Neurodiversity at work


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Employers must consider hidden conditions

In recent years we’ve seen vast improvements in how organisations embrace diversity in the form of visible, physical disabilities. This helps create more diverse and accessible workplaces, where all individuals can succeed. However, for further progress on diversity, it’s also important for employers to understand and accommodate hidden disabilities, such as neurological conditions – also referred to as neurodiversity.

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is a relatively new term, covering a range of neurological conditions. In simplistic terms, it means that there are differences in the way a neurodiverse person’s brain functions, compared to a person with a ‘neuro-typical’ brain. For example, a person with dyscalculia will process numbers differently to someone who does not have the condition.

Although there isn’t an exhaustive list, conditions that fall under the umbrella term of neurodiversity include Asperger syndrome, dyslexia, autism, ADHD and dyspraxia.

Neurodiversity and the Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act provides a legal framework to effectively tackle disadvantage and discrimination. It is discrimination to treat a disabled person unfavourably because of something connected with their disability. This type of discrimination is unlawful where the employer knows, or could reasonably be expected to know, that the person has a disability.

A person is disabled under the Equality Act 2010 if they have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on their ability to do normal daily activities.

‘Substantial’ is more than minor or trivial, e.g. it takes much longer than it usually would to complete a daily task like getting dressed. ‘Long-term’ means 12 months or more, such as dyslexia or dyspraxia.

If a neurodiverse person’s difficulties are severe enough to impede efficiency in everyday activities, then they are likely to be covered by the Equality Act.

The Equality Act requires employers to make reasonable adjustments to make sure disabled workers aren’t seriously disadvantaged when doing their jobs. Reasonable adjustments need not be costly and time consuming, and in many cases simple adjustments will be all that is needed.

Embracing neurodiversity at work

Employers that embrace neurodiversity realise that people who think differently can add value to their organisation. An accessible and inclusive workplace enables neurodiverse workers to perform to their strengths, to everyone’s benefit.

It’s also key to create a safe working environment for neurodiverse workers, ensuring any health and safety hazards that may otherwise be overlooked, are identified and controlled.

Encouraging disclosure

Employers need to know about a person’s neurodiverse condition in order to be able to make suitable adaptations. However, people who have, or think they might have, such a condition are not obliged to tell their employer. It’s therefore important for employers to nurture a culture where workers can disclose their condition, with the confidence that they will be supported.

Simple ways of encouraging disclosure on neurodiversity include:

  1. having fair and transparent recruitment and selection processes that accommodate the needs of neurodiverse applicants to properly demonstrate their strengths;
  2. encouraging neurodiverse employees to speak confidentially with their line manager, with a commitment to work together to identify and implement reasonable adjustments;
  3. providing training and awareness to managers so that they can confidently support neurodiverse employees;
  4. proactively making adaptations that will benefit neurodiverse employees, demonstrating a willingness to remove potential barriers at work.

Tailoring adjustments to the individual

Each neurological condition presents its own challenges, and each person will manage their condition differently.

The reasonable adjustments required for neurodiverse workers will be specific to each individual’s needs, so it’s imperative that they are involved in determining what reasonable adjustments are appropriate for them. Often, making some simple adjustments in consultation with the worker can help support them to work to their full potential.

Workplace needs assessments

Employers should develop arrangements for conducting comprehensive workplace needs assessments with their neurodiverse employees. This will help to identify any barriers faced by workers, any risks to their health, safety and welfare, and how these can be overcome. Examples of adjustments that may arise from a workplace needs assessment include:

  1. personal emergency evacuation plans, ensuring the worker can respond to an emergency in the workplace without putting themselves or others in danger;
  2. ergonomic adjustments to the individual’s workstation to ensure they can work efficiently in a setup that has been tailored to their needs;
  3. a fixed workstation (rather than sharing a workstation or ‘hot-desking’) and specific tools to aid work organisation, such as a visual timetable or organiser app;
  4. specialist training, for example developing memory skills, time management and work planning.

Proactive, reasonable adjustments

Whilst tailoring adjustments to each neurodiverse worker is crucial, employers should also consider what adjustments they can make proactively, regardless of whether employees have been identified as neurodiverse. Not every neurodiverse employee will disclose their condition, so proactive adjustments will benefit them – and are also likely to benefit everyone in the workplace in some way.

Reasonable adjustments that organisations can take to benefit everyone include:

  1. a working environment that minimises distractions – for example, in an open-plan office consider noise-reducing partitions, headphones, thoughtful siting of printers and photocopiers, and quiet ‘breakout’ areas;
  2. other environmental adjustments – for example, lighting, temperature and noise;
  3. options for home-working, along with appropriate IT and communications support to enable this;
  4. flexible working hours, enabling earlier or later start and finish times;
  5. providing clear signage within buildings, enabling navigation or orientation around the workplace;
  6. promoting a culture where regular breaks are encouraged rather than frowned upon;
  7. allowing neurodiverse workers additional time off for treatment and/or appointments;
  8. raising awareness among colleagues.

Neurodiversity and accessible workplaces

Embracing neurodiversity, and effectively managing any areas of weakness, can help create an accessible workplace – benefitting all workers and helping individuals and organisations to succeed. Our experienced consultants are familiar with a range of disabilities (motor, visual, auditory and neuro-diverse) and access barriers. Get in touch to find out how we can help.

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