Episode 1

September 14, 2022


Episode 1: Neurodiversity and the Workplace w/ Jonathan Andrews

Hosted by

Anica Zeyen
Episode 1: Neurodiversity and the Workplace w/ Jonathan Andrews
Accessibility & Me
Episode 1: Neurodiversity and the Workplace w/ Jonathan Andrews

Sep 14 2022 | 00:17:20


Show Notes

Our guest is Jonathan Andrews, a solicitor who campaigns on the recognition and inclusion of neurodiverse employees in the workplace.

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Episode Transcript

Speaker 1 00:00:05 Hello and welcome to today's episode of Accessibility and Me. I'm Monica Sign from Royal Holloway University of London, and I co-host this podcast with Waza from IB Business School in Canada, and Luke Kauflin, also from Royal Holloway. Speaker 2 00:00:21 In this episode, we spoke to Jonathan Andrews as lister your campaigns on increasing the recognition and inclusion of Neurodiverse employees in the workplace. Jonathan, thanks very much for joining us today. If I could start with a very general question for people that don't know, could you tell us a little bit about what neurodiversity is? Speaker 3 00:00:39 Oh, cool, sir. Thank you, Luke. So, neurodiversity is a term that is increasingly being used to describe naturally occurring variations in the human brain that then leads to differences and, uh, things that are often labeled as conditions like, uh, say autism, uh, auto inspection edition, dyslexia, uh, dyspraxia, A D H D, all things that are very much down to the wiring of the individual, um, and the human brain and very much shouldn't be seen. Certainly the term about neurodiversity, they not seeing that as a negative, as a deficit of somebody missing something, but very much about that. Those, uh, individuals, uh, different mindsets in the way their brain is wired, provide them with a different way of looking at the world, which does bring challenges, but also bring strength and opportunities. So it's very much, you know, looking at the diversity of human mind and really making it clear how those kind of, you know, conditions differ from things like mental health, for example. And particularly with neurodiversity, you know, being a very key part in people's identities, um, in the same way that they other, um, traits like gender or race, for example are, um, and that, that's just really in, you know, in short what neurodiversity is. Speaker 2 00:02:03 Obviously there's, um, quite a lot of discussion about the, not necessarily the correct language to use, but like maybe the most inclusive approach to describing these issues. Could you talk a little bit about the difference maybe between neurodiverse and neuro divergent and person first or identity first type language? Speaker 3 00:02:20 Yeah, absolutely. So when it comes to the use of the term neurodiverse and neuro divergent, I mean, quite often neurodiverse is used to refer to, um, individuals with say, autism, um, or, or dyslexia or, or whatever firms with neurodiverse conditions. But strictly speaking, um, somebody who is neurodiverse, if indeed that can actually be used as a term. And there are some people who say you can't, individual cannot be diverse. The diverse refers to a group of people. But, um, putting that to one side neurodiverse strictly really applies to everybody because the, the point of neurodiversity is everyone's different. Everyone's got different minds. Whereas neuro divergent is strictly what, um, is used in this language to refer to, um, autistic individuals, you know, to sex individuals and others who would fall within that, those brackets because it, it's donating that some people have minds that are particularly diverse or, um, particularly divergent, uh, as opposed to general population. Speaker 3 00:03:26 Um, and that's therefore why those conditions exist, you know, to, to make clear those differences. And when it comes to person first identity, first language, this is, um, a debate that's often had about, you know, is it right to call somebody, for example, um, around whole disability as a whole. For example, do we say personal disability or do we say disabled person, um, or particularly with autism, um, you know, person of autism versus autistic person is, is is an area that's very hotly debated. And there are different arguments on both sides. Often people who say person first language is important cause it reminds people that people, uh, you know, that there's a person, you know, that ultimately are thinking about, um, as opposed to a condition. But actually, uh, majority of, at least in terms of, um, autistic individuals would say, actually I prefer to be called autistic person. Speaker 3 00:04:20 And that's my preference as well. Um, I prefer to be called autistic person because they see it as something that's part of me and not something to be ashamed of, but a part of how my brain is wired, you know, it doesn't define me as a whole. There are other aspects of me, but it is part of my, so it does define me to an extent, um, in the same way that somebody's gender or race or sexuality would. And so that's, uh, often why people, you know, would prefer to use that identity first. Um, or in terms of disability may wish to do so as well. Cause they see themselves as disabled by society as opposed to carrying disability with them themselves. So, you know, there are varied, uh, kind of arguments for and against. Um, it really depends on the individual. Personally, I prefer identity, first language, but um, you should really, you know, ask somebody what do they prefer, um, because everyone's different, as we've, you know, we've said everyone, um, is diverse. Um, neurodiverse is all about individual differences between people. So people will have different preferences and you should really ask them first rather than assuming that one or the other is the correct use in all circumstances. Speaker 2 00:05:25 Fantastic, thank you. And, um, there's been increasing attention on, uh, neurodiversity in the workplace. Could you tell us a bit more about how maybe the conversation is changing in this area and what, uh, historically some of the barriers neurodiverse people have faced? Speaker 3 00:05:41 Yeah, I think there is, you know, there's, there's still a lot of barriers that are out there that make it harder for individuals who, um, may be autistic or, or or dyslexic practical, you know, neuro diversion in some way to really break into, um, a lot, a lot of fields. These can include things