Wednesday, halfway through Autism Awareness Month ‘23 already. It’s zooming by.
I started off this day with a podcast interview focused on Autistic Careers. It was a great opportunity to advocate for disclosure and to explain why.
Here’s something many people (including my interviewer) don’t know: the UK Equality Act applies to the hiring process, too. That means that reasonable adjustments must be made for those of us with protected characteristics (including disabilities and long-term conditions) throughout the hiring process.
I have always disclosed that I’m registered disabled. But it’s only since my recent diagnoses that I have started asking for reasonable adjustments in the hiring process. For me, that means getting sight of the interview questions at least 48 hours beforehand, so I can prepare. With auditory processing issues and a below average working memory, I just will not be able to demonstrate my capabilities in an interview if I have to answer competency based questions on the hoof. (“on the hoof” meaning in the moment)
Recently, I have had two very different experiences. One company was amazing. No questions asked and I had a good two weeks to prepare. DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) was thoroughly embedded in their company culture. The other imposed conditions and said they would send me the questions in the afternoon before the interview, because they didn’t want to disadvantage other candidates.
This is what we’re fighting: the fundamental misconception that making reasonable adjustments (US/CAN: accommodations) amounts to favoritism. It does not. Accommodations are about making reasonable efforts to level the playing field for those who start the process from a disadvantaged position.
Accessibility, then, is about breaking down barriers and leveling the base point so that everyone can access essential needs, such as healthcare, education, housing, gainful employment, public spaces & transporting, and justice, not merely on equal terms, but on equitable terms. This is what the UK Equality Act 2010 aims to do, but regrettably, many of those subject to it fail to deliver upon their obligations.
This is why I coined the term The Neurodistinguished Lawyer(™), and why I established NeuroRebellion(™). In a society where the judiciary is exempt from the provisions of the Equality Act, someone has to take up the baton and fight for justice. Someone has to speak out, rally the troops and negotiate an acceptable outcome. I’m a self-made lawyer – I owe this to my neurodivergent thinking and outright stubborn refusal to give up. I believe in truth and justice. And I will not allow greed and power to drown out human rights and dignity. None of us should. Together, we can make a difference.
It’s difficult, because communicating our needs is often an uphill struggle. In my own experience as well as while representing others, I have found that employers and HR professionals tend to show a knee jerk reaction to us raising our concerns – whether that is via official policy & procedure, or even informally. Maybe that is because we tend to tolerate a lot before we raise an issue, and by then it all sort of floods or bursts out of us with force. Or maybe it is because they are trained to treat complaints and issues in a particular way: damage limitation. I don’t know about you, but by the time I raise a complaint (and many of my clients are the same) all I want is an acknowledgement of how I feel, and I want to know what they’re going to do to make it better. The last thing on my mind is going legal. Yet that specter seems to be foremost on employers’ minds. When in actual fact, they should be looking at ways to mend the situation. Going on the defensive only makes things worse.
This is what HR professionals and employment lawyers advising employers need to understand: when you’re dealing with neurodivergent people, you’re playing a different game. We don’t typically seek revenge. We want justice. It’s something completely different. We want truth and acknowledgement of our experience. We want alleviation of our sensory and mental suffering through reasonable adjustments. We want what the law says we’re entitled to. We want an environment in which we can be our best.
This has been my own biggest challenge in employed roles: communicating my needs, and once communicated, getting employers to make the accommodations I need. It shouldn’t be that much of a challenge.
Making accommodations should be part and parcel of continuous improvement. If a significant proportion of your community tells you your processes aren’t working for them, you should adjust your processes. It’s beneficial for your bottom line, for your community and for wider society. Adjusted processes are more accessible and offer a greater variety of approaches to all people.
Employers shouldn’t fear requests for reasonable adjustments. It’s not the burden they think it is. It requires a paradigm shift – instead of thinking of it as an exception, think of it as the standard for all (potential) staff. By operating a flexible approach – which, let’s face, you expect from your staff – you widen your talent pool significantly, and you can save a whole lot of money on your recruitment and retention budget.
