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Big Ideas in IDEA

CCDI Consulting's Monthly Newsletter for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility.

There have been a lot of changes at CCDI Consulting this year. We launched our new website, CCDIConsulting.ca, separating from our charity-partner, the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion (CCDI.ca)

April is a busy month - it is Autism Acceptance month, Sikh Heritage month, and Ramadan, and many important religious, cultural, and social awareness days occur in April, including Baisakhi, Passover, Easter, Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day), International Day of Pink (Anti-bullying Day), and Workers' Mourning Day. The first article of the month discusses Autism Acceptance, and the second talks about microaggressions and how to avoid them.

Kala Singe
Communications Assistant, Marketing and Communications

Autism Acceptance Month

Submitted by: Sydney Elaine Butler, Founder of Accessible Creates, External Contributor

April is Autism Acceptance Month, also known as Autism Awareness Month. The shift from "awareness month" to "acceptance month" happened because acceptance is about acknowledging autistics as part of the community, changing the public image of autism and autistics, and shifting the dialogue about autism from a negative stance to a positive one that centers autistics in that dialogue. We both want and need acceptance, not just ‘awareness’, because the quality of our lives depends on it.

The colour blue has been associated with “Autism Awareness” as it started with the organization Autism Speaks, who states, “Light it up Blue”. This idea makes it appear that Autism is only found in boys. Autism Speaks does not speak for autistics and both boys and girls, and those with other gender identities can be autistic. Along with that, autistic children become autistic adults, it is not something you grow out of, and more often adults are being diagnosed as being autistic.

We use “Red Instead” to support individuals instead of the slogan used by Autism Speaks. Along with this, the puzzle piece is not used as it implies that Autistic individuals do not fit in. Instead, we use the rainbow-colored infinity symbol which represents the neurodiversity movement and includes the total spectrum of both neuro-divergent and neurotypical people. This indicates that neurological differences are a natural occurrence of people.

Challenges faced by people with Autism

Autistic individuals have challenges in both in life and the workplace. Some challenges they face in life include:

  • masking (hiding who they are),
  • educational barriers (not being taught how they need to be taught),
  • need for structure and routine,
  • communication barriers (NOTE: use the term "non-speaking" instead of "non-verbal"),
  • stimming and other sensory issues and more.

These pose as challenges because they are things that need great mental effort.

In the workplace, challenges include:

  • being unclear of job duties and tasks,
  • communication barriers,
  • sensory issues,
  • trouble concentrating, and
  • time management skills.

It is important to understand that everyone, both autistic and not, has their own challenges in life and at work. These challenges are common among autistic individuals, but that does not mean every single person with autism has these challenges, and does not face other challenges. To understand more about the challenges an autistic individual you know faces in life or at work, ask them, and with this, ask how you can best support them and help them when these challenges come up or how to prevent these challenges from even occurring in the first place.

Autistic talent in the workplace

There are so many benefits to having autistic talent in the workplace at all levels, not just in entry level positions. A lot of companies are still keeping this talent for jobs that require lower skills, it is important to understand that autistic individuals are among the group that go to get higher education in their area of interest and area they wish to work in.

Therefore, should also be put higher positions within an organization including management. There are so many benefits to having neurodivergent talent in the workplace. Autistic individuals often bring new perspectives into an organization which is important in management and leadership roles. In any level of the organization, the benefits include that they dedicate their time on one specific interest, enjoy repetitive tasks and much more. The most important benefit is that everyone has unique experiences and skills as well as interests that they can offer.

How to support neurodivergent talent all year long

It is important to support all employees in the workplace. However, I am going to share some tips on how to support neurodivergent/autistic employees not just during April but all year long.

  1. Have a conversation with your neurodiverse employee(s), and when this happens listen them to intently as they speak.
    Evaluate your organization's culture towards neurodivergent employees by asking them how they feel about the culture and start fixing or addressing the issues with the culture they have.
  2. Accommodate on an individual basis and provide them with what they say need to succeed - not what you assume they need to succeed. Keep in mind that what one person needs to succeed is different than what another person needs to succeed.
  3. Remove barriers in the workplace to ensure the success of everyone.
    It is important to see where the barriers are in the workplace, and remove them where possible. Any barriers that can not be removed but still pose as barriers for specific individuals must be removed or addressed for the individual experiencing the barrier. Everyone has the right to have a barrier free work environment.

For more tips, tricks and trainings, feel free to reach out to me at accessiblecreates@gmail.com. I provide virtual workshops and consulting for companies to become more accessible and inclusive, and educating employers on neurodiversity and accessibility and from a Human Approach and Human Resources Lens.

