Diversity and Inclusion is a buzz term that is being heard across all sectors of society including that of employment.
As a result of this, there has been a particular focus on the development of diversity and inclusion programmes within companies. However, this transition has not been one of plain sailing with many barriers appearing for HR personnel in the rollout of these initiatives. The key theme of this barrier is a lack of understanding. HR personnel and associated managers are unsure of the true meaning of ‘diversity and inclusion’ and how to implement this on a practical level.
The term ‘diversity and inclusion’ was interpreted by people as only including race and gender; however, this is far from the case. Diversity and inclusion involves every single person within society irrelevant of their personal circumstances being accepted, included and accommodated. The lack of knowledge in this area resulted in a recruitment drive to create workforces who were of ‘different’ race and gender. Companies were then of the impression that they were proactive with regards to diversity and inclusion initiatives. However, with time it became clear that inclusion was not being implemented in a meaningful manner and the majority of minorities remained invisible.
Rise In The Diagnosis Of ASD
One such invisible, yet valuable, minority workforce is those with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). ASD currently affects 1 in 68 people worldwide and this statistic is on the rise annually at a rate of 10-17%. The diagnosis of ASD has dramatically increased in the past fifteen years with this being attributed to the development of knowledge and awareness. Therefore, prior to this time period many people were and remain undiagnosed.
It is realistic and highly likely that a certain percentage of your workforce is located within the undiagnosed ASD population. This population are part of our workforce and they face many obstacles and barriers on a daily basis when engaging with society. ASD is a complex neurological disorder which impacts people with regards to their social, communication and behavioural skills. People with ASD are perfect employees for a company based on their characteristics. It is important to bare in mind that every single person with Autism is different; however, there are particular elements of their condition that enhance their value to companies. Many people with ASD have specific interests; thus, they become subject matter experts which is an element that is of great value to their industry. People with ASD are also factual; thus, making them the most honest employees you will ever obtain. With this in mind, it is also imperative that we consider the barriers faced by people with ASD on a daily basis. People with ASD are greatly impacted by their environment; thus, accessibility is an important aspect for consideration. In order to increase accessibility for people with ASD minor adaptation can bring significant benefits.
Accessibility for people with ASD involves evaluating the environment to ensure that sensory stimuli is appropriate for the people availing of the space. Lighting, sound and location of furniture are all key components in ensuring an environment is accessible to people with ASD. Lighting is important for people with ASD as inappropriate lighting can result in reduced productivity. An example of inappropriate or below standard lighting is fluorescent lighting. This type of lighting produces a buzzing noise which the majority of people with ASD will hear. As you can imagine it would be very distracting to hear a continuous buzz during your working day. Due to some people experiencing hypersensitivity to noise this may also cause pain for the person. People with ASD can hear sounds up to ten times the volume that we hear; again, this can be uncomfortable, painful and distracting. Thus, if we take the time to eliminate or reduce some of these elements we can greatly increase our accessibility for people with ASD. Increasing accessibility not only brings personal benefits to employees it also results in benefits for companies.
The benefits of Autism Accessibility for employees include: wellbeing; productivity; a sense of belonging and awareness and understanding. These are all important aspects for employees and in turn, lead to the retention of staff. These personal benefits are also transferred to the company and present in the following ways:
- The development of an Inclusive Environment: the development of awareness and understanding amongst staff will become a catalyst to the development of this cultural shift. This culture shift will also increase team building and bonding leading to greater well being and productivity amongst staff.
- Attraction of new and diverse talents: the creation of an inclusive culture leads to the development of a more positive image of the company amongst members of the public. This, in turn, attracts potential employees that are of a high caliber.
- Improved employee wellbeing and morale: this is a crucial element for the maintenance and further development of a company. If staff are happier and have feelings of respect and worth within their jobs they will develop more loyalty for their company and in turn work smarter. This sense of loyalty to the company will also assist in the decrease in absenteeism rates amongst staff. All of these elements will lead to greater levels of staff retention and productivity; both elements of importance to cost-effectiveness and revenue creation within companies.
In conclusion, the development of an inclusive environment is one that can be created with minimal effort; however, the benefits are tremendous for both employees and the company. The presence of people diagnosed with Autism within the workforce is a concept that will increase rapidly in the very near future and HR personnel will require the necessary skills and expertise to ensure they are making reasonable accommodations for their employees. The presence of people undiagnosed with Autism within our workforce is very real and they face many barriers on a daily basis in their attempt to participate in society. The introduction of minor adaptations to work environments will not only future proof the development of the company it will also see immediate benefits amongst their current employees including; greater wellbeing, morale, and loyalty, decrease in absenteeism rates and an increase in productivity. Increasing Autism Accessibility within your company makes good business sense!
myAccessHub is an online platform that optimizes diversity and inclusion programmes with companies. We empower companies to increase accessibility for employees and/or customers with Autism Spectrum Disorders. We support companies through our assessment and training services and we provide intensive support to companies in the execution of the implementation of accessibility initiatives.