You should also seriously reconsider your job specifications. Is what you put down as essential genuinely a must for someone to do the job? For example, in my field, most specifications consider several years post-qualification experience essential, and it’s absolute nonsense. To practice commercial & contract management, you do not have to be a solicitor. The practice of contract & commercial law (excluding the sale & purchase of real estate) is not reserved to licensed solicitors, so do yourself and us a favor, and keep your mind and your talent pool open to candidates with different but equally valuable skill sets and experience.
The same obviously applies to other trades and professions.
Finally, employers in the UK can make significant cost savings by working with the employee who can apply for Access To Work. Any accommodations recommended can be (part) funded by Access To Work.
For us workers (UK), it is important to know our rights:
I know ‘disability’ is a laden term, but it is the legal terminology used in the Equality Act – and it is intended to help us get the level of support we need, as well as to protect us from discrimination. The law defines a ‘disability’ as a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.
No, you do not have to have a formal written diagnosis before your employer will agree to make reasonable adjustments in the UK. The law says that if an employer knows, or reasonably should know that you are experiencing a disability or long-term condition, then they must make reasonable adjustments for you.
If a workplace policy, criterion or practice (PCP) has the effect of putting a disabled person at a disadvantage compared to a non-disabled person, and the employer does not make reasonable adjustments for the disabled person, then this can be interpreted as disability discrimination.
Employers must provide a safe working environment for workers. That includes psychological safety. This falls under the provisions of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974.
Your contract and employment policies are a great source of information. Keep them safe and read them. These documents will tell you what your company deems acceptable in terms of behavior of all its staff, including its leadership. Policy, process and procedure gives people with our kind of minds something to hold on to, and gives us a basis to operate from in the case of feeling wronged. Use it. Whenever you feel something is not right, check your contract and policies.
Join a Union. They can help you in case you need legal or emotional support in meetings. And check your insurance policies for legal assistance cover. You may think you don’t need it, but that few pounds a month may save you a lot of stress.
The single most important thing to remember about accessibility in the workplace is that, in essence, we all want to belong, and we all want to do well. No one can truly know what goes on in someone else’s mind. If we approach one another from a place of openness and with the willingness to understand and accommodate, we can resolve most challenges. Collaboration is key.
Contracts advisor to scientists, charities and autrepreneurs | Coach & advocate to the neurodivergent.
|->My posts are my personal views and do not reflect those of my business or of my clients.<-|
I am the founder and CEO of Frascati Associates Ltd. I am nuts about contracts and making them work for you. If you believe that:
- lawyers are the ‘sales prevention team’; or
- lawyers ‘don’t get it’; or
- lawyers focus on things that ‘are never going to happen’; and
- lawyers charge you ‘an arm and a leg’,
You’ve never worked with me and my team before. Give us a try, and we’ll surprise you.
I am the Founder and CEO of NeuroRebellion CIC. I am the rebel leader of a neurodivergent protest against authorities and private service providers breaching their obligations under the Equality Act with impunity.
I am The Neurodistinguished Lawyer™. I am autistic, with ADHD and other neurodivergent conditions, and I know what it is like to held to neuro-normative standards all.the.time.
I am using my lived experience to drive change, to raise awareness, and to support others in their daily challenges. If you are neurodivergent and have ever, or are currently, experiencing:
- bullying, harassment, victimisation, discrimination or detrimental treatment relating to being autistic / dyslexic / dyspraxic / having ADHD or any other neurodivergent condition and/or co-occurring condition; or
- challenges in establishing yourself in the workplace / school and would like some support with business coaching and/or mentoring in administrative and entry level legal roles,
I can help.
Communication preferences: email / text / DM. Please note I use assistive technology which transcribes all spoken communication. All Zoom / Team meetings are recorded for this purpose.
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No one seems to ‘get it’. Friends and family think you just need to push through or "self-care" more. Internally, so many people in late identified life (me included) feel broken, ashamed or like they are failing or have never reached their full potential, when all along they've had a brain and sensory system that is different from the masses. It can take a lot of strength to keep going.
(It was years before I realized I had been on The Chronic Cycle Burnout Loop)
Living Burnout, Shutdown and Meltdown FREE for going on 4 years now has taught me more than I ever dreamed possible and the most powerful experience in Restoration has been regaining skills and abilities I thought were lost permanently to Burnout decades ago.
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