons from the pandemic.The pandemic has shown that workplaces can be almost anywhere. People who previously experienced physical barriers to workplaces found working online from home a blessing. But that doesn’t mean employers and managers don’t have to worry about accessibility and inclusion any more. Hybrid working where some staff are onsite and others online is where there are a few problems to solve. G3ict has some workplace lessons from the pandemic to share. 

Creating an inclusive workplace means catering for equity and accessibility in physical and virtual spaces. Platforms such as Zoom evolved quickly and now include automatic captioning for meetings and webinars. But there are additional things to consider in hybrid settings where some participants are online and others are in the conference room. 

Many conference rooms now include technology to accommodate hybrid meetings, but there is more to do. We need protocols around seating, placement of a sign language interpreter, captioning and the ability to use the “chat” function.  

Including people with disability – some tips

Including people with disability – and you might not know they have one – requires an approach that allows for equity and dignity. For example, a person should not have to ask for captioning to be enabled. If they have to ask they probably won’t because they don’t want to be singled out. If the captioning is clear, and AI captioning can be patchy, it’s good when sound is distorted or digitised. 

Not everyone will be viewing on a large screen, so presentation slides should allow for this. Large text with good colour contrast will ensure a higher level of readability for all. Not all vision conditions can be solved with glasses so it help people with low vision too.

Head and shoulders of James Thurston. He is wearing a light blue shirt and glasses and smiling to the camera.
James Thurston

The G3ict blog post discusses other details such as workplace furniture and products. Even fabric textures, patterns and colour contrasts can affect some people.  As the blog says:

“There is no handbook on how to create a fully accessible hybrid workplace, but engaging staff from a cross-disability perspective for ideas and product testing on both the physical and virtual side is critically important.”

“Set-backs in your plans should not be seen as failures but rather learning opportunities to move you towards a workplace that is accessible, inclusive and functional for everyone because truly hitting a “reset button” is not a singular action but a journey we must all be on together.”

When home is the workplace

A woman is sitting at a dining table typing on her laptop. When home is the workplace.Computers and internet provided the opportunity for some people to occasionally work from home. That was pre-Covid-19 when Home was still Home. But now Home is the workplace as well as home. It’s also been a place for education, long day care, and a place to stay safe. For some, home is all four at once: workplace, school, childcare centre and safe haven. Open spaces have taken on an increased value as a means of escape from the same four walls. But not everyone has easy access to open space, public or private.

Our homes were never designed for any of this. Not on a long-term basis anyway. Then there are the institutional homes – the aged care industry has not fared well in providing a sense of home for its residents. So we need a complete re-think about what it means to be “going to work at home”. 

A paper from Ireland looks at the impact of the pandemic on everyday lives and the need to adapt the built environment. The authors argue that: 

“There is now a key opportunity to implement universal design, to allow the best possible use of space, to enable everyone to live, work and socialise safely and equally.”

The authors discuss issues related to the public realm, housing design, and green infrastructure, and access for people with disability. They conclude that the pause mode caused by Covid-19 gives an opportunity to improve the lives of city dwellers. 

The title of the paper is, The impact of Covid-19 on our relationship with the built environment. 

From the abstract:

This article aims to explore the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on the built environment in Ireland. It considers how our homes might suit the future needs of all citizens, particularly the needs of the most vulnerable members of society.

The growth in ‘working from home’ has highlighted architectural issues such as space within the home and the local community, as well as the importance of public and private open space. Covid-19 has exposed the most vulnerable, and the nursing home model is under scrutiny and will need to be addressed. 

The Covid-19 pandemic offers the potential for architects to provide a vision of a built environment that addresses biosecurity issues, accessibility and climate change. Architects need to re-purpose towns, villages, and urban areas, and develop new housing typologies which will integrate living and working within the one dwelling, and promote a sense of community in local neighbourhoods. Adaptable, flexible buildings alongside usable and accessible public spaces are necessary to meet change.

Humanity is neurodiverse

A brightly coloured and glowing depiction of the brain in action. Humanity is neurodiverse.Comparing people to potatoes is a good way to explain diversity in the workplace. Although potatoes come in thousands of different varieties, shops give us the same regular sample to choose from. The same applies to our workplaces – we choose the same sample of the population. And if an employee doesn’t think or act like the majority, they are “weeded” out. Weeding out is often unintentional. That’s because employers haven’t yet worked out that humanity is neurodiverse. 

