Hi, I'm Helen.
I'm working as an Assistant Data Analyst within the Revenue NSW Analysis and Reporting Team and I'm currently completing a combined bachelor's degree in science and IT.
I started at the Department of Customer Service as a paid intern through the Australian Network on Disability's Stepping Into Program. This program helps university students with disability find paid internships at various Australian organisations.
I have two, sometimes invisible, neurological disabilities that mean I naturally process information, and express myself, differently. This can affect my social energy/standing, as well as my task management and my ability to quickly understand some auditory information. These two disabilities have very negative stereotypes associated with them, and often people make assumptions about who I am. I've found that many of the disabling aspects of my disability are caused by other people's assumptions and general society's sometimes inflexible expectations/designs.
As a result, I've spent most of my adult life constantly trying to hide (or mask) these disabilities at work, university and even amongst friends. It wasn't until working at Revenue NSW, where I felt I could relax more and let my disabilities 'show through' a little, that I realised just how unnecessarily exhausting masking my real self has been.
Please note I can only speak for my personal experiences as a neurodivergent individual, although these experiences likely have overlap with the experiences of some others. It's important to listen to each individual's experiences and requirements (if they're comfortable sharing them).
Body Language, Tone and Facial Expressions
For some people the expected body language, tone or facial expressions don't come automatically. Ensuring expected expression responses might be exhausting and take a lot of concentration. Eye contact also doesn't come naturally for everyone and can even be distressing or distracting for some. So, when interacting with other people, including during video chats, it's good to consider:
- Not to make negative assumptions about expression/tone without seeking clarification
- Lack of eye contact doesn't necessarily mean someone isn't listening or is being dishonest
- Someone suddenly changing disposition might indicate something's wrong, but it could also mean the person is having a low social energy day or a day where they're masking less
- Not to tease people for having different body language or expressions than expected
Online forms and quizzes
Online forms or quizzes should have information that still makes sense when taken to the truest extreme. When I first joined the Revenue team, one of the induction videos I watched stated 'â¦you should never send an email from another person's email account without their permission'. While the related induction quiz question asked, 'Is it okay to send an email from another person's email account if they are out of the office?' The correct answer was 'no' even though the video implied that, with a person's permission, it was okay to send an email from their account.
To help ensure clarity, online quizzes/forms should:
- Not require interpretation assumptions and be consistent with the rules/information given
- Not force the user to be mildly dishonest
- Potentially requires dishonesty for correct answer: 'Do you drink alcohol?'
- Clearer: 'Do you regularly drink alcohol?' with a definition tooltip for 'regularly'
When creating videos:
- Try to ensure the volume is consistent/balanced and has no sudden loud sounds
- Try to avoid overlapping sounds (like background noise) as this can make the audio difficult to process
- If possible, use a player with the ability to speed up or slow down the video so, people can process the video at their own speed
- Include captions and a transcript
If you are presenting online:
- Use captioning when available
- Send a copy of the presentation in the chat before the presentation
- Record your presentation so that people can go back later if they need to
During a standard meeting
- Allow people to take a break from their webcam without judgement as constantly managing expression and tone for the camera can be exhausting
- Remember that different people can show their focus differently (for example some people might find that fidgeting or scribbling can help them listen)
- Summarise tasks in a follow up email to help people remember or process the information
Above all, listen to requirements. Ask people what they need to work and don't make assumptions.
During my internship, my manager was passionate about making sure our environment was inclusive so that everybody felt comfortable. What's more, people with a disability have been included in the design and implementation of the Disability Inclusion Action Plan (DIAP), and I'm optimistic about what it will achieve.
As someone with neurological disabilities, my overall experience at DCS has been incredibly positive. My hope is that one day, all workplaces build the same culture and practices as DCS and make experiences like my own common so that it is not perceived as 'positive' but rather 'expected'.