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A recent event held by accessibility-oriented organisation Texthelp focused on how inclusive technology can support, attract and retain neurodiverse talent, and was hosted by Donna Thomson. After giving a formal introduction, she provided an audio description of what she looked like for the benefit of any visually impaired audience members. This, along with live subtitles, truly ensured that the webinar was accessible for all. Neurodiversity is a broad umbrella term for conditions that may impact individuals in any number of ways. Autism, ADHD and Dyspraxia are but a few such conditions. It is fundamental that neurodivergent and disabled individuals are given the same opportunities as others to flourish in the workplace, and Texthelp works towards ensuring these crucial rights are upheld.

Introduced by Thomson, fellow colleague, Accessibility and Inclusion Specialist Paul Fox began by pointing out the following:

  • 80% of disabilities are not immediately visible
  • People often think that disability is always present from birth, when in fact 83% of disabilities are actually acquired at some stage

Paul went on to briefly explain the origins and development of Texthelp as an organisation before putting forward the case that designing and producing with accessibility taken into account from the onset can be advantageous for everyone involved.

The website for Texthelp recently underwent a substantial overhaul, which created an opportunity for the organisation to evaluate their own accessibility. As a result, they found numerous issues with ease of access across the site. It was heartening to witness a company which specialises in accommodating needs through technology be able to hold itself to account and accept that it can further improve and learn. Reflecting upon your business’ own inclusivity is an excellent step forward towards cultivating and maintaining an accessible environment. Having already possessed both the experience and tools required to implement the necessary changes, the team created ReachDeck

There are three fundamental aspects of the programme, with the first being an auditor. This automatically scans websites for any compliance issues, highlights factors relating to readability such as reading age, the length of sentences and any use of jargon. It also identifies any broken links which can hinder the performance of screen readers. The second feature is an editor which, in a similar vein to the auditor, flags up details including estimated writing age, jargon, long sentences and grammatical errors. Once the website was fully audited and all errors had been rectified, the team then implemented a toolbar overlay which offers further assistance to individuals who may lack basic digital skills, those with hidden disabilities, visual impairments and non-native speakers. It contains features such as text to speech, a text highlighter to aid concentration, a picture dictionary and screen masking features in one easy-to-use toolbar. ReachDeck is on sale for other organisations to make use of on their own websites, and a free 30 day trial is available here.

The importance of making the internet more accessible is emphasised by Ruth Besford, Equality & Inclusion Officer for Bridgewater NHS Foundation Trust, “The internet is becoming an increasingly important point of access for patients and that includes groups like older people, who would traditionally have preferred to be contacted by letter or telephone”.

Fox claims that one of Texthelp’s programmes, Read&Write for The Workplace, is a great way to show commitment to how you support people joining the workplace. Some individuals with a hidden disability who may be hesitant to disclose this, as well as people who don’t have an official diagnosis but recognise they need support, may find the proactive introduction of Read&Write to be of substantial benefit. The software can help all staff regardless of ability to work with more confidence and productivity. It also gives people with hidden disabilities an opportunity to work more independently, thereby helping to level out the playing field in the workplace. This is supported by Kevin Bowsher, Diversity and Inclusion Manager for Network Rail who says, “We go to great lengths to create an environment where everyone can be themselves while they’re in the workplace”.

Fox categorised all the tools available into three main sections with text to speech being one of them. Although its primary function is to assist the visually impaired, it can also act as a proofreader and improve concentration. Next, its range of neurodiversity tools are most commonly used by disabled people and includes tools such as predictive text, a screenshot reader and a screen masker. Lastly, it hosts a range of productivity tools which are most commonly used to help individuals work with more efficiency, including a PDF reader, a translator and the ability to make voice notes. Quoted in the presentation was Michael Beackon, the Equality & Diversity Assistant Manager for NELFT which has had access to the software since 2017 who said, “From an accessibility perspective, we want all our employees to feel that they’re treated equally. All the great benefits of Read&Write are there for everybody”. Additionally, Manal Sadic, Equality Advisor & Service Manager with Guy’s & St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust was cited as being another satisfied consumer of the programme, “Read&Write works on a number of levels. It’s saying we are aware within our organisation that there are staff who require support. It also shows that we’re willing to invest in the best support that’s available”. Fox is particularly keen on this message and asserts the fact that, “If you’re willing to invest in the best support that’s available, you’re clearly willing to invest in the best people available”.

He then went onto discuss equity and its numerous connotations within the workplace and stressed that failure to address inequity or not being seen as inclusive risks losing out regarding the process of attracting and retaining skilful individuals. This was supported with the following statistics:

  • Diverse teams are 87% more successful with decision making
  • Average employee performance in diverse organisations is 12% higher than employees at non-diverse organisations
  • Companies with higher than average diversity rates have 19% higher innovation revenues
  • 67% of job seekers consider diversity important when searching for employment opportunities

To conclude both on the topic of equity and the main segment as a whole, Fox closed with, “Central to the performance of a business is doing the right thing around disability inclusion and making your place the most inclusive place to work.”

There was plenty of time spared for questions following the main presentation where Fox was rejoined by host Thomson. Given the nature of the questions submitted, the Q&A was split into two sections, with the first one focusing on the previously discussed Reachdeck. One such question was, “I really like the sound of the editor, does it make recommendations for alternative words that are easier to understand?” The other category of questions revolved around Read&Write, with one query being, “Can I choose to have only the neurodiversity tools on the toolbar?” All questions put forward were answered by Thomson and Fox with enthusiasm and clarity, helping to quash any reservations audience members may have had.

Individuals who signed up for the webinar were sent a free resource titled, Unlocking Neurodiversity in the Workplace: A Guide for HR Managers and Professionals. Concise but packed with useful information, the document covers topics including the power of neurodiversity and how it can be beneficial to your business, support for neurodiverse employees and links to further reading material.

The event was extremely informative, inspiring and, as previously mentioned, accessible. We sincerely hope it will incentivise businesses to take a positive look at neurodiversity and how it can be of benefit to them, whilst providing necessary support thus allowing everyone to thrive and maintain a healthy sense of wellbeing.

If you believe Texthelp’s services may be beneficial to your business, you can find out more here. Finally, Inclusive Boards has a variety of courses available including one which focuses on the implementation of equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace and contains a subsection on the subject of neurodiversity. It can be accessed here.

Written by Emily Midwinter – Research Assistant at Inclusive Boards

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