For autism awareness month, trainer and campaigner Janine Booth blogs about the neurodiversity in the workplace course she is running for PCS.
Last week, the first regional PCS neurodiversity in the workplace course took place in Newcastle, and I was very pleased to be the tutor. Sixteen union members – some reps, some activists, some long-standing, some new – gathered for two days to learn more about discrimination against workers who are autistic, dyslexic or otherwise neurodivergent (ie. have unusual brain wiring), and what we can do to fight for equality.
At the outset, we set out our approach as the social model of disability. This is a progressive alternative to the traditional, medical model which sees disabled people’s problems as coming from their impairment or difference. In contrast, the social model says that while many people have impairments or differences, their disability is caused by society putting barriers in the way of their equal and independent participation in society.
While the medical model might say ‘Fatima’s autism makes her hypersensitive to bright lights, so she wouldn’t be able to work in our office’, the social model might instead say, ‘The bright lights in our office make Fatima distressed, as she is autistic and unusually sensitive to bright lights. It would be a good idea to turn them down.’
With our focus on identifying barriers and then removing them, we looked at several case studies of workers who had experienced discrimination, from an autistic civil servant to a dyspraxic coffee shop worker. Course participants researched and gave presentations to the class on obsessive-compulsive disorder, Tourette’s syndrome, autism, and attention deficit disorders.
We put together a list of changes that workplaces could make in order to be more accessible to workers who are neurodivergent, as well as adjustments that could be made for individuals. And we discussed the case for demanding that employers negotiate a workplace neurodiversity policy with PCS.
We learned about how politics impacts on neurodivergent people’s lives, and what the law says about discrimination and how we can use it.
And last but not least, we looked at how PCS itself could become more accessible to its neurodiverse membership and step up its campaigning on this issue.
All this in two days. Sure, it was quite intense, but it was also enjoyable, and reading the feedback forms on my way home afterwards, I saw how much PCS reps and activists had got from this course. I am already looking forward to running it in several other regions, so maybe I will see you there.
For course dates see our events listings.