World Autism Awareness Day (2nd April) is internationally celebrated to bring awareness to the strengths, differences and unique perspectives of autistic people. It’s a day that presents an opportunity for people to build a better understanding of autism and how it impacts autistic people’s experience of the world.
As with all of us, autistic people may interpret, interact with and experience different environments in unique ways. This blog will walk through 3 common environments where many opportunities exist where we can promote inclusion of autistic people.
These 3 environments are:
- In the classroom
- In the workplace
- In the digital world
Before we begin, we feel it’s of huge importance to acknowledge a few salient points:
- Everyone, without exception, has a unique profile of needs, strengths, feelings and experiences of the world. This is the same of autistic people. No individual with autism experiences the same things in the same way.
- We’re all on a journey of deepening our understanding and building upon our ‘autism awareness’ – we’re all at different stages and yet, we can all take actions to to be more inclusive.
- As our understanding deepens, we should challenge any outdated narratives, labels and ways of thinking surrounding our neurodiverse population.
What is ‘Autism Spectrum Disorder ‘– A Look at Language
Although no longer fit accepted in the autism world, most of us are driven by outdated medical terminology when describing autism. ‘Autism spectrum disorder’ is one of those outdated terms. This is because many autistic people and families feel that the term ‘disorder’ carries negative connotations. For those experiencing autism first hand or for those close to them, autism is considered a difference rather than a disorder.
Autism has also been described as a neuro-development difference that presents individuals with neurodivergent experiences. This generally means that an autistic person’s brain processes information in different ways to non-autistic or neurotypical people.
When referring to ‘experiences’, it’s common understanding that autistic individuals experience a heightened sensitivity to sensory stimuli, such as bright colors, lights or loud noises.
There is an abundance of information to explain, describe and define autism; our role isn’t to add to or duplicate this. The key point is to recognize that, like every one of us, autistic
neurological make-up is unique, diverse and impossible to generalize.
Let’s take a quick look at tips to improve the experience of autism in the classroom, in the workplace and in the digital world:
Autism in the classroom – Tips to Fostering Learning Differences
Education and autism has undergone a challenging history and World Autism Awareness Day brings an opportunity to explore some of the issues impacting our learning environments.
Research has revealed that teaching professionals have lacked the knowledge and awareness to overcome learning differences of autistic students. Teachers are expected to create inclusive educational spaces but lack the guidelines to take the necessary actions to manage autism in the classroom.
Teaching students with autism is a higher calling to rethink pedagogical approaches and delivery. Here are 3 tips to support autistic students:
1. Invest in autism awareness training
Make sure you’re continually educating yourself and engaging in professional development to deepen your understanding of autism. Invest in professional training opportunities that will provide resources to help you meet different educational needs. Consider how you can support autistic learners in areas outside of teaching such as managing anxiety, friendships and bullying.
2. Consider the design features of your classroom
Identify ways to adapt your class environment so it’s conducive to all types of learners, including autistic students. To improve concentration, consider keeping displays and notices on walls to a minimum, use muted colors and create break out zones for moments where children may need some quiet time.
3. Establish a routine
Autistic people tend to find comfort in routine. Find a consistent and predictable routine where daily activities are clearly communicated to all students. You may want to use a visual timetable to complement your routine, using images and simple words to describe how each day will look.
Autism in the workplace – Navigating Neurodiversity at Work
Some aspects of the conventional working environment create barriers to autistic people. Furthermore, there’s a widespread paucity of understanding on autism by HR professionals. This is impacting people’s ability to access the necessary adjustments to suit their specific need profile. Here are some ideas to navigate the barriers that some people on the autistic spectrum may face:
1. Re-think traditional meetings
Consider holding meetings that are flexible and relaxed in structure, giving people time and space for dialogue. Have a clear agenda and include regular breaks where necessary.
2. Consider the design of your presentations
Use simple layouts and a clear, large sized font so your presentations are predictable and consistent. Consider using images to complement text and minimize the amount of text you include. Use enough white space between blocks of texts to keep information clear and easier to follow.
3. Implement your inclusion policies
Most workplaces will have inclusion and diversity policies but research shows that many HR professionals lack specific training to support neurodiverse employees. Consider appointing a neurodiversity champion or buddy system to help raise autism awareness across the workplace.
Read more on innovative ways you can foster inclusive environments across the workplace.
Autism in the digital world – In Pursuit of Accessibility
There is no better time than Autism Awareness Day to explore the importance of the digital experience for autistic people. The digital world can act as a safe space and a comfortable learning environment for many people on the autistic spectrum. This makes it important to improve the User Experience (UX) on websites to make sure people have clear, simple and easy experiences when online. Adhering to digital accessibility standards is also a legal requirement.
Many autistic people share preferences on how they want to interact with the digital world. From text to speech tools to specific web page layouts, font sizes, color schemes and line spacing, there are advanced, automated tools available that can make websites easier to navigate and understand for autistic people:
1. Design clutter-free pages
Text heavy and cluttered layouts can be especially overwhelming for autistic people to process. Keep homepages short and simple so users can locate information easily. Keep the need for too much scrolling to a minimum to facilitate uninterrupted reading.
2. Use muted colors
Some users may experience heightened sensitivity to sensory information so avoid bright colors and busy layouts which tend to make finding information difficult.
3. Work closely to WCAG.2.2
There are multiple ways to make your digital content accessible and, when working in conjunction with WCAG.2.2, you can move closer to digital accessibility. The easiest way
to bring your website into compliance across WCAG 2.2 standards is with the UserWay Accessibility Widget, so autistic people can enjoy good experiences online as much as
their “neurotypical” or “allistic” peers.
UserWay Reduces Barriers in the Digital World
UserWay helps businesses bring their websites closer to conformance while promoting inclusivity for everyone who interacts across digital environments.
There may be no silver bullet for inclusivity but, by deepening our understanding of autism, continuing our conversations and listening to real-life experiences, we can all reduce barriers and move closer to inclusive practices everywhere.
Want to kickstart your digital accessibility initiative? Book a call with an accessibility expert today.
Why is digital accessibility so important?
Designing accessible services means making sure they are easy to use, simple to navigate and work for everyone. Almost everyone uses the internet across many environments, whether that’s in school, work or at home. This means that building and designing accessible websites that exclude no one is crucial.
How can I make my website inclusive of autistic people?
There are many ways you can make your websites more accessible for users of all abilities. From the way you use logos, graphics, video and headings, there are simple steps you can take to improve the user experience for autistic people. Click here to read more tips on achieving digital accessibility.
Which digital accessibility standard should I be following?
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is the set of web accessibility principles that every business should work towards. Although it may not be possible to satisfy every level of the highest level of WCAG 2.2 criteria (AAA), you will be well positioned to make it a goal.