like, well, taking my profession for example, in law. Um, and I think in other professions as well, these are used, but sometimes psychometric testing can be used at the initial stage of interviews, um, even before interviews, in fact to kind of, you know, be the first test dictate before their applications actually reviewed. Um, and if this sort of online test, which can be a various different algorithms of sort of what shape comes next in this sequence or many different versions that they use, if somebody doesn't pass back them, pass on that their application might even be reviewed. Speaker 3 00:06:29 And actually that is something that a lot of neuro diversion people struggle with. Um, not all, but many people do. But actually also there's very little evidence that, you know, success on those tests really does correlate with success on, in, in the job that they're testing for. So that's a, a barrier that is, you know, still does exist. I think that, well, there've always been barriers and there continue to be barriers. There are, you know, there's barriers that necessarily stop everybody from, from coming through. They do make it harder for individuals. Um, and particularly when you are thinking about historically, um, I think they've made it quite difficult for people who might know that they're different themselves to be open about it. Um, and so, you know, I'm personally of the view, not that, you know, because I hear from people who, who, who might say, well, you know, in this sector for example, we have no kind of autistic role models at senior levels. Speaker 3 00:07:20 And I think, well, you probably do, but they're not going to want to or feel safe to come out and say that, that they, um, are autistic. Um, because when they were going through their profession, it wasn't particularly helpful to be open about that, for example. And we do have some examples of individuals like Charlotte Bler, who is the former chair I believe, of Nstitute directors, for example, who's spoken about being autistic in those positions. But compared to say, individuals who are open about being gay, for example, or women in those positions, you know, areas where there are still challenges, there are a lot fewer sort of say openly, you know, diversion individuals. And so I think that there is that barrier both in terms of actually accessing the employment, you know, getting into the workplace, but also once we were in there, not necessarily feeling that they can be open about it. Speaker 3 00:08:09 I do feel that's improving recently. Um, so I was completely open about being autistic when I applied for my training contracts with Reed Smith, for example. Um, and I, uh, was able to go through that process to qualify the department. I, I wanted actually, and I had a good outcome for my training. And now when I attend open days, I see a lot more people compared to when I was doing it, who are now saying, actually I'm autistic. I'm, you know, dys, spx, I'm dyslexic. I don't necessarily see that as a barrier as you shouldn't, you know, because firm should be open to the talent that people can bring. And I am pleased to say that I can see progress in that, that regard. But obviously it's from a low base and there's still a lot more that needs to be done. And particularly around, you know, not saying everyone has to who maybe in in the organizations are not open about about it. Speaker 3 00:08:55 Not saying they have to necessarily come out, you know, as it were because it's individual choice, but for those who aren't being open because they feel that it would, you know, hinder their career in some way, I think they need to be more done to make it clear that actually that isn't the case and that companies should be supporting people of all identities. Um, and that neuro divergent, um, conditions shouldn't be seen as black mark against sort of somebody, but really as just a sign of a different form of talent that that person can bring to a company. Speaker 2 00:09:25 A lot of the discussion around accessibility refers to adjustments, particularly with people with neuro divergent conditions. Uh, there's talk about soft adjustments. Could you talk a little bit about that, please? Speaker 3 00:09:37 Yeah, of course. So, uh, I think when thing about adjustments which are provided under the Equality Act to those who are disabled in employment, for example, to, um, support by alleviating barriers that might exist, that it's quite easy for people to sort of seem to, thinking that they're all going to be physical adjustments, like making sure an office is in a wheelchair accessible, for example. And those are really important. But also when it comes to, uh, particularly neurodiversity thinking about kind of soft adjustments, which are adjustments that you, you can't necessarily say, you know, spend X amount of money making this building do this instead, you know, or, or maybe what test in this way, but more about kind of how we work and, um, how line managers and supervisors are aware of, um, no diversion people in their teams, for example, is really important. Speaker 3 00:10:30 So for example, uh, when it comes to autism, you know, if you, myself as an example, I've never really needed an adjustment in terms of a physical adjustment. And, um, although some may need sort of sensory adjustments, like different lighting, certain rooms, again, that's not something I personally really needed. But what I really do appreciate is that when I'm working with somebody, um, it gives me a task that they're clear on what is prioritized, you know, what goes first, um, if I haven't done it before and they have maybe, you know, here's the quickest way of doing this, or here's a good way of, of sort of doing this practically and being clear when deadlines are as well for products so you can plan ahead accordingly. And that is something that many autistic people report is incredibly helpful to them when they're working well, sort of it out for themselves, but just sort being made aware of that. Speaker 3 00:11:24 And also the interesting thing about that kind of adjustment as well is that it actually benefits people who are neuro diversion as well, just being, you know, having, having that clear kind of, um, here's when this needs to be done by, and, you know, here's how I like to do it. And giving this clear instructions and, and timetable benefits everybody. Um, really not, not just newer diversion people, um, but particularly, uh, for, for example, autistic