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How can museums create employment opportunities for the neurodiverse community?

Whilst there’s growing momentum towards greater inclusivity across UK workplaces, creating employment opportunities for the nation’s neurodiverse community still remains something of a challenge. However, by understanding neurodiversity, what the term means, and what skills and talents those who are neurodiverse can bring to the workplace, it is possible to break down the barriers that may have inhibited inclusivity in the past.

Understanding neurodiversity

First coined in 1998 by autistic sociologist Judy Singer, neurodiversity is a blanket term used to describe people with autism, dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity order (ADHD), dyscalculia, dyspraxia, dysgraphia, Tourette’s syndrome, and other neurological difficulties.

This widespread, natural variation within the human genome affects sufferers in a plethora of different ways. Dyslexia, for instance, is a learning difficulty that doesn’t impair intelligence but can have a negative impact on reading, writing and spelling skills. Similarly, ADHD affects an individual’s behaviour, making them increasingly restless, less able to concentrate, and more willing to act on impulse.

According to charity ADHD Aware, neurodiversity affects between 30% and 40% of the population. Despite its widespread nature, many organisations and institutions still don’t understand neurodiversity or the unique every day struggles facing the neurodiverse.

The talents of the neurodiverse

When employing or increasing employment opportunities for the neurodiverse, a solid understanding of the conditions that fall under the umbrella of neurodiversity is fundamental. The ability of institutions to look beyond the labels and see many of neurodiversity’s most positive and prolific traits can enable the talents of the neurodiverse to be realised.

Neurodivergent people can be incredibly innovative thinkers. In fact, some of history’s best and brightest minds are recognised to have neurodevelopmental conditions, including Alan Turing, Albert Einstein, Henry Ford, Richard Branson and Bill Gates. Their creativity ensures a merging of minds and goals for neurodiverse people and the institutions recruiting them.

Whilst challenges will, of course, present themselves for institutions providing employment opportunities to the neurodiverse community, adapting working practices, developing a good rapport, and recognising talent in all its forms can enable museums to break down barriers.

To bring skilled and creative neurodiverse people into the fold, museums must rethink the more traditional approach to recruitment. In 2022, great progress is already being made around the world with museum job descriptions and application processes being altered and amended to become more inclusive. Similarly, interview techniques may be adapted so that atypical minds can be found, accommodated and given the opportunity to flourish.

Open, neurodiversity-friendly policies

Running an institution with the neurodiverse community in mind doesn’t mean identifying neurodivergence as a disability or difficulty. Common fears shared by the neurodiverse community include being singled out or suffering from negative consequences of having their conditions disclosed, which can often make it harder to fit in. However, it is possible to ensure that working practices are adjusted to embrace every individual and mitigate these fears without drawing attention to individuals or applying labels.

Introducing flexible collaborative techniques, planning ahead, and maintaining open lines of communication with neurodiverse employees and their peers have proven particularly useful across inclusive museum settings. More and more museums are leading through learning to embrace the neurodiverse, actively encouraging conversations that remove the stigma associated with neurodiversity and getting the most out of their workforce as a result.

Flexible working practices are particularly beneficial to the neurodiverse community, as are flexible workspaces. In fact, open plan, sensory and stress-alleviating environments can benefit both the neurodiverse and neurotypical. Cultural institutions and art galleries are the ideal settings to achieve just that with room layouts and the presence of quiet areas helping to support wellbeing.

Overcoming social barriers with support

The value of supportive networks within the museum industry shouldn’t be underestimated. This is especially true when recruiting and facilitating neurodiverse staff, and it’s being recognised by cultural institutions around the world.

Indeed, organisations such as the Disability Collaborative Network (DCN) offer important support to those institutions seeking to do more to ensure that employment opportunities are inclusive.

Find out more about the health and wellbeing issues currently impacting museums at the upcoming Museums, Health and Wellbeing Summit, running 31st January – 2nd February 2022.

About the author – Tim Deakin

Tim Deakin is a journalist and editorial consultant working with a broad range of online publications.

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