disability awareness

A Manager’s guide to understanding Autism, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and ADHD in the workplace.


Having a diverse workforce has numerous benefits.  Many companies and managers see these benefits and are recruiting people from all walks of life.  But for some, there is a fear of the unknown and a lack of awareness of the impact or changes that would need to be made in the workplace in order to bring a person with a mental or physical difference into the team. 

In this week’s blog, we explore the four most common conditions, referred to in the context of neurodiversity, and suggest adjustments employers might consider to support these employees and maximise their contribution to the organisation. The aim is to mobilise the benefits those who have neurodiverse conditions can bring to work safely, without disadvantage compared to other employees.  Adjustments may cost little or nothing; having an open mind and a desire for innovation and positive change are the key to realising the business opportunities neurodiversity can bring.


What is it? Autism is a developmental disability characterised by rigid thinking, challenges with social interaction and communication, as well as restrictive and repetitive behaviours.

Strengths: Problem solving, analytical thinking, logical, sustained focus and capacity for lengthy periods of concentration. Can have great technical ability and attention to detail for in-depth tasks. Punctual, reliable, dedicated and loyal.

Challenges: The level of challenge is different for each person, but the need for strict rigidity in routines and tasks, as well as the avoidance of change, often needs managing. Obsessive behaviours and poor social skills can cause friction with colleagues who don’t understand the disability. 

Solutions: An agreed detailed training plan, as well as a structure to the working day, will assist.  Access to a mentor to provide support through the social and self-esteem challenges those with autism commonly face.  Education for other members of staff in how to work with those with autism will help.  Consider redesigning a job to play to their strengths.


What is it? Dyslexia is defined by the British Dyslexic Association (BDA) as a lifelong specific learning difficulty that mainly affects the development of literacy and language-related skills.  It is characterised by difficulties with processing words, rapidly naming, and working memory. A person with dyslexia’s skill in reading and writing will often not match their intelligence.

Strengths: Creative thought, insight and coming from a different perspective in problem-solving – “thinking outside of the box”.  Those with dyslexia can have an exceptional ability for pattern or trend spotting, whilst also being able “to see the big picture”. May well be “visual thinkers”, grasp opportunities, and good at problem solving and non-verbal communication. 

Challenges: Spelling and handwriting, short-term memory function, timekeeping and attention span. May have self-esteem and anxiety issues. 

Solutions: Awareness training for colleagues and managers, and training for the dyslexic employee to recognise and address areas for development. Mind-mapping software, dictation tools, and other resources to help those with dyslexia function at work and optimise their performance. Different coloured text or paper can make reading easier and a variety of communication styles (visual, audio) may help on an individual basis. 


What is it? Dyspraxia is a developmental disorder characterised by coordination problems. This may have been first noticed as delayed or lower ability in fine or gross motor skills (for example playing sports).

Strengths: Insightful and good at creative ‘‘big picture’’ thinking, pattern-spotting and reasoning. Resourceful and determined problem solvers.

Challenges: Hand-eye co-ordination, spatial awareness, sensitivity to noise, touch, smell and taste. There can be reading, writing and speech difficulties, and short-term memory, organisation or planning challenges. 

Solutions: A positive and encouraging work environment with disability awareness training for all employees. Technology to aid memory, voice recognition software, reminders or electronic diary to aid memory. Regular work breaks. Support of a coach in work to aid their organisational abilities. 


What is it? Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a disorder of brain function that is characterised by the person being inattentive, hyperactive or impulsive. 

Strengths: The constant desire for stimulation and information means those with ADHD often excel under pressure, can handle uncertainty and are often skilled at multitasking and taking calculated risks.  They may be insightful and good at creative thinking and problem-solving. 

Challenges: Maybe “absent-minded”, easily distracted, impatient, impulsive. May seem distracted, distressed, restless or disorganised. Time management can be a challenge and there may be social awkwardness or have problems of self-esteem, depending on the severity of ADHD.

