Margaret Moore, Director of Citizen & Devolved Government Services at Sopra Steria
Around 1 in 7 people are neurodivergent in the UK, meaning they have conditions such as autism, dyslexia, ADHD or dyspraxia. Sadly, these groups are often poorly supported and underrepresented in the workplace, with only 21.7% of autistic people in employment.
Although meaningful strides have been made towards establishing more accessible and diverse workplaces, many are still not inclusive of neurodiverse ways of thinking, and neurodivergent people continue to be subject to misconceptions.
Increasing diversity in the workplace is critical to reflect the society we serve, and digital accessibility should be a core part of this. While there is lots of talk about digital accessibility and inclusion, we must also be proactive in our support. But how can businesses actively improve digital accessibility and inclusion in the workplace?
The benefits of a neurodivergent workforce
Before we delve into the steps that businesses can take, it’s important that people are aware of the benefits that a diverse workforce can bring. As with all people, we each have our talents and challenges. Neurodiversity should be seen as a superpower as it often brings out-of-the-box thinking, creative solutions and a more practical approach. For example, people with autism often excel at spotting irregularities, and those with dyslexia tend to produce more creative ideas – a great quality for companies striving for innovation.
Although a fast-paced corporate environment will present its challenges to neurodiverse people, it can also benefit neurotypical employees. From giving more explicit feedback to providing consistent communication, it can improve relationships with all employees.
Employers should support people to work in roles that draw on their individual strengths and create a workplace to suit the needs of diverse thinkers. One way this can be achieved is by raising awareness and educating employees so that colleagues can better understand what neurodiversity is and how to be empathetic.
Beyond this, it’s also important to keep the conversation open at all times. At Sopra Steria, we set up a Neurodiversity Network to provide a safe space where colleagues can speak openly about their experiences and learn more about how to support one another. We found that creating a platform for these open discussions helps break down barriers and remove any stigmas. As well as this, we are recruiting a dedicated accessibility expert to help us improve our internal accessibility further, as there’s always room for improvement!
Improving digital accessibility
Our neurological differences shape the way we experience technology. Those with neurodiverse conditions may face difficulty with understanding the meaning and order of words, become overloaded by information, or have difficulty with some colour contrasts. Therefore, technological adjustments are necessary. These adjustments can include specialist equipment to assist with reading, such as colour filters and screens, making devices easier to use, or offering Text-to-Speech tools, to name a few.
It’s important to note that accessibility is a spectrum. There are many different needs and preferences when it comes to using digital products, so employers must work with each individual to find the best possible solution for them and be willing to learn new ways of working.
A more inclusive workplace
Of all the things I have learned over the years, creating an inclusive and diverse workplace culture is perhaps the most important and is fundamental for success. Companies that embrace neurodiversity can gain a competitive advantage in many areas, including innovation, productivity and talent retention.
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, we must celebrate the strengths that diversity can bring and turn theory into action. Exploring how you can make your workplace more accessible and inclusive — digitally and in its physical space — can go a long way in making employees feel more welcome.