The term neurodiverse is often applied to people who are autistic. This is where stereotypes arise. The extra bright person who thinks differently to those around them is just one. Neurodiversity includes people with ADHD, dyslexia, obsessive compulsive disorder, and other cognitive conditions.

According to Kat Crewes we have seen a good deal of progress in workplaces. She says that research from EY suggest that neurodivergent people make up 20 per cent of the population. Yet many can’t get jobs or jobs they could excel in. 

Larger corporations are realising the benefits of designing workplaces that include people who are neurodiverse. Crewes mentions Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, and Deloitte. 

After hiring 100 neurodiverse people, EY found that their problem solving and creativity helped their business. A similar story for Hewlett Packard’s software development. But it is a big risk for someone to say they are autistic or neurodiverse. 

Designing the workplace

Many workplaces are getting up to speed with physical access. But we have to consider other design aspects such as sound and light sensitivity. Neuro-inclusivity requires a more nuanced approach. That includes giving neurodiverse people the opportunity to share their experiences. 

Crewes says that defining what accessibility means for a neurodivergent person is the first step. That means creating a safe place to speak up. She also explains more about people with ADHD and other cognitive conditions. The spectrum includes all genders, cultural backgrounds, and ages. They are working in every type of profession and organisation. 

Icons representing permanent, temporary, situational and cognitive conditions in the workplace. Humanity is neurodiverse.
Image from Aurecon based on Microsoft Design Toolkit

We are a long way from accepting people who are neurodiverse into the workplace. This exclusion is often the result of failing to adjust. It does take effort to design for inclusion. And it is not all one way. Embedding neurodivergent people within the workplace is a learning experience for everyone.

The Kat Crewes’ Aurecon article is titled, Designing for a neurodiverse workplace. The second half of the article has the information on workplace design. 

 

Telling stories for inclusion

Many coloured heart shapes with black eyes and smiles indicate diversity. Telling stories for inclusion.When it comes to diversity and inclusion, economic arguments tend to fall flat.  For many, economic arguments are academic – just information. Storytelling on the other hand is personal and connects with people. It makes the situation real. Telling stories is also the way to learn from each other. An article in the Harvard Business Review tackles the topic of telling stories for inclusion.

Measuring the number of different categories of person in a company is also an academic pursuit. Scorecards, targets and business cases can measure numbers, but what do those numbers actually mean? Inclusion by mathematics is not likely to create empathy and understanding – the real game changers. But whose stories get told?

Stories from leaders are good, but stories from peers are better. The article gives examples where the workforce might be diverse, but it’s not inclusive. This is where nuanced conversations are needed. Leaders need to hear about the impact bias and exclusion actually has on employees. 

Creating safe spaces for storytelling is one way to find out how inclusive a workplace is. The article, How Sharing Our Stories Builds Inclusion gives more detail on this. 

Summary of article

“It’s time for the conversation around inclusion and diversity to take a human-centric approach. It’s not just about the numbers — it’s about the people. Storytelling, one of the most universal human experiences, gives us a rare chance to look through new lenses. And perspective-taking is a life skill, not just a workplace one.

Companies that prioritize inclusion will emerge from crisis stronger, and stories are one major vehicle to help them get there. Inclusion consultants Selena Rezvani and Stacey A. Gordon offer steps to implement a story-based approach to DEI where employees are encouraged to tell their stories, own them, and consider how they impact their day-to-day experiences at work. 

 

Neurodiversity and the happy workplace ebook

Front cover of happy workplace ebook.
Front cover of ebook

Neurodiversity in the workplace is taking off. But is it all magazine articles and human interest stories? Maybe not. People are watching – staff, shareholders and other stakeholders. COVID is challenging the idea and context of work so a happy workplace e-book is welcome.

The Fifth Estate ran an event and the My (new) Happy Healthy Workplace ebook is a result of the presentations. Diversity was the theme that came through most strongly throughout the event. Speakers an panellists agreed that the future of workplaces must cater to diversity as well as happiness and health. 

The ebook on issuu is 66 pages and covers more than the topic of diversity. Nevertheless, it is refreshing to see the topic of neurodiversity at the beginning of the publication. Usually access and inclusion is a mention at the end. A related topic is making sure staff, at home and in the workplace, are safe physically and psychologically.

The format is presented as a straightforward toolkit for employers, and the editor remarks, 

“As a society we’re starting to grasp that we are strongly social, inter-dependent, woven into nature, complex, diverse and both fragile and resilient.”

