Accommodations vs Accessibility: Building Truly Inclusive Workplaces From Day One

In this article, originally published by Institute of Directors (IoD), Paul Gillen, IoD Ambassador for DE&I gathers insight on Neurodiversity inclusion from Cathy Donnelly, Chief People Officer, and Martin McKay, CEO at Texthelp.

Cathy Donnelly, the Chief People Officer at Texthelp, brings over 25 years of experience in Human Resources and is passionate about creating cultures where everyone can bring their whole selves to work. Martin McKay, our CEO and Founder, has been a dedicated ally for neurodiversity inclusion and was diagnosed with Dyslexia just last year.

Texthelp is a global leader in inclusive technology with a wide range of tools that have positively impacted the lives of over 250 million people. This includes our literacy flagship product Read&Write for Work, which empowers neurodivergent employees to work to their unique strengths. In this Q&A article, Cathy and Martin explore the value neurodiversity inclusion brings to the workplace and strategies to support your neuroinclusion journey.

Why is neurodiversity inclusion important, and how can this bring a competitive advantage to the workplace?

In today’s evolving workforce, organisations have a unique opportunity to harness the potential of an untapped talent pool. Cathy confirms that “Neurodivergent individuals currently make up 15-20% of the global population – a number which could rise to 50% by 2050. This includes individuals with ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, and more, underscoring the need for workplaces to adapt to support neurodiverse teams.”

Why is neurodiversity inclusion important, and how can this bring a competitive advantage to the workplace?

Cathy: “Texthelp spoke to 500 neurodivergent people about their experiences at work and found that 61% have experienced stigma in the workplace. When asked why they don’t disclose being neurodivergent, 44% felt it would negatively impact their career, 42% were concerned that their managers and colleagues would view them differently, 19% didn’t know how to raise it with their manager, and 19% have had a previous negative experience when they did disclose it. I think those statistics are particularly shocking. We have a duty as employers to make our workplaces inclusive and make sure that people can bring their full selves to work and be the best version of themselves that they possibly can be.”

Research from Accenture has shown that companies that champion neurodiversity and disability inclusion benefit from 28% increased revenue, 30% better profit, and double the net income. Studies from Cloverpop also show that inclusive teams make better decisions 87% of the time.

Martin: “It always struck me as odd that I struggled with certain tasks. Now I understand it’s due to my spiky cognitive profile. I excel in numbers, data, visualisations, verbal reasoning, and I believe I’m good at communicating with people and explaining things in simple terms. Additionally, I often offer a different perspective because of my unique way of thinking, which is beneficial for our business decision-making process.”

The unemployment rate for autistic individuals is as high as 80%. For dyslexic individuals, it’s 45%. However, these different thinkers could be people with the exact strengths your business needs to grow, innovate, and address the widening skills gap. Neurodivergent workers can hold unique abilities in hyper focus, adaptability, complex problem-solving, cognitive flexibility, pattern recognition – these are all skills identified by the World Economic Forum as crucial for the future of work.

How are accommodations evolving in the workplace, and what can businesses do to move beyond disclosure?

Cathy: “Research shows that 76% of neurodivergent workers choose not to disclose their condition at work. If workplaces are set up to only provide inclusive solutions to those who request or submit a diagnosis of a condition, this can result in many individuals struggling in silence. The truly inclusive approach is providing neuroinclusive support and solutions to all staff from day one. That is what many of our customers are doing with Read&Write, such as Lumen, EY, KPMG, and more. This not only ensures everyone gets the support they need but allows all employees to explore the unique benefits of inclusive technology.

“Our dedicated DEI council implements mandatory neurodiversity training to all employees to raise awareness and challenge stigma. We recently held a training session around recruiting and managing people with autism that we offered through a specialist group locally in Northern Ireland. We have also run several sessions for employees around disability inclusion and how to create an inclusive workplace.”

Martin: “Instead of waiting until someone discloses a condition, workplaces can take a proactive approach. There are many ways to encourage disclosure; for example, we have dedicated Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) who can help create a culture of community and boost belonging; this alongside leadership and employees sharing their personal journeys can have a big impact. However, once we make neuroinclusion support available to all, we are building trust from day one. Many employees can’t obtain a diagnosis or know what to look for, but by raising awareness and making inclusive tools easily accessible we are removing hidden barriers to success.

“In terms of how we can make a bigger impact both internally and externally. There is often a hereditary link to some forms of neurodiversity, such as Dyslexia. Many neurodivergent workers may also have a neurodivergent child, parent, or sibling. One thing that is making a difference at Texthelp and for many of our customers, is Read&Write Free for Family. When you offer this solution company-wide, you can also offer it to your employees’ family free of charge. This not only helps you empower your employees but those who matter to them most and strengthens your CSR strategy.”

How can companies be more neuroinclusive in their hiring and recruitment processes?

Cathy: “It’s not only thinking about neurodivergent employees but thinking about it earlier in the process. How do we open our application process and make it possible for people who are neurodivergent to apply? Firstly, our Read&Write software is available on our careers page. When you land on our careers page, you’re encouraged and invited to download our software, which makes it much easier to apply. We also encourage applicants to reach out if they need any support during the application or interview processes.

“Secondly, we’ve reviewed all our job descriptions to ensure that we don’t exclude anyone through our choice of vocabulary and that we don’t ask for unnecessary skills. Our new inclusive hiring statement ensures we maintain inclusivity in our hiring practices. For example, prioritising skills and experiences at the shortlist stage instead of subjective requirements ensures we are choosing the best candidate for the role and minimising bias.

“We’re also working to support candidates throughout the recruitment process. To uphold our commitment to inclusion, we commissioned an external audit of our hiring practices to identify areas for improvement. We are currently assessing the results, but some upcoming changes include offering a selection of adjustments at the application stage. As the number of candidates requesting adjustments is quite low, this initiative can help build trust by demonstrating our readiness to accommodate their needs and providing options for how we can assist them.”

So, what are Cathy’s and Martin’s top tips for Inclusion?

  1. We know that accessibility is important so we’re working with our Enable ERG for disabilities/neurodiversity to make the workplace suitable for everyone – and that includes broadening the definition of “accessibility.” For example, refurbishing our offices to include quiet spaces, especially important for those who struggle to focus in a hectic, noisy environment.
  2. We actively listen to our employees, surveying them regularly, not to target solely people who are neurodivergent but to find out about their experiences at Texthelp and what we could do better. We act on feedback, publishing updates on actions we have taken based on survey feedback.
  3. When it comes to disabilities, we look beyond physical disabilities. Certainly, making accommodations for physical disabilities is important but we’re also thinking about the invisible disabilities, those that can also hinder the experiences our employees have at work, but aren’t as obvious. For that reason, we make our inclusive technology products available to everyone – there is no requirement to raise your hand and self-identify.
  4. Talking and sharing lived experiences is helpful in normalising subjects that have traditionally been off limits. We create opportunities for people to share in a safe space and what we have found is that when one or two people share their experience, others feel much more able to open up. This approach creates psychological safety for others which comes through very strongly in our employee surveys.
  5. Think inclusion each and every day – make it part of business as usual. Think about making processes inclusive from the outset and don’t wait until someone asks for an accommodation. When you make decisions, ask yourself if you’re being inclusive. For example, instead of perceiving spelling errors as carelessness for candidates, consider that they may have Dyslexia. With this in mind, it’s important that we place our focus on the strengths and experience displayed, rather than minor details.

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