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. Owning up and spelling out what you need is painful enough. So not being believed is the final straw. If you have a mental health condition this can be devastating. A personal story by a library employee highlights how attitudes are just as important as any physical workplace accommodations. The title of the article is, The Impact of Disbelief: On Being a Library Employee with a Disability. You will need institutional access for a free read or ask for a free copy from ResearchGate.

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.

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. Designing for workplace diversity and inclusivity means considering the issues from the outset. Checking out existing workplace policies to see how inclusive they are is a good start. 
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 nationalitiesThere’s no one right way to measure workplace diversity and business performance. According to a systematic review, equality and diversity need to be “embedded in the business strategy, not treated as an ad-hoc addition”.

Consistent with all universal design thinking – it has to be thought of from the outset.  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. 

Here is a quote from the Design Council report:

“Benefits of diversity and inclusion are found to include: reduced costs; improved resourcing of talented personnel; better products and services; enhanced corporate image; improved creativity and problem-solving; better decision making; innovation; greater flexibility; increased productivity; improved organisational performance and efficiency; enhanced trust in relationships, satisfaction and commitment within the workforce; and improved customer relations and service delivery.” (Rohwerder, 2017, p.2)

Diversity and inclusion needs to be managed well. If not, it can lead to conflict and loss of productivity. However, some research suggests that a difficult start can still lead to productive results in the longer term. Hence, diversity becomes the norm for an inclusive workplace.

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.

 

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.  

How to get colleagues thinking inclusion

A magnifying glass is held over a grid montage of human facesIt’s one thing for an individual in a group or workplace to understand inclusion, universal design and accessibility, but it sometimes seems people turn their ears off when it is mentioned. The AND website has some tips to help get others on board. There are links to other documents and a self assessment tool. 

The main point is that change is a slow process – a journey. It needs a whole-of-business approach – one person cannot do it alone, but perhaps it is a start. Story-telling is a good tool too and they have links to videos.

It is timely for ABC TV to be broadcasting a program on 3 April called Employable Me. The series draws on science and experts to uncover their hidden skills. It follows people with neuro-diverse conditions such as autism, OCD and Tourette Syndrome as they search for meaningful employment. The Australian Human Rights Commission published a report “Willing to Work” which covers the issues for older people and people with disability. There is an Easy Read version too. 

Diversity and inclusion: why don’t they care?

A bearded man in a white shirt leans back from his desk and computer. He is laughing and has a sticker on his forehead that reads, be happy.When the terms ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ fall on certain ears, it raises hackles and is considered a big problem. The Fifth Estate has published a very interesting article titled, Why people hate on diversity and inclusion (and how to get them not to). It’s by the CEO of Diversity Council Australia, Lisa Annese. She quotes David Gaider, “Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it’s not a problem to you personally.”

Annese discusses the research that shows the more diverse a company’s workforce, the more satisfied the whole workplace is. And that leads to improved productivity. It should also lead to better service for their customers. They are a diverse lot too!

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