Solutions: Helpful and empathetic management, and perhaps a mentor to support with coping strategies and to help prioritise and organise goals, priorities and “to do” lists. Clear communication and technology to aid memory.  Regular breaks and time for physical activity during the day. 


For any individual, and especially in the context of neurodiverse conditions, it is important for managers and HR advisors to understand that there is no “one size fits all” solution.  Each person will face their own challenges and our advice is to keep an open mind, maintain an honest dialogue, and to accept people for who they are. By working with employees to find the best path for them, and to discuss and understand the coping strategies they already have in place, employers will be able to reap the rewards of a successful and productive workforce whose strength lies in its diversity.  

Advice on disability awareness training may be found at Cordell Health

Further information on supporting those with disabilities in the workplace, in order to realise the potential through their abilities, may be found on the Remploy website.

Why Diversity Builds Success


This week is National Autism Awareness Week and schools, workplaces and individuals have been baking, running and dressing up to raise money and awareness nationwide. 

Understanding autism and other differences are, of course, something we all need to embrace in life and work, and it’s really got us thinking at Cordell Health this week. We have spent a lot of time exploring neurodiversity and how we can work with our clients’ businesses to embrace it and use it to build success. There is proven evidence that the two go hand in hand if we can only remove the stereotypes and truly understand what neurodiversity is all about.

In modern thinking, neurodiversity is being used to express the belief that we should reject the social norms and stigmas that affect neurological differences such as autism, dyslexia or ADHD. They are natural human variations that cannot and should not be ‘cured’. We are ultimately ALL different and should be seeking to embrace and maximise the talents of people who think differently.

In February this year, the CIPD released a new guide to neurodiversity in the workplace. It’s a wordy but fascinating read for any conscientious HR professional with a gap in the workforce or tasked with managing a neurodivergent employee.

It is widely accepted that more than 10% of the country is likely to be neurodivergent in some way.  This means that one in ten interviewees will likely have some kind of neurodivergent condition and HR need to be aware that a person’s ‘differences’ may be regarded as a disability under the Equality Act 2010.

Considering these 10% an ‘inconvenient truth’ is not a good business strategy, they are a high performing talent pool that has high-value skills not always accessible to the nondivergent 90%.  A diverse workforce is good for everyone. The CIPD makes a brilliant analogy that when picking a football team you pick from a cross-section of the best in all areas; the fastest runner, the best kicker, the highest jumper!  Not every employee is going to be able to be a highly creative big picture (right brain) thinker and not every employee detailed and process focused (left brain) tasked.

Neurodiversity enables us to remove the stigma and barriers of employment that are associated with dyslexia, autism or ADHD etc.. so we can stop thinking about what they CAN’T do and can start thinking about what they CAN do. Their ability not their disability.  Whilst group labels are helpful for the individual, for diagnosis or understanding the neurological difference, they should not be used as ‘one size fits all’. NO two individuals are the same whether neurodivergent or not.

When overhauling a business approach to divergent thinking there is much that can be done. Senior management needs to champion the process and work with HR and line managers to make change happen. They need to be trained and equipped with the skills and ability to bring a diverse team together. To see the team as a whole, of which each member has different strengths and weaknesses and requires a different kind of support.

According to the CIPD, the interview process can unintentionally exclude neurodiverse talent. Job descriptions should be clear without jargon and with very clear lists of the core skills and experience  ‘must haves’ and ‘nice to have’.  Always include a diversity and inclusion statement that states you are ‘happy to discuss reasonable adjustments’ and that signals that you welcome candidates with different identities and thinking styles.

In the interview process, ensure interviewers are trained to be empathetic to people’s differences and able to understand that a lack of eye contact or unconventional body language is not necessarily rudeness. Consider rethinking the standard interview format, as the CIPD points out, all a traditional interview demonstrates is your social skills, not your ability or talent to complete a set task.

Make sure the ethos permeates to the core of the brand. Include diversity and recruitment statements on the website as well as links to support groups or internal case studies and information.

