With newsfeeds full of Chat GPT and its artificial intelligence friends, let’s ensure no one is left behind as we enter this next phase of the digital revolution. As office workers stretch their skills again to learn these new tools, on top of the ones learnt during the Covid-19 lockdowns, we have a unique opportunity. Let’s use this opportunity to grow together using assistive technology to create truly equal workplaces where everyone can excel.
For some, advances such as AI or noise-cancelling headphones have meant more interesting or efficient ways of doing business. However, for members of our neurodivergent population, these assistive technologies can represent an opportunity to finally participate as equals in work and education spaces.
My client Louise* was working at a Government agency with excellent access to assistive technology, including Grammarly, headphones, voice-to-text and mind mapping software as well as reasonable adjustments, including part work from home, an anchored desk (instead of hot desking), and regular fresh air breaks. Her performance reviews were exemplary, as she had the support necessary to complete her work to the highest standard. Louise established such a reputation that another agency actively poached her for a secondment. Read on to the end to find out what happened next.
What is assistive technology?
World Health Organisation
In our context, assistive technology is any equipment or device that assists a neurodivergent individual to easily manage their life or work requirements in a neurotypical world. Assistive technology broadly refers to any equipment or device that helps people (especially elderly or disabled members of our community) live healthier, more independent, and engaged lives.
In short, assistive technology helps even the playing field and gives everyone a fair go.
How can assistive technology help neurodivergent office workers?
In the workplace, assistive technology can help so much as to give opportunity to those who may not otherwise have been able to attend or participate in the workforce. But by itself, it is only part of the equation. Supportive policies, reasonable adjustments, and team willingness to support their use are also required. The following are just some of the ways your office can utilise assistive technology to support neurodivergent team members.
Facilitate work from home
Covid-19 lockdowns changed the way we worked overnight, and some of us realised it was for the better. This was especially true for many of my neurodivergent clients. Working from home removed many distractions and triggers from the workday, allowing my clients to work more efficiently and with less stress. The everyday technologies that became popular during lockdowns, including Zoom and Messenger, are forms of assistive technology that make healthy work from home arrangements possible now too.
Many neurodivergent individuals have communication preferences or challenges communicating, recording information, or putting their thoughts smoothly onto a page – especially those with dyslexia or dysgraphia. Simple apps and software that allow them to dictate speech to text, check their spelling, or support notetaking in meetings can lift them to higher levels of performance and job satisfaction.
Manage time and concentration
Often associated with ADHD, challenges managing time or concentrating in work environments affect many neurodivergent office workers. Assistive technologies like noise-cancelling headphones and time management apps can all but solve the problem for some. However, as with all assistive technologies, policies around respecting the use of such assistance is also required.
Assistive technologies help everyone
These assistive technologies need not have access limited to neurodivergent staff members. One Deloitte study found that most people thought their coworkers were just as, if not more, productive during lockdown than before, and upon return to the office, 61% of desk-based workers would prefer to work from home more often.
If your otherwise neurotypical (or undiagnosed neurodivergent) staff member would like to work from home, or thinks they will work more efficiently with noise cancelling headphones and access to Grammarly to check spelling – what’s stopping you from supporting them too? More efficient, less stressed staff and team members mean business and individuals both win.
And my client?
She returned to her original agency within six months of her 12-month secondment because she could not access the assistive technologies and reasonable adjustments she required. She continues to receive exemplary performance reviews. The agency that poached her and initially wanted her beyond the 12-month secondment had to recruit in an employee’s market, have a vacant position for the duration of a recruitment process then train a new employee.
Don’t let these unnecessary costs and inconveniences happen to your business.
Remember, there is a reason schools often combine enrichment and support. Just because you or a staff member need support in one area doesn’t mean you (or they) are not gifted in another. If you would like more information on how you can support your office-based team, contact me to discuss workplace training and support.