Last month, Jason Arday became the youngest black person ever to be appointed to a professorship at the University of Cambridge. He joins the short list of black professors in the UK (out of 24,000 professors in the UK, only 160 are black and 50 are black women).
Jason was diagnosed with autism and global development delay in his early years, he was unable to speak until he was 11 years old and could not read or write until he was 18. Jason is an advocate and has published articles that address black and minority ethnic experiences in higher education highlighting their under-representation in academia and the challenge of creating more equitable educational experiences.
Image Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cambridgeshire-64717079
Jason’s story is a reminder that ‘everything is possible’ and society has a collective responsibility to make the changes needed to advance equality, diversity and inclusion. His experiences and research serve as a reminder of the many barriers faced by underrepresented groups not only in education but in all sectors of society.
Neurodiversity is a term coined by sociologist Judy Signer who started using the term in the late 1990s. The term refers to the concept that certain developmental disorders are normal variations in the brain and that people who have these features have certain strengths. The term neurodiversity commonly refers to people with ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, dyslexia, dyspraxia and other learning difficulties. It is thought that up to 15% of the population is neurodiverse and the majority are neurotypical.
However, this number could be more as ADHD and autism tend to be underdiagnosed in women and black and minority ethnic people as many services only work/support the diagnosis of children. There is limited support for neurodivergent adults before and after diagnosis and many struggles to get an assessment through the NHS private assessments cost anywhere from £600.
“In my experience, I was lucky to get a fully funded assessment through my university during my postgraduate studies. During a doctor’s appointment, my GP had let me know that it was uncommon for the NHS to fund an assessment for people over the age of 25 years old.” (Rayann Bryan, DEI Officer at SEO London)
More needs to be done to support neurodivergent individuals get diagnosed, study and pursue their career goals. Society should make more accommodations to support the career aspirations of neurodivergent individuals as only 16% of autistic adults in the UK are in full-time employment, according to the National Autistic Society. However, their research also shows that a significant majority (77%) of unemployed autistic people say they want to work. Employers can make additional accommodations to encourage and welcome individuals with neurodivergence into the workplace.
ACAS an independent public body that provides advice to employers and employees on employment rights, best practices and policies and resolving workplace conflict has made several recommendations to support neurodiversity. Employers should raise awareness about neurodiversity by providing readily available, simple and useful information to staff on different forms of neurodivergence and sharing stories about successful neurodivergent role models. In addition, employers should ensure that managers have the skills needed to manage a neurodiverse. Finally, ACAS recommends that employers reduce many of the distractions and obstacles in the workplace by doing things such as having dedicated quiet areas, offering flexible working arrangements such as homeworking for part of the week or allowing staff to start earlier or finish later and providing visible instructions next to office equipment and machinery, such as photocopiers.
Neurodiversity can offer employers innovation and positive growth as neurodivergent individuals have specific traits that can positively impact the workplace. For example, some people with ADHD have traits such as the ability to focus for extended periods, multitask and can be calm under pressure: all valuable skills for employees within organisations. Dyslexic and dyspraxic people tend to ‘think outside the box’ – often a much-desired quality of an individual employee, or team – is also highly valuable. Autistic people, too, are proven to be successful in a variety of roles, often bringing strengths to their work such as analytical thinking, focus, and attention to detail.