The rewards of integration come thick and fast. A diverse workforce, within which each member is working to their individual strengths, is motivated, loyal and highly productive. JP Morgan Chase started a pilot program in 2015 introducing employees on the autism spectrum into the workplace. They reported that ‘after three to six months working in the Mortgage Banking Technology division, autistic workers were doing the work of people who took three years to ramp up, and were even 50% more productive’.

For more information about Autism in the workplace visit the National Autistic Society or the .gov website or find out about the Disability Confident Scheme.

Have you ever thought about overhauling your recruitment process and actively encouraging a diverse workforce and the many benefits it could bring?

Disability Awareness Q & A


Following on from our blog last week we thought we’d share the top 12 Q&A’s we come across in our Disability Awareness Training.

1. Do I shake hands? Absolutely. Offer your hand in the same way you would to anyone and then confidently shake whatever is offered to you, whether it’s an artificial limb or a partial hand. If they are unable to raise either hand you might gently touch their arm as a friendly greeting.

2. How do I refer to their disability? Focus on the individual rather than their disability. They are first and foremost a person and the disability is something they have. Whilst you might be trying to show empathy in describing someone as ‘suffering from’ or ‘confined to’, it can sound negative and is best avoided. 

3. What if I need to ask them about how their disability would affect their role at work?  The best way to approach this is to ask them how they would go about performing the functions of the job. It is a question you would need to ask everyone you interviewed able-bodied or not! An employer is expected to make reasonable adjustments to enable someone with a disability do the job and it would be acceptable to ask in an interview what sort of adjustments they might need. Government funding is available to advise and financially support adjustments in the workplace.

4. Should I offer to help? Of course, always offer to help but wait until the offer is accepted and then follow their instructions as to what kind of help they need.

5. What do I do if I see someone struggling with their wheelchair? Offer to help but never touch, move or play with someone’s wheelchair (or any assistive equipment) without their permission. It is part of the space that belongs to that person.

6. How do I talk to a deaf person? Don’t shout…it distorts sound produced through a hearing aid and makes lip reading really hard. DO Look directly at the person and speak clearly, slowly and naturally so they have the opportunity to lip read if they are able.

7. Where do I look if I’m talking to a blind person? Look directly at the person you are talking to, even if they have someone with them. Don’t assume they can’t see anything. Always introduce yourself and tell them who else is in the room, it’s fine to ask if they need help. They may ask you to turn the lights on, guide them somewhere or describe where things are in the room so they can find their own way around.

8. How do I talk to someone in a wheelchair? If you’re talking for more than a few minutes it’s polite to get down to their eye level, either squat or pull up a chair.

9. What if I’m trying to help but it comes across as discrimination? If you treat a disabled person the same as anyone else this should not happen but if you’re unsure look up the law.

10. Is it ok to say someone is handicapped? This is no longer considered politically correct as it has such negative connotations. It implies that they are at a disadvantage. Stick to referring directly to the person (as you would with an able-bodied person), and if it’s relevant, the disability that they have.

11. What if an employee who is disabled does something wrong? All employees should be treated fairly and receive constructive feedback when it’s needed.  Your expectations should be the same and as long as the right support is in place for the person with a disability there is no reason why you shouldn’t have exactly the same expectations of them. An employee with a disability will want to do just as good a job and have access to just as challenging projects and promotions as an employee without a disability.

12. I’m just so worried that I might say something wrong and offend someone! Relax! There is no need to get bogged down with being so politically correct or super sensitive to the right and wrong that you get your words in a muddle. If you say something you realise isn’t right, apologise and carry on, or ask the person whom you are talking to what they would prefer you said.  Don’t be patronizing, use your normal voice and speak in your usual way!

If you relate to any of these questions it could be that you would benefit from some disability awareness training. You can get advice from www.gov.uk or contact Cordell Health for workplace training days.

Got any questions you’d like to ask about disability etiquette or concerns about interviewing or employing someone with a disability? Let us know…we’d be happy to share some more advice.

