Fighting discrimination, not autism

Janine blogs for us about how the job application process can discriminate against autistic people but how PCS is training its members and reps to be more aware of how the workplace can be improved for everyone.

Two years ago, I wrote a blog post here about the difficulties that workplaces present to autistic workers.

Sad to say, not much has improved for autistic people in the two years since. The workplace is often a hostile environment, and autistic workers are driven out of jobs that they are capable of doing – or they don’t get those jobs in the first place.

Discrimination

Job application processes can be discriminatory. The Employment Tribunal found that the Government Legal Service had discriminated against an autistic job applicant by making her take a multiple-choice test, refusing her request to give short narrative answers as this better suits her thought processes.

Employers like multiple-choice tests because computers can mark them; assessments involving human beings cost more. For the trade union movement, workers are worth more than being the cheapest option, especially when that option is discriminatory and unfair. We are constantly challenging such actions by employers.

Neurodiversity training

One thing that has improved over the last two years is PCS’s programme of educating and training its representatives and members about autism and other aspects of neurodiversity in the workplace. By ‘neurodiversity’, we mean that different people have different brains. For some – for example, autistic, dyspraxic and dyslexic people – the brain’s structure or wiring diverges so much from the typical that society creates real difficulties and barriers.

For instance, autistic people often have unusually high sensitivity (or unusually low sensitivity) to certain sensory inputs, so artificial light or background noise in a workplace can cause distress and distraction.  

That example also shows that a less distressing workplace for autistic people would be a more pleasant workplace for everyone. It is in all our interests to unite and demand more equal and accessible working conditions.

Hundreds of PCS members have been trained about neurodiversity, and we now run a follow-up Stage 2 course for those who want to learn about it in even more depth. 

April is Autism Awareness Month - or, as many autistic activists prefer to call it, Autism Acceptance Month. We don't want to fight autism, we want to fight discrimination.

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