Providing neurodiversity training is a crucial element in generating truly accessible workplaces. This is because if staff members know how to accommodate cognitive disabilities, not only are welcoming and inclusive environments encouraged, but the likelihood of engagement among neurodiverse people will likely increase, creating a more diverse and multi-skilled workplace.
For National Autism Awareness Month (which began April 2nd and ends April 30th), our team has put together a blog that explains the importance of neurodiversity training, focusing on autism; a neurological difference prevalent in millions of people worldwide yet remains a condition most people still do not understand.
To understand how one can work to create an accessible environment for neurodiversity, we must first understand what neurodiversity entails specifically.
Neurodiversity is a term coined by Australian sociologist, Judy Singer, in the late 1990s. Considered to be another form of biodiversity, neurodiversity is generally considered to be a natural expression of human variation, as opposed to a disorder that requires fixing. This frame of thinking demands that we think of neurodiversity as normative, by extension, it establishes that physical environments within our society, which fail to accommodate the needs of the millions of neurodiverse individuals around the world, need to change, rather than the neurodiverse individual.
Moreover, the burden of responsibility to be accessible for neurodiverse groups falls directly to the institutions of our society, from the top of our government to emergency services, supermarkets, entertainment venues, and businesses (both public-facing and non-public-facing). And not only does the requirement for neurodiversity accessibility apply to the physical architecture of their buildings and sites, but also how (and who) are offered employment opportunities, how accessible their website and social media is, as well as the choice of language and methods for communication with that person.
Various schemes exist in support of neurodiversity, including the Sunflower lanyard scheme, for whom our team created a video in tribute.
As the terms suggest, the quantity of neurodiverse people in the world is considerable, and due to this fact, there is no universal way to treat those who are neurodiverse. Fundamentally, however, there is one consistency, that neurodiversity is the limitless variation of human cognition and the uniqueness of each human mind.
Beyond this fact, the treatment of neurodiverse people is valuable, and that there is neither a “right or wrong” form of neurology is merely an opinion. But one that we stand for as accessibility consultants, as does the British Standard, which published PAS 6463:2022 Design for the Mind. Neurodiversity and the built environment just last year. In addition, there are laws like the Equality Act 2010 that require adherence.
Neurodiversity encompasses a variety of disabilities, including Dyslexia, Autism, Dyspraxia, Tourette’s, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia, ADHD, Hyperlexia, Mearas-Irlen Syndrome, OCD, and Synaesthesia. And this doesn’t even cover them all.
As with any person you interact with in life, understanding starts with respect. When interacting with a neurodiverse person, avoid language such as “disorder” and “suffer” and ask them the correct terminology that applies to them. For instance, an autistic person generally prefers the term autistic person to words like “Aspie”, which can come across as patronising. But everyone is different, so ask. In fact, not all neurodiverse people necessarily consider themselves disabled.
Neurodiversity as suggested earlier implies difference. And under the Equality Act 2010 and other legislation, it is reasonable for employers and site owners to adjust to suit their specific abilities, as well as protect them against discrimination, harassment, and victimisation. This ties in with the various models of disability, which we have discussed at length previously on the blog. The treatment of neurodiversity that is encouraged by our accessibility consultancy is the Social Model, which is an idea that the removal of barriers is the solution to many of the issues neurodiverse people encounter within society and that the problem lies with people’s attitudes toward disability, policies/procedures that alienate cognitively disabled people, as well as physical barriers created by the lack of accessible infrastructure within society.
Being aware of potential sensory sensitives and being accommodating to those who have them can make the difference between a person visiting your site comfortably or disengaging with your service, or at worst, lead to bad press and word of mouth. Such sensitives can include auditory, proprioceptive, tactile, visual, and olfactory. In other words, the five senses (except for taste), and spatial awareness.
In terms of lighting, consider how bright your space is, or conversely, whether it is not bright enough. It is a tricky balance, admittedly, since some people experience hyposensitivity to stimuli, whereas others prefer additional stimuli depending on disability, as well as age. However, providing lighting that can be controlled will prepare your site for various neurodiverse visitors.
Sound is another element that can be problematic for people with tinnitus, hyposensitive hearing, and similar conditions. In addition to volume, you should also investigate whether you can create acoustic separation by designating quiet areas from louder environments that are naturally louder.
Also, consider the purpose of your site and the aesthetic choices made are worth the problems they could cause. An example would be having a patterned floor, which can cause disorientation in some and confusion in those with visual impairments.
Providing clear wayfinding throughout a site, as well as other forms of advanced information such as photos of the site, information on reconstruction and changes in person and online can help put people with anxiety at ease, offering a sense of direction, proprioception, and a clear mental image of what to expect were they to visit. Wayfinding also benefits people who take longer to process information.
These are but a few of many accommodations that can be made to make neurodiverse disabled people feel comfortable, and many of them are inexpensive, merely requiring some forethought and elements to a space design that neurotypical (non-disabled people) would also appreciate.