If you’re neurodivergent, you already know why everyone needs an equal opportunity to thrive at work. But you may not know how to help make that happen at your job.
Whether you’re an entry-level employee or a senior manager, you can play a role in making your workplace more inclusive. There are steps you can take to help shape a culture that makes room for different ways of learning, thinking, and getting work done.
Here are five practical things you can do right now.
1. Avoid assumptions.
A big challenge with having a difference at work is other people making assumptions about what you can or can’t do. You may have experienced that yourself. You may even have done it to other people without realizing it.
Each person is different. Two people who have the same condition may experience it very differently. So unless your co-worker with ADHD tells you otherwise, don’t assume they can’t do certain tasks because they have trouble paying attention. The same goes for someone in a wheelchair who shows up for a job that you think requires a certain type of mobility.
One last point here: Don’t assume you know who has a disability in your workplace. Many differences and disabilities are invisible. It’s up to each person whether they choose to share this information with you.
2. Ask “How can I support you?”
This is a simple yet powerful question.
For starters, it helps you avoid making assumptions. You may need extra support. Some of your co-workers may need extra support too. But others won’t. You won’t know until you ask.
This open-ended question also shows that you’re willing to help. Many people don’t ask for support at work out of fear of looking less competent, seeming like a burden, or facing discrimination. Asking “How can I support you?” can relieve this pressure.
3. Embrace flexibility.
Expect and allow for difference. If a co-worker isn’t doing a task the typical way (or the way you do it), be open to other approaches and don’t judge.
Here’s a common example. A co-worker turns off their camera during a videoconference, making your boss think they’re not interested or not paying attention.
But being on camera can be difficult, distracting, or even painful for some people. Turning off the camera might help them concentrate or reduce anxiety. It might relieve the strain on their eyes. What looks like slacking off might actually be an effort to better engage.
A practical thing you can do is reach out to your co-workers. Ask how they prefer to collaborate. This can help you work together better. And it can help prevent misunderstandings that can damage work relationships.
4. Make accessibility the norm.
Make thinking about accessibility a standard practice. For example, plan an interview or a business lunch in a space that people in wheelchairs can access.
Another common example: Set up your videoconferencing so that closed captioning turns on automatically for everyone. This way, people who need it won’t have to ask for it. People who think they don’t need it may discover that it’s useful. And people who don’t want it can simply turn it off.
5. Be an ally.
Being an ally means being vigilant. Be aware of when your own biases show up. This is important even if you’re neurodivergent or have a disability yourself.
If you recognize that you’re making an assumption, challenge it. Speak up if you notice a space that’s inaccessible — even if it’s accessible to you. If someone seems to have a different approach to work, be open to collaborating in new ways.
You really can make a difference. The more vigilant you are about inclusion, the more inclusive your workplace will become.
About the author
About the author
Molly Touger is a writer and instructional designer based in Brooklyn, New York.
James Emmett, MS is the lead workplace strategist for Understood, supporting our efforts to create more inclusive workplaces for people with disabilities.