The Diversity in Disability
Breaking down stereotypes and creating spaces where everyone belongs
Hey there humans 👋 Did you know it’s estimated that 1 in 6 people have a disability, and around 1 in 7 people are neurodivergent?
In this newsletter edition, we’re celebrating Disability Pride Month and in particular, neurodiversity. We’ve got three great humans sharing their lived experience with and insights about autism: Anita Aherne – director and founder of Living on the Spectrum, Raven Bower – writer, muso, actor (and many more things) and Bernadette (B) Hardy – Dharug (Warmuli) & Gamilaraay interior/spatial designer and researcher.
We talk about a bunch of ways that both individuals and businesses can be cultivating inclusive workplaces, interior spaces, and communities.
6 things you need to know about fostering an inclusive workplace for neurodivergent employees by Anita Aherne, director and founder of Living on the Spectrum
Fostering an inclusive, supportive and safe workspace for autistic and neurodivergent individuals allows employees from varied backgrounds to feel valued, engaged, and empowered to contribute their unique perspectives and talents. It is not only crucial for promoting equal opportunities, but also can also significantly enhance innovation, collaboration, productivity and revenue.
Education and awareness
Make sure to foster a culture of understanding and inclusion by educating and training all employees about neurodiversity. Raise awareness about different neurodivergent conditions, such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, etc, and dispel myths and stereotypes. This will help create a supportive environment where colleagues can better understand and respect each other's differences.
Flexible work arrangements
Where possible, implement flexible work arrangements to accommodate the diverse needs of neurodivergent employees, which may include flexible working hours, remote work options, or job-sharing opportunities. This can help reduce sensory overload, anxiety, and other challenges often faced by neurodivergent individuals in traditional work settings.
Work with neurodivergent employees to identify and provide reasonable accommodations supporting their needs. These accommodations might include noise-cancelling headphones, quiet spaces for breaks, alternative communication methods, task organisers, or visual aids. Tailoring the work environment to their requirements can significantly improve productivity and well-being.
Clear communication and expectations
Ensure organisational communication is transparent, straightforward, and clearly defines expectations. Ambiguity in instructions or job roles can be challenging for neurodivergent individuals. Offering clear guidelines and providing regular feedback can help them feel more confident and secure in their roles.
Diverse and inclusive hiring practices
To create a diverse and inclusive workforce, organisations should review and adapt their hiring practices to accommodate neurodivergent candidates. This includes acknowledging that traditional interviews may not fully demonstrate their potential and exploring alternative methods like skills-based assessments, and pre-set question interviews to assess their abilities accurately.
Expert-led disability training
Don’t rely on autistic and neurodivergent individuals to provide disability and inclusion training (unless it is part of their job description). Instead, invest in professional trainers or resources with expertise in neurodiversity to ensure comprehensive and equitable training for all employees.
Check out Living On the Spectrum’s national autism and spectrum directory here
Disability isn’t a dirty word – Raven’s story
My name is Raven (they/them), and I’m non-binary, queer, autistic, and ADHD. I’m also a musician, actor, and writer. I’ve known about autism for me for a while now (ten years now actually!), but ADHD has been a much more recent discovery, so I’m still learning quite a bit.
I feel like daily life can be the challenge sometimes 😅 I often don’t have the energy to get things done that most people regularly do, so chores can often fall by the wayside, and I often don’t take care of myself as well as I need to. It also makes work difficult, because most work can be quite draining - which makes it very hard to find a job that fits well for me, let alone the difficulty of the job finding process itself!
I feel like, though knowledge of autism is growing, there’s still a lot of stereotypes that persist in the common knowledge (no thanks to the media). Things like autistic people all being just super-smart, or not understanding emotions (sometimes seen as not even having emotions) - these are just not helpful ideas. Holding the expectation that all autistic people are going to be savants, or have no social skills - both of these are incorrect ideas. Speaking for myself, I know that I’m a very emotional person, who feels things quite deeply; and that I understand social cues and the like specifically because I spent time studying them when I was younger! But each of us is different.
For individuals who would like to take action - be learning more where you can. Realise that The Big Bang Theory is not an accurate depiction of all autistic people. And realise that there are probably many, many autistic people in your life, even if you don’t know it. For organisations - work on making your hiring processes more inclusive. Things like giving interview questions in advance, or even allowing an alternate option instead of an interview. Being really clear about expectations in job advertisements is helpful as well. Also, allowing more space for accommodations for workers, and asking people what they need to make work more comfortable, safe, and healthy for them. These are things that really help a lot of people, not just autistic people.
