Organisation-wide initiatives aimed at Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) are important in fostering a more representative and inclusive workspace for all employees.
Creating a more inclusive work environment supports current employees and helps attract potential job candidates with diverse backgrounds and abilities. Diverse companies have even seen 2.5 times higher cash flow per employee as well as increases in overall collaboration and engagement, leading to better and more inclusive decision-making. Research also suggests in an inclusive workspace teams are more productive by over 35 percent.
As 15-20 percent of the world’s population is neurodiverse, those who process information and behave differently than the majority, it’s imperative that organisations adopt inclusive initiatives that support employees of all abilities. For some neurodivergent individuals, finding a job, let alone one with adequate accommodations, can be difficult. At least 85 percent of adults diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder with a college education are unemployed, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Many organisations are missing out on hiring this talent-rich demographic and those who do hire neurodiverse talent, often don’t provide them with the adequate resources needed to succeed.
There are actions organisations can take to make accommodations for neurodiverse workers, enabling them to excel and succeed in their roles. Assistive technology can help employees complete work more efficiently. Assistive technology includes various types of devices, software, or equipment that help individuals with disabilities learn procedures, communicate with coworkers, and better perform daily tasks. With a shortage of vocational rehab specialists and job coaches plaguing the country, organisations need to better utilise technology to support their neurodiverse workforce.
UNDERSTANDING ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY AND ITS MANY USES:
There are various types of assistive technology on the market available to neurodiverse employees. Writing and reading aids such as speech-to-text and text-to-speech technology are some of the most used technologies for those with autism, and can also support individuals with other common neurocognitive disorders like dyslexia. Companies can also provide employees with inexpensive technologies such as clear fonts, digital highlighters, spell check, and audiobooks to improve accessibility.
Assistive technology can also help individuals diagnosed with autism and other related neurocognitive disorders maintain productivity and concentration. White noise machines, time management and organisational tools, calendar alerts, voice memos, automated tasks, and distraction blocking software can help individuals focus on tasks and improve performance. In the U.S., it is estimated that workplace productivity and income losses range from $87 million to $138 million annually. Investing in this technology not only improves overall performance but saves employers money in the long term.
Many neurodiverse employees have different learning styles that may require alternative methods for absorbing information and communicating with coworkers. Visual aids and video-modelling for job tasks can help employees with autism and related intellectual and developmental disabilities succeed in the workplace. Assistive technology such as CentralReach’s avail technology provides step-by-step visual tutorials for job-related tasks that can be customised based on roles and can be repeated until the employee has mastered the skill. Additionally, communication boards and speech-generated devices can improve collaboration among teams with neurodiverse workers.
INCORPORATING ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY INTO AN ORGANISATION:
While accommodations for neurodiverse employees exist, burnout is still 12 percent higher among neurodiverse employees compared to neurotypical employees, leading to potential turnover risk. To mitigate these challenges, assistive technology needs to be properly integrated into an organisation’s overall culture. To do so, the following steps must be taken:
1. BE TRANSPARENT ABOUT INTERNAL TRAINING SOFTWARE AND RESOURCES THAT WILL SUPPORT AN EMPLOYEE IN THEIR DAY-TO-DAY
Both current and prospective neurodiverse employees want to see an organisation making every effort to highlight their dedication to DEIA initiatives. Many candidates even take an organisation’s diversity initiatives into consideration before accepting a position, with 76 percent of job seekers and employees citing a diverse workplace as an important factor when evaluating a career opportunity.
The inclusion of assistive technology should not be an afterthought in a company’s culture. Employers should not wait until a neurodivergent employee requests assistance to start offering necessary technology. Instead, organisations should clearly articulate to employees starting at the interview and hiring phase that assistive technology is available and provide details on how and where it can be accessed. List available accommodations directly on job postings, making candidates aware of the resources available to them.
2. MAKE SOFTWARE ACCESSIBLE TO EVERYONE, NOT JUST NEURODIVERSE EMPLOYEES
While many neurodiverse employees will require assistive technology to accomplish daily tasks, assistive technology can be used by anyone in the workplace. As 92 percent of jobs require digital skills, even neurotypical employees can benefit from assistive technology such as speech-to-text technology or time management tools.
Making assistive technology available to all employees, not just neurodiverse workers, helps improve overall performance without positioning it as an accommodation for a select few. As to not focus on disabilities, providing assistive technology to all employees who are interested puts the emphasis rather on improving company and individual success.
3. ENSURE DEIA INITIATIVES ARE INGRAINED IN OVERALL COMPANY CULTURE
In addition to providing accommodations, organisations must prioritise DEIA by providing DEIA training, encourage employee resource groups, and communicate a corporate DEIA strategy. Without laying the foundations for an inclusive workspace, assistive technology has no place.
Assistive technology and accommodations are even proven to enhance employee performance with 75 percent of employers claiming that the accommodations made at their organisations are very effective. Companies need to have an open dialogue about DEIA and be willing to listen to and address their employees’ needs.
There is always room for improvement within an organisation. Making employees feel supported and providing them with the right tools to help them succeed should be a priority for all organisations. There are many additional resources for employers to support neurodiverse workers and create a more inclusive workspace such as the Job Accommodations Network (JAN) which can help companies find the right software for every employee’s unique needs.
Chris Sullens is the Chief Executive Officer of CentralReach and is leading the company in its mission to provide an end-to-end platform of software and services that enable Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) clinicians and educators to produce superior client outcomes for people with autism and related disorders. Sullens brings decades of experience to the company and has a proven track record of building strong company cultures and taking customer-centric technology companies, like CentralReach, to the next level.