Microaggressions 101

The term “microaggression” was coined in the early 1970s, but its more recent use is owed to psychologist Derald W. Sue, who published Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race Gender and Sexual Orientation in 2010. Here is a definition offered by Dr. Sue:

"The everyday slights, indignities, put downs and insults that people of color, women, LGBT populations or those who are marginalized experience in their day-to-day interactions with people."[1]

Microaggressions are like mosquito bites.  They can add up and become more than a nuance and can become toxic.

Microaggressions stem from the implicit biases we hold, to varying degrees, about people who differ from us in some way. Unlike explicit biases, implicit biases are unconscious constructs that underlie our attitudes to others. Very few people avoid taking on biases and stereotypes as they grow up; becoming aware of and admitting them can help eliminate microaggressive behaviours.

 

When the biases and stereotypes we hold impact our words and behaviour, they are microaggressions, and because biases may be unconscious, people are frequently unaware that what they have said is offensive or demeaning. A microaggressive comment may seem like a small thing, but the cumulative weight of hundreds or thousands of microaggressions experienced over years is crushing.

Consider this common example:

Questioner: “So, where are you from?”

Racialized Person: “Toronto”

Questioner: “No, I mean where are you REALLY from?”

Broken down, the first question assumes that the person is not “from here”, which in itself is a microaggression, but when the answer “Toronto” comes back, the questioner does not accept it and pushes again. This is a clear indicator that they do not view the person as being a “real Canadian.” The questioner’s bias could be based on the person’s race, the way they speak or dress, their gender, gender identity or sexuality, or some other visible attribute that differentiates them in the questioner’s eyes.

Another example: A co-worker expresses surprise when a gay male colleague says he’ll be doing some plumbing on the weekend. The co-worker’s surprise is based on the stereotype that gay men can’t or don’t want to fix plumbing. The assumption that all people in a group share the same characteristics is the essence of stereotyping and denies and dismisses their individuality and experience.

Both these examples may seem like minor miscommunications, but microaggressions are cumulative, so an apparently light comment or action can have a significant impact.

And microaggressions are not only verbal but can be social too. For example, a person who crosses the street when a young Black male is approaching is acting on the stereotype that young Black men are likely to be dangerous. It us insulting and demeaning and it doesn’t go unnoticed, it just joins the many previous occasions when the young man has experienced racism.

Apparent compliments can be micro aggressive as well. Telling an Asian person that they “speak really good English” assumes that English is not their first language. Asian Canadian families have been in Canada for generations, so such comments are ignorant and exclusionary.

Things you can do to reduce microaggressions

The fact we all have biases doesn’t make us “bad people” but becoming aware of our biases allows for more inclusive communication. This applies to everyone, but particularly to members of groups who have enjoyed the privilege of saying whatever they like without consequence because of their position in one or more hierarchies.

The work to change is not the responsibility of the receivers of offensive comments, it requires effort from those in the relatively powerful position. “What can I do?” one might ask.

The first step is to accept that you have biases and that you stereotype others, then the work on those biases can begin. If you sense a reaction to something you’ve said, try not to be defensive, (gently) ask the difficult question, “I’m sorry, have I offended you? I’m available to talk about it if you’d like to do that.” Willingness to talk about your own biases and their effects sends a message that you take responsibility and are serious about changing your words and behaviour. Reaching out shifts the onus to change to the more powerful party in the exchange, instead of the recipient of aggression who may be reluctant to challenge those higher up the organizational hierarchy. One thing to remember is that years of suffering microaggressions in silence are not wiped away by one or two instances of reaching out; building trust takes time.

If you generally go along with colleagues telling jokes that put people down because of their race, sexuality, gender, religion, or physical appearance, you can and should stop passively accepting them. A possible solution is to take the “joker” aside and let them know that those kinds of “jokes” are not funny and do not support a healthy work culture or environment. Do not allow behaviour that is bit consistent with your values to stand.

Lastly, look at the people you relate to at work and on the day-to-day, and reach out to people from different races, or cultures, or to those who are different from you in other ways. Meet the people, not the stereotype, and chances are that your words and behaviour will be less biased.

Beyond these suggestions, the absolute best move is to think before you speak. Running what you are about to say through your “inner bias detector” will give you a chance to rephrase and may spare the person to whom you are speaking from experiencing yet another microaggression.

[1] Sue, D. W. (2010). Microaggressions in everyday life: Race, gender, and sexual orientation. John Wiley & Sons Inc.

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