On 8 July there was a healthy turnout for another FND webinar on the topic of Access To Work, a government scheme designed to make working life easier for anyone legally considered disabled, which includes neurodivergent people.
Walking attendees through the process of acquiring Access To Work’s benefits was organisational psychologist Dr Nancy Doyle, CEO of Genius Within, and a panel of guests who had benefited from the service.
The scenario will be familiar to many: sitting down all day in long meetings. Struggling to remember the next deadline, or even what was just said. Wincing as fizzing fluorescent lights slice into your perception, or people talking loudly near your desk, making concentration even more difficult – and being constantly afraid of anyone finding out why this is.
28% of long-term unemployed people are dyslexic; 25% of the prison population are ADHD – Genius Within
Dr. Doyle began by dispelling the common misconception that a formal diagnosis is needed to receive reasonable adjustments – it is the effect the condition has on a person’s performance, rather than the condition itself, that is considered. All employers are required to make reasonable adjustments – rather than expecting the employee to change themselves to fit in, the environment should be changed so it does not disable the employee. This means that coaching, while sought-after by employers, cannot be considered a reasonable adjustment by itself.
As well as some coaching for traits such as executive dysfunction, reasonable adjustments typically include assistive technology (like speech-to-text software) and workstation adaptations (here Dr. Doyle used the example of her own standing desk to avoid sitting down all day!). They can also take the form of flexible scheduling or adaptations to the way a supervisor communicates with an employee, such as co-coaching, where both parties participate in sessions to resolve their difficulties.
How do I get it?
No permissions are needed to commission Access To Work – as an employee, you can start the process yourself. If you’re within the first six weeks of a job, Access To Work will fund every reasonable adjustment you need – so don’t wait! After six weeks, your employer may have to contribute to the cost of your adjustments if the company is larger than 50 employees. There’s no need to contact your HR department, just your line manager or supervisor – and you can self-refer to a provider of your choice.
While an employer does get to decide whether an adjustment is reasonable, in practice it is rare that they would disagree with an Access To Work assessor. Sometimes you may want to re-negotiate your adjustments if you feel the outcome of your assessment was not adequate; this will usually happen directly with Access To Work. You should be prepared to self-advocate for what you need or don’t need, as Access To Work assessors will not necessarily specialise in neurodiversity or your specific condition, and can sometimes recommend software or technology that turns out to be unhelpful.
“The most important determinant is whether you get on with your coach” – Dr Nancy Doyle
What should I bear in mind?
A panel of ND people who have benefited from Access To Work then shared their experiences. Priti Depala, a graphic designer, described the process as “smooth and simple”: she currently has strategy training provided by Genius Within. Priti highlighted that Access To Work can be contacted again if an employee feels they need further adjustments, and recommended employees write down their needs and keep employers informed of the importance of adjustments that are made.
Marcia Brissett-Bailey, a dyslexic SEND case officer, emphasised the importance of knowing your strengths and challenges before your assessment, as there is no ‘menu’ or list of available resources. Applicants to Access To Work need the confidence to ask to review their application and not feel rushed – something Marcia feels her subsequent coaching has empowered her to do.
Tone agreed with Marcia’s critique of how adjustments are presented: “I needed reasonable adjustments to help me apply for reasonable adjustments!” An ADHD barrister in the civil service, he spoke about masking – hiding one’s neurodivergent traits to blend in with neurotypical peers – and the decision faced by many of whether or not to disclose a diagnosis. When masking had caused him to overwork for years and began to affect his sleep, Tone decided to disclose his ADHD and works better for it, although he found coming to terms with his identity difficult at first.
Creator of the podcast ADHD &… Priscilla Eyles, who works as a job coach, explained how employees still waiting for their Access To Work assessments can have a reasonable adjustment applied to their probation period in a new job. Three extra months can be added to reflect the lack of adjustments the employee has, putting them on equal ground with their colleagues – but for all its perks, “Access To Work won’t fix a workplace that is unsupportive,” Priscilla warned. She called for managers and colleagues to understand neurodiversity and not consider ND employees a nuisance for asking for adjustments.
ADHD actor and receptionist Antonia Turner began by advising everyone attending the webinar to apply to Access To Work immediately. Acknowledging the small amount of paperwork involved, she recommended having a friend or advisor as a buddy to make sure it gets done, as the process can take a few months.
Charles Freeman brought the panel to an end by calling Access To Work “the DWP’s [Department for Work and Pensions] greatest secret”. After being promoted to his dream job as an advisor on lottery bids, he suffered from stress and would often come home late in the evening. Access To Work gave him a support worker who would proofread and type up his recordings, and he kept this adjustment for 20 years. But the scheme isn’t without its “bumps”, as it needs to be reapplied for in every new job a person has. Assertiveness is required to make sure your needs are met appropriately every time in what is a worryingly unregulated field.
“The more you disclose, the more people can help you” – Tone, ADHD barrister
Dr. Doyle concluded the evening by referring to Judy Singer, who coined the term ‘neurodiversity’ and the philosophy behind it. While many people now live better and make a living due to her ideas, Judy does not routinely get paid for the work she does. To combat this, Dr Doyle has set up a Gofundme page for both the ND and wider communities to give back. Genius Within makes a monthly payment to Judy, as it does for each of its board members.
“Understanding these things were part of being ND has actually come from meeting other ND people… it really helps that self-awareness” – Charles Freeman, dyslexic project manager
“When you realise that you have the same stuff going on that other people have going on… it takes that shame away… diagnosis is very empowering” – Lucy Hobbs, ADHD/autistic founder of The Future is ND
Words by Bonny Hazelwood