Honestly, one of the best things you can do is probably be following autistic content creators on the various social media platforms that you’re on. There are many people that talk specifically about autistic experiences, and the same is true for other things like ADHD. Some good examples are Neurodivergent Rebel, Autienelle, or Catieosaurus for ADHD.
To finish off, on a different note - disability isn’t a dirty word, or a word to be avoided and skirt around with euphemism and the like. It means that the world is harder for us, and we know that. This world has been built and made for people whose bodies and brains work in particular ways; those of us that are outside those lines have to fight for things a lot more. But we are who we are. And part of that is being disabled. And that’s okay.
Learn more about disability, diversity and much more on Raven’s blog
Cultivating spaces that promote belonging – B’s story
Photo credit: Natalia Baechtold – @FeatherFlowerCreative – Ngarrindjeri Mimini
I am a proud Gamilaraay and Dharug woman who was identified as autistic later in life. Our entire family is autistic, including our two young children who are 7 and 8 years old.
I find it challenging how others, particularly those with 'medical expertise,' perceive and portray people like me. Their depictions often feel detached from my actual experiences, reducing me to stigmas and stereotypes and overlooking the intersectionality of being an autistic, black woman who is part of the world's oldest continuing culture on Earth.
I am a qualified, experienced, and practicing interior designer at hardyhardy, an Associate Professor, and a PhD scholar. I am curious about and exploring the relationship between autistic culture and the design of interior spaces and how it often disables us.
In Western colonial systems, it is uncommon for me to exist as a proud Gamilaraay and Dharug woman, an autistic person, and a designer all at once. I often feel a sense of separateness within these systems, like I can't be all of those things at once, but that's where my power and point of difference lie. That's where my sense of belonging is.
Built environments have the potential to foster positive interactions and a sense of connection, inclusion, and belonging. However, when the boundary between natural surroundings and interior spaces impacts sensory experiences, it drives my exploration and forms the basis of my spatial design methodology, known as 'Country Sensing Design.'
By combining Indigenous knowledge, evolving understandings of autistic culture, and Western design methods, I am creating new ways of sensing interior spaces. This synthesis establishes a fresh approach to interior spatial design and education that prioritises a sense of belonging for all, including humans and non-human beings, together. Nature, including the wind, air, land, water, flora, and fauna, offers valuable teachings as our teacher and living laboratory. By learning from the wisdom of Country, I bridge divides, foster understanding, and create harmonious spaces that promote a sense of belonging.
I envision a future where built environments inspire and nurture a sense of connection and belonging, where we may be labeled disabled, but buildings will no longer disable us.
Learn more about B’s designs and the Country Sensing Design Methodology at hardyhardy
Small actions, big impact
🏨 Pay this hotel in the Blue Mountains a visit
Become a Social Carer and provide support to Aussies who are elderly, ill, injured or living with a disability
✌️ Translate your media content into a signed language
💼 Tap into a skilled, job-ready pool of neurodivergent candidates
👕 Purchase accessible and inclusive clothing, footwear and everyday products
🎨 Make sure your designs are accessible by checking the contrast between different colour combinations against WCAG standards
Reads & resources
Connect with other parents raising children with disabilities, delays, and neurodivergence
Get to know the benefits of hiring autistic individuals
Check out this employment program which bridges the gap between employers and Autistic employees
Use this database to find an Autism Swim Provider that can teach children who are neurodiverse (or have specific learning needs) to swim
Join this accelerator program if you’re building a startup that positively impacts people with disabilities
Find your tribe and connect with the autistic and neurodiverse community (aged 7 to 30) around interests, friends, mentors and jobs
Food for thought
“Disability is articulated as a struggle, an unnecessary burden that one must overcome to the soundtrack of a string crescendo. But disabled lives are multi-faceted – brimming with personality, pride, ambition, love, empathy, and wit.” – Sinead Burke, writer, academic, activist and broadcaster
"A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles." - Christopher Reeve, actor and campaigner
“My disability exists not because I use a wheelchair, but because the broader environment isn’t accessible.” – Stella Young, comedian, journalist and activist
“Everybody deserves the right to go to a restaurant. Everybody deserves the right to go on a date. Everybody deserves the right to be employed and have an opportunity. But for people with disabilities, these things aren’t there.” – Dylan Alcott, sportsperson, radio host and speaker
“If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” – Dr. Stephen Shore, professor with autism
Thanks for reading and sharing!
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