The Fifth Estate magazine has a focus on sustainability, not just for buildings but for people. This ebook covers a lot of ground and is well laid out with photos to highlight the topics. 

There is a companion article, also by The Fifth Estate, on neurodiversity in the workplace.  Also see the post on designing for workplace diversity

 

Neurodiversity in the workplace

Foosball or Football Table with red and white teams. Games such as these are cater for workplace neurodiversity.Neurodiversity is rarely considered in the workplace. People with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, anxiety or depression can feel stressed, uncomfortable. Consequently they are less productive. Employers could be missing out by not considering neurodiversity in the workplace. 

As many as one in eight people are neurodiverse according to an article in The Fifth Estate. COVID led to sterile environments. Offices removed their fabric coverings and other soft elements to make cleaning easier. But it makes spaces noisy, clinical and uninviting. 

Even working from home isn’t the answer for everyone. Just because you can work from home doesn’t mean you should. Long hours in a hard chair at the kitchen table isn’t optimum.

The article discusses colour, signage, the size and shape of spaces, textiles and plants. Even games such as Foosball tables have a place.

The solutions are in design of the office, the office culture and inclusive policies. When it comes to neurodiversity we have to ask, what is neurotypical anyway? Workplace designs that consider diversity are good for everyone.

There is more in this article titled, Considering neurodiversity to create better, more productive workplaces

Related articles

7 things an autistic person needs in the workplace are:

    • No two people are alike
    • Ditch the stereotypes
    • Ask how we would like to be referred to
    • Be open to having a conversation to discuss what works
    • Be flexible to customise our working environment
    • Help us maximise our strengths
    • Provide us with opportunities to progress

Research on designing technology for neurodiverse users reminds us that this ends up being good design for everyone.

The Autism Research Starter Pack has strategies for including people with autism.

Ageism, Attitudes and Stereotypes

Two men are working on a construction site. One is holding a circular saw which has just cut through a large timber board. Are they a stereotype? Probably not.
Working at any age – no need for stereotypes

Do we deploy so-called positive stereotypes of older people as a means to combat ageism and ageist attitudes? If we say older people make more loyal and reliable employees, what does that say about younger people? But are these stereotypes valid? Philip Taylor discussed these important issues about ageism, attitudes, stereotypes and work.

Professor Taylor’s keynote presentation at UD2021 was thought provoking. It challenged almost everyone in the room to re-think their concepts about ageism and work. It seems there are more complaints related to age by younger people. He asked, is there such a thing as ageism or are there other factors that discriminate?  And how does this work with concepts of equity and diversity?

Then there are the contradictions related to age: The Federal Government wanting everyone to work until age 70, yet National Seniors are proposing older people should make way for younger people and retire early. 

Blue background with white text. Title slide from Taylor's presentation about ageing, attitudes and stereotypes.Here’s a quote from one of the slides, “The very arguments for employing older workers put forward in business cases concerning commitment, loyalty and experience risk confirming broader societal perceptions that they are of the past and thus, less able to meet the demands of modern workplaces (Roberts, 2006).

There is a greater variation in job performance between people of the same age than between people of different ages. 

Professor Taylor’s presentation slides have a good amount of text to get the key points of his presentation. Maybe it is time for a product recall on advocacy for older people. 

Philip Taylor is based at Federation University and is a CUDA board member.

The Age of Workplace Inclusion

A maroon background with the words, Welcome to the age of inclusion in white lettering.What’s inclusion about? It’s about us – all of us. Policy talk about inclusion could lead us to believe we are in the Age of Inclusion. But is it happening or is it just words? Although people agree inclusion is a good thing, making it happen is another story. The public sector has got to grips with the issues and is guiding the way with the Age of Inclusion Champion’s Kit. The emphasis is on “US” in inclUSion. 

The online Kit comes in sections: Learning about disability, Making the workplace accessible, and How to lead change in the workplace. The Hiring Manager’s Toolkit covers the recruitment process and helping new staff get started. There’s also a section on anti-discrimination laws that every manager should know. 

The Age of Inclusion Champion’s Kit has five key elements, one of which is the role of social media:

    1. Sharing The Age of Inclusion Campaign with your networks
    2. Showing your support on your digital and social channels
    3. Promoting Inclusive Recruitment and Career Pathways on social media
    4. Promoting Inclusive Work Cultures on social media
    5. Promote Accessible Workplaces on social media

Kit also has links to videos with and without audio description, and pro forma social media posts. 

Accessibility Toolbar