Auntie Anne had a problem: her favourite dog Jemima had fallen to the bottom of an old Well at the far end of her property. She did not want the dog to stay down there and starve to death so she decided she would get a shovel and cover her up. It would be cruel, but it would not be as cruel as letting the dog starve to death at the bottom of that old Well. So, Auntie Anne took a shovel of dirt and threw it into the deep well. Every time that shovel full of dirt hits the dog, she shook it off and stomped on it… shook it off and stomped on it… and it wasn’t long before the dog had shaken off enough dirt and stomped on it so that she was high enough to jump out the well.
Equality is about giving everyone the same resources.
Equity is about distributing resources based on the need and choices of the recipients.
This is more than just supplying the same bus, bike, or tightrope for anyone to use.
See blog Equality and Neurodiversity.
Instead, it is about supplying proper transport for the individuals that have been invited. For neurodivergent individuals, this means thinking about the environment, tools supplied, and the way things are done. For example, it could be about creating quiet spaces or supplying assistive technology tools. The key thing is that places are created where people feel safe and equipped to perform.
Understanding the guidelines (or where the rope is) for your workplace and having it made clear is vital.
Equity is achieved through tools like universal design
Universal design is about creating environments or in this case workspaces that can be accessed, understood, and used effectively by as many people as possible. Regardless of their age, size, ability, or disability.
Workplaces must be designed to meet the needs of the people who are going to use them. Not as pin-up spaces or beautiful designs that only help a minority of the population.
Good design is about making workspaces accessible, appropriate, convenient, and great fun to use so that everybody gets the most out of them. By considering the needs and abilities of all the potential users of a workspace, Universal Design offers us the ability to make truly great places to work.
Universal design for equity and neurodiversity
Case study 1
Microsoft has introduced tools including ‘Read Aloud’ ‘Dictate’ and ‘Editor’ into the Microsoft Office 365 suite, these tools are available in theory to everyone in the workplace using this platform. The key element here is choice in terms of how individuals use or don’t use them. They are available on-demand to be explored and played with as needed by the person that knows best.
Equity here is not about the availability of the tools but education, in terms of their existence and how to use them. Just because something is universally available does not mean individuals know it exists or how to use it.
Case study 2
Carly (This is not a real name) struggled with the way her home office chair felt, as it constantly irritated her skin and made her feel uncomfortable when seated. This reduced her concentration and meant that she did not want to use the chair.
Some people who are neurodivergent can be very sensitive to materials and fabrics.
Equality would be to give Carly the same chair as everyone else and say that was fair. Equity is about having a conversation with Carly. To find out if she would like to try out a few different chairs to establish which one doesn’t irritate her skin. Or she may well have some better ideas based on her own experience and research. For example, she may want to be able to change the covers on the chair based on how she was feeling.
What next for equity and neurodiversity?
Our workplaces will never meet everyone’s needs completely, considering equity is something that can be built on and added to.
The goal here is excellence, not perfection because this is going to be a changing landscape where employers need to respond to the needs of their workforce appropriately.
The other lesson here is that if there is more than one choice it is always better to choose the more inclusive one. For example, it is worth considering whether everyone:
- Can use it easily?
- Can set it up?
- Can share its benefits?
- Finds it fun and engaging to use?
- While not forgetting does it help make the organisation work better?
To achieve equality, equity must be a given I encourage you to think deeply and courageously about what this looks like in your organisation.
- Sometimes these things are intentional
- Sometimes they are accidents
- Sometimes they are discovered
- We must review and embrace what works and remove and reject what does not
If you would like to explore this further, please get in contact.