A lack of awareness or understanding is often the root cause of neglecting neurodiversity in the workplace. However, with the correct support, neurodivergent people add significant value to the entire business.
Ensuring that these staff members are acknowledged in company policies and procedures is vital to a firm’s success.
Understanding neurodiversity & digital accessibility
- What is neurodiversity?
- Benefits of neurodiversity in the workplace
- Supporting neurodiversity in the workplace
- How important is digital accessibility?
- What accessibility tools can help neurodiverse people?
- Promoting neurodiversity in the workplace
A. What is neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity refers to the natural variation in our brain development and function.
In a workplace context, it's an area of diversity and inclusion that embraces alternative ways of thinking, such as dyslexia, autism, ADHD, dyspraxia and Tourette's, which may also affect social interaction, communication, learning, and other aspects of life.
As a concept, neurodiversity aims to promote the understanding and acceptance of these differences as a natural and valuable part of being human rather than disorders that need to be cured or eliminated.
For businesses, neurodiversity is about creating inclusive environments that embrace and support neurodiverse people and recognising the unique strengths, talents and different perspectives they can bring to the table.
Neurodiversity in the workplace statistics
Currently, stats about neurodiverse people of working age are limited, but some notable points include:
- An estimated 15% of the UK population and 15-20% of people worldwide are neurodivergent.
- More than one in 100 people are on the autism spectrum, and there are around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK.
- ADHD is estimated to affect 3-4% of UK adults – around 1.9 million people. However, only a minority are diagnosed and receive treatment.
- About 10% of the UK population has dyslexia, while over 6 million people may not have been diagnosed. Worldwide, dyslexia is estimated to affect around 9-12% of the population.
- Only 28% of HR professionals are 'very confident' in identifying conditions considered as neurodivergent, while almost one in 10 (9%) are 'not at all confident'.
- Supported neurodiverse people may boost business productivity with a 50% decrease in sickness absence. Additionally, many people with neurodivergent conditions haven't been officially diagnosed, so the number may even be higher.
B. Benefits of neurodiversity in the workplace
Depending on how you manage and support it, neurodiversity can have both positive and negative effects.
Neurodiverse people frequently have unique strengths and talents that can benefit any workplace, such as attention to detail, creativity, faster problem-solving skills, and the ability to think outside the box for innovative solutions.
However, some may also have different communication styles and preferences, sometimes leading to misunderstandings and challenges. For example, some people prefer written communication over verbal communication, while others struggle with social cues and body language.
Unfortunately, even in the 21st century, neurodivergent people can face stigma and discrimination at work, often through a lack of understanding and awareness of their needs and abilities.
Only by creating an inclusive culture that promotes neurodiversity and values individuality can you reap the rewards a diverse mix of people offers.
C. Supporting neurodiversity in the workplace
To create a neurodiversity-inclusive workplace, you must implement strategies and practices that promote understanding, respect, and support for neurodivergent people. These should include:
- Education and raising awareness
Education and training can help promote understanding of neurodiversity, reducing stigma and discrimination. This can include workshops, training sessions, or other resources about neurodivergent conditions and their impact on individuals.
- Offer workplace adjustments
Flexible working, assistive technology, and sensory-friendly workspaces can all help neurodivergent people work more effectively.
- Embrace diversity
Promote a growth mindset that values differing strengths, talents and perspectives and encourages experimentation and creativity to create a workplace culture that celebrates our differences.
- Foster a supportive environment
Develop and embed policies and practices that respect and accommodate the needs of all employees, such as zero-tolerance for discrimination and harassment, encouraging open communication, and providing opportunities for feedback and input.
- Provide resources and support
Employee Resource Groups, mentoring programmes, or counselling services can help neurodivergent people navigate the workplace and feel supported in their roles.
D. How important is digital accessibility?
Digital accessibility means designing and developing digital content and technology so it's accessible to everyone, including those with disabilities or neurodivergent conditions.
For some neurodiverse people, accessing and using digital content and technology, such as websites, apps, or software, can be challenging. Dyslexic people may struggle with reading and understanding web copy, while people with ADHD may find it hard to focus and stick to the task at hand.
By designing and developing digital content and technology that's accessible and inclusive, businesses can make sure neurodivergent people can fully participate in digital spaces and enjoy equal access to information and resources.
Solutions can be as straightforward as clear and simple language, captions and transcripts for videos and audio content, and options for customising the content layout and display.
Ensuring digital accessibility also provides benefits beyond supporting the neurodiverse workforce. It improves user experience and engagement, increases the impact of digital content and technology, and reduces the risk of legal and reputational consequences of inaccessible or hard-to-understand digital content.
E. What accessibility tools help neurodiverse staff?
Drilling down into the workplace adjustments touched on above, there are several ways you can support your neurodiverse workforce.
Flexible working could include the ability to flex hours, such as starting or finishing earlier or later, working longer hours each day to create a four-day week, or encouraging hybrid working.
Ensuring a sensory-friendly workplace could involve reducing bright, artificial lighting, increasing natural light, preventing strong workplace smells such as food at desks, and introducing quiet, relaxing areas.
There are a number of various accessibility tools and technologies available too, including:
- Text-to-speech software that converts written text into spoken words, making it easier for people with dyslexia or reading difficulties to access information.
- Screen readers that read out content on a computer, tablet or smartphone.
- Speech-to-text software that converts spoken words into written text, helping those with writing difficulties – such as dyslexia or dysgraphia – to communicate and express ideas.
- Noise-cancelling headphones help autistic people or those with ADHD reduce sensory overload and stay focused in noisy environments.
- Visual aids, such as colour-coded calendars, timers, and task lists, help people with ADHD to stay organised and manage their time effectively.
- Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) specialist devices to support those who need particular help to express themselves and communicate with others.
However, note there's no one-size-fits-all 'magic bullet'. Needs are as different as the person, so an open and honest conversation is crucial to ensure the most appropriate tools and technologies are in place.
F. Promoting neurodiversity in the workplace
Having a diverse and inclusive culture is not a tick-box exercise. It's a must – legally and ethically. And it has quantifiable benefits. JPMorgan Chase found their neurodiverse staff were, on average, 90% to 140% more productive than people who had been at the company for five or 10 years.
As well as the numerous laws and regulations designed to prevent discrimination, most businesses, clients and suppliers want to know they are partnering with an organisation that is proactive and committed to looking after all of its people – regardless of race, religion, gender, disability or neurodiverse condition.
Supporting neurodiversity helps to attract and retain talented people with valuable skills and perspectives who may otherwise be lost to the workplace, bringing tangible business benefits.
Internally, as well as improving workforce diversity and quality, neurodiverse people can bring different perspectives and ways of thinking to the workplace, leading to more innovative problem-solving and creativity to boost productivity and the bottom line.
Externally, supporting neurodiversity is invaluable in promoting equity and social justice for neurodivergent people and building a better society.
The more neurodiverse candidates and employees see themselves reflected in the workforce, the greater the sense of belonging, understanding and acceptance. It also gives them the confidence and assurance that they are respected and capable of performing at the highest level.
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