individuals. Those kind of adjustments can be really important. And so over, you know, the last few years when I've been advocating around this, what I've been very keen to do is to really stress the importance, you know, physical adjustments yes, are very important, but also looking beyond that and thinking about how we are working as well. And also, you know, there can be that fear that employers have that adjustments are going to cost lots of money. And while there is support, you know, from things access to work where they may cost money, most, uh, soft adjustments don't cost anything, you know, it's just about thinking about how we work. Um, and so while in some ways it might be seen as more difficult, actually, it, it's something which is less expensive and ultimately it's a good thing for everyone, not just neuro diversion people. Speaker 2 00:12:31 This is a very, uh, big question, a very broad question, but, uh, could you talk about the impact of the pandemic on neurodiversity in the workplace, generally speaking? Speaker 3 00:12:42 Yes. So, um, obviously the impact of the pandemic has been very widespread. Um, people been affected in many kind of different ways. Uh, and I think, you know, when you think particularly around neurodiversity, I think particularly thinking about, for example, the positives, there is a lot to be said for the fact that working from home has now been normalized in the way that it hasn't really before and remote working and flexible working in the same vein. Um, and previously where somebody, you know, might might say, well, that person can't work from home, or We don't let anyone work from home because we can't, you know, trust that they're gonna be doing the same kind of role, et cetera, to the same level, um, given the same effort, really that has gone out the window in most cases because people who have been able to do their jobs from home, not everybody, um, because some people obviously, um, can't do to their role, but those who have been able to and able to keep that flow during this whole period. Speaker 3 00:13:32 And so I think there is more of a, a recognition, um, or there need to be, you know, a recognition of the benefits of remote, which will really help people say, for instance, those who may have sensory differences, um, particularly say those on the autistic spectrum, um, or those with dyspraxia and who find traveling in on a, uh, hot and crowned train every day in the middle of summer, for example, to do a job in the city, um, or wherever it is that they're commuting to quite, um, difficult. Whereas now they can kind of come in, you know, at more flexible times and structure time around that. So that's a clear benefit of, you know, that pandemic and what, how that's led. But equally, you know, to give an example of the sort of drawbacks, it, it may well be, and this is something that in my kind of advocacy work I've heard some people express fear of is the idea that if we can all work remotely, then it might be that, uh, employers might start to think, oh, well it's fine, then we can hire some neuro diversion, you know, individuals, but we'll just ask them to work from home and we won't necessarily need to therefore make the, you know, workplace more accessible. Speaker 3 00:14:35 I want you to think about that because they can just do it remotely. And actually, you know, while people have the option, they shouldn't feel that they can't come in and then that's not accessible to them. It's really important to, you know, ensure that we build on the accessibility and inclusion work being done without rowing that that back when it comes to offices, for example. So, you know, those are just two kind of flip sides of the same coin really. I think in terms of how the pandemic may well kind of affect, um, neurodiversity going forward. Um, I think also what a pandemic has done is showing kind of the how you, you can never be quite sure of what's going to come next, um, because they're bely predicting, you know, this to happen in this way. Um, and so hopefully that will make companies more, um, aware of the need to look beyond sort of the immediate things they can see and towards things like neurodiversity as a benefit for their companies, uh, kind of going forward and being able to look more unlocking talent that, you know, having, uh, proper inclusion for neuro diversion people can result in. Speaker 3 00:15:32 But, uh, I guess we'll just have to wait and stay on that one. Speaker 2 00:15:35 Absolutely. If you could have one wish for the future of workplaces as something as a result of the pandemic or just maybe sort of a general point, what would that be? Speaker 3 00:15:44 Yeah, I, I think, um, it would, it would have to be that the, the importance of inclusion, um, of recognizing, you know, that every workplace is made up of very different people, and you want really to include people who, you know, part of that team who have that shared vision who, you know, have that shed interest in working, but ultimately that shouldn't matter where they come from or what identities are, you know, it should really be about their role, uh, in, in, in the jobs they have. Um, and I'd really love for workplaces to look at that rather than looking at say, you know, the responses to tests that might not have much relations, what they do on the job, or to thinking, you know, they might need to exclude individuals because of a fear of them kind of being different, really sort of looking at how they can make the best, uh, use of everyone's talents, I think would be, um, would really be my, my, uh, view for the future. Um, and I've had APositive of experience in my own workplace, um, I have to say. Um, and, um, you know, it would be great to see that replicated, um, elsewhere and hopefully as a result, as you say of this, you know, you know, not, not a not a good thing to have a pandemic, but it is been good to see, you know, these, these sort of change in mindset around flexibility that that's resulted in. Um, hopefully that will lead to more improvements in future. Speaker 2 00:16:57 Absolutely. Uh, Jonathan, thanks very much for joining us today. Speaker 3 00:17:00 Thank you very much. Speaker 1 00:17:05 Thank you very much for listening to today's episode of Accessibility in Me. We hope you enjoyed it and we'll tune into our next episode. We would like to thank the British Academy for funding today's episode.

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