Carole Jean: -What does accessibility mean to you?
Charlie: Reducing or eliminating barriers to inclusion or success, which requires conscious inclusion.
Carole Jean: -What is your big "why" for advocating in the WORKPLACE?
Charlie: Workplace inclusion is my niche because I’m a qualified, experienced HR professional with plenty of knowledge of employment legislation and inclusion best practice. As I have lived experience of navigating the social and sensory challenges of work, as an autistic working mum of autistic kids, I have plenty of ideas about what helps us and what can fail us.
Carole Jean: -What has been the biggest accessibility challenge you have faced in your own WORKPLACE in the past?
Charlie: Working on projects under pressure from unrealistic timescales, with actions communicated verbally in meetings.
(Carole Jean: Verbal communication is only one way to share information and often is a challenge for ND brains and processing systems. Following up with written instructions that also highlight the key points in bullet form can be very helpful along with providing a way that team members can follow up with questions or get further clarification after a meeting with the manager or project leader are key performance steps to help increase communication for everyone.)
Carole Jean: -What are your best tips or insights into creating more accessibility from the WORKPLACE organization side?
Charlie: Embracing neurodiversity and celebrating the advantages of including people in the workforce whose brains are wired differently is the first step to being an ally to people with neurological differences. Colleagues can also support us with our challenges, help break down barriers to inclusion, and accept us for who we are so we can thrive as our authentic selves.
We all have unique strengths and challenges, so understanding these is key because everyone has specific accessibility and support needs. Autism, for example, is a spectrum condition, which means that it affects people in different ways.
It is unhelpful to stereotype people based on their neurological condition, so please do not make assumptions about what their support needs are or about the characteristics of their condition. For example, some autistic people may feel uncomfortable turning on their videos during online meetings. Personally, video calls do not bother me, but I do prefer people to message me in advance rather than video calling me without warning. Allow the individual to tell you if they need support, and if so in what way, rather than making assumptions about what they can or cannot do.
Understand that some autistic people may need extra time to switch from one task to another, as we may struggle with scattered meetings throughout the day and with back-to-back meetings. You may want to consider consulting us before sending us meeting invites, as we may need larger chunks of time to focus on a single piece of work and become overwhelmed when flitting between meetings and tasks all day. If I have a day with lots of task switching, I often simmer into meltdown by the time my kids come home from school. Please be supportive if we get overwhelmed. Notice meltdowns, shutdowns, and signs of burn-out. We might need a fresh air break or an extended toilet break to de-escalate!
Some autistic people may need specific instructions broken down into manageable chunks, and it can also be helpful to confirm expectations in writing. When interviewing someone, you may want to consider presenting the questions one at a time instead of asking a series of questions in one go. Breaking down information into manageable chunks, in fact, makes information more accessible for everyone.
Be accommodating to people with sensory issues, for example by allowing headphones, earphones, sunglasses, anti-glare screens, lower lighting, blinds. If noise causes sensory overload for the autistic colleague you need to speak to, consider arranging the meeting in a quieter area. Understand that some autistic people struggle with video calls.
Challenge your own expectations about social behaviours. Some autistic people struggle with small talk and find greetings awkward. Be aware of potential anxiety caused by unexpected telephone calls and desk visits. Equally, some autistic people may be fine with such calls and visits. Vary your approach according to the individual’s specific needs. Understand that some autistic people may struggle to see the unwritten social rules that neurotypical people take for granted. Some autistic people may struggle to read and use body language in the social context and may rely more on verbal or written communication. You may want to consider using more direct verbal or written communication rather than relying on body language.
We can be passionate about our topics of highly focused interest - not just our hobbies but topics could be work-related too. This passion can lead us to interrupt people or dominate meetings. Please let us know when to stop talking, and not with subtle hints. This is not the same for all autistic staff, and many are quiet in meetings, especially online meetings, and can even become situationally mute. It is important that meeting facilitators ensure those people still have a voice, for example by allowing contributions through the chat panel.
Carole Jean: -What tips or best practices would you like to share to help aid other ND WORKPLACES?
Charlie: Foster a culture of psychological safety, where employees feel safe to be open about their individual challenges and support needs.
Make sure your inclusion policies are not tokenistic but are followed through for the whole employee lifecycle.
Mean what you say, and practice what you preach, for example do not publish a lengthy inclusion and wellbeing strategy and then tell an employee that you don’t have time to accommodate their individual needs.
If you are drafting a policy or process and want to ensure it is inclusive, consult your disability or neurodiversity staff support group. If you don’t have one of those, you really should.
Carole Jean: -What is the most important point you'd like to share around accessibility in the WORKPLACE?
Charlie: Sending interview questions in advance to all candidates is better for everybody. This is a universal design principle which helps candidates and employers get the most out of an interview.
Inclusion should be a two-pronged approach – universal design to help everybody and accommodate individual needs.
I am an experienced human resources professional with a strong technical and analytical learning. I have worked in HR for over 20 years, concentrating on HR systems support, HR MI, project planning and delivery, and picking up the more complex HR queries and calculations.
Since my autism diagnosis in 2018, my highly-focussed special interest has been promoting understanding, acceptance and inclusion of neurodiversity and intersectional diversity.
I am an enthusiastic, yet balanced, neurodiversity advocate. Autism is dark clouds with plenty of silver linings to me, not unicorns and rainbows. I love to deliver presentations about neurodiversity inclusion and intersectionality, and I have had plenty of opportunities from within the HR function and via employee resource groups.
In my spare time, I have developed a strong social media presence (Ausome Charlie, Different is OK), and I'm a keen blogger and public speaker (in person or online).
As a volunteer contributor to the AIM for the Rainbow website, I try to help make life brighter for young people on the "double rainbow" intersection of autism and LGBTQIA+ which I do in memory of my son Iggy who sadly ended his life in 2019 aged 15 after being bullied for being weird and different.
Elected SRA's champion ally in 2020, I have been neurodiversity champion on the committee of SRA's staff disability support network Access Ability, bi/pan role model for SRA Pride Plus, supporting LGBTQIA+ staff, and an active member of the cross-functional internal EDI working group and the Stonewall Diversity Champions working group.
CIPD qualified since 2000, I recently renewed my CIPD Level 5 Diploma in Human Resource Management to update my skillset and broaden my knowledge, although I've always kept ahead of changing legislation, case law and best practice.
I aspire to continue promoting the JEDI arts (Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) from within my technical analytical HR role.
Thanks for reading this all the way to the end - your interest is much appreciated.
P.S. I am also a keen England Athletics-qualified run leader, helping others access the physical and mental well-being that comes from running in and around my home village.
Charlie Hart on Social Media
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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)
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