Celebrating International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Sunday 3rd December was International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Brought about by the United Nations to promote an understanding of disability issues and to spread awareness of the many gains from the ‘full integration of persons with disabilities’ in every aspect of life.


It’s 2017, and we still need reminding that we should be integrating people with disabilities into our everyday life including the workplace! What era are we living in? In the same way that it’s hard to imagine that women once didn’t have the right to vote, we will undoubtedly look back in disbelief that in 2017 there are still barriers in engaging with or employing people with disabilities, because of the perceived challenges?

Yet it’s true. We DO need reminding. Gov.uk reports that less than half disabled people who would like to work are in employment, not because they are unable to but because they are unable to find work. Evidence shows a diverse and inclusive workforce is good for business but achieving it still requires action! It’s not going to happen on its own. Employers and line managers need to be on board. They are the gatekeepers and as far as disabled people are concerned, access to work can be a real challenge.  

It’s not that they don’t have the skills, far from it, but there is a focus by non-disabled people on what they CAN’T do, rather than what they CAN do.  


Unlocking the barriers takes time and the gatekeepers are the ones who can bridge this unemployment gap and lead the ‘charge for change’ in their own workplace.  Education is key; we need to be immersed in disability awareness from every angle.  Programs, such as the BBC’s Employable Me that documents an intimate journey with the disabled person along the ‘yellow brick road’ to employment, go a long way to spread awareness. In addition, thinking of adjustments in the workplace to enable access to work can support someone with a disability enter the workforce. If employers can learn to look past the disability to the ABILITY of the person in front of them, then we will be well on the road to change.

Are YOU and your team at work disability aware?  We’d love to hear what your team do, to combat prejudices in the workplace.

Moving the focus from disability to ability

Health and Wellbeing @ Work 7-8 March 2017

The Cordell Health team was at the large workplace health conference at the NEC in Birmingham 7-8 March 2017, with a stand and also as speakers.  

Robin chaired the national policy session on day one, with speakers that included Dame Carol Black, the Government’s Expert Advisor on health and work, and Simon Stephens, Chief Executive of the NHS. The Government’s priority is to improve the employment prospects of those with health conditions and disabilities; to reduce the disability-employment gap between the 80% employment rate for those without a disability and only 48% of those with health conditions and disabilities.  

On day two Robin spoke about how through effectively influencing health professionals, employers, and people who have health conditions and disabilities themselves, we can change the focus from disability to ability.  

For health professionals, all consultations for those with long term health conditions should include how they might best be supported in work; for those who have left work due to ill health it is much more difficult to then find another job that makes best use of these people’s skills.  Healthcare interventions should therefore include consideration of how all aspects of that person’s function might be improved including work.  As Dame Carol stated in her talk on Day One, health professionals and the NHS as a whole should see being in good work as a positive health outcome.  

Employers have a major part to play.  By recruiting on the basis of people’s abilities, employers will reap the benefit of committed employees doing the right work for them.  Useful advice for employers may be found in last year’s new international standard, ISO 27500, the human centred organisation.  Our role as health professionals is to advise on setting the conditions for optimal employment, including in our case as occupational health professionals contributing to management training programmes, and for assessment of individual employees or potential employees and recommending reasonable adjustments to “level the playing field” for those with health conditions and disabilities.  

Finally, it is people themselves that are in charge of their own health, as advised by health professionals, and as enabled by their employer or potential employers.  By adopting a positive culture, and empowering all employees “to be the best they can be”, organisations will realise the benefit of a workforce that feels good about themselves, so improving motivation and retention of skilled staff, and through demonstrating the value this brings to customers in terms of service and quality of products from a motivated workforce, to enhance business financial performance. People with long terms health conditions may well have impairments that lead to disabilities, but it is their abilities that really matter to them and all around them.

See Robin’s presentation to the Health and Wellbeing @ Work Conference for 2017, Leadership through influence - what works to improve health and work?