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Designing Workplaces for Neurodiversity

Designing Workplaces for Neurodiversity
16 June 2022 | Updated 10 August 2023

According to a report by the British Council for Offices, those who belong to the neurodiverse community are currently unsupported in the current employment ecosystem.


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Supporting the Range of Variability in Neurodiversity


A significant principle of neurodiversity is the belief that it is not the pathology of a condition that causes a disability. It’s actually caused by a culture is only equipped to support a small range of variability.

Understanding the difference can help create a new framework for approaching design, and the ability to make society more just and inclusive, says The British Council for Offices (BCO).

Their report integrates the health aspects of an office environment with how these affect access to employment for those who identify as neurodivergent. It also outlines the considerations that built environment practitioners can take to make offices enabling environments, and the crucial role of more inclusive designs.


The Characteristics of Neurodiversity-Enabling Spaces


The report specifically defines an enabling work environment to be one that supports the mental, social, psychological, and physical health of those inhabiting the space. The characteristics of enabling spaces include:


  1. Equity – A space that shows an understanding of the root causes that influence people’s needs
  2. Safety – A space that provides a sense of psychological safety to people, that they will not be made vulnerable by poor decision-making
  3. Intuitive – A space that is created with intent rather than ego, that is clear to use and that does not leave a person guessing
  4. Healing – A space that lessens the biological stress burden through the design of comforts and physical elements, ensuring environmental consistencies and freedom for all people to use the space based on their personal needs
  5. Health – A space that shows an understanding of how various physical comforts can support mental and physical health
  6. Diverse – A space that is agile and intentionally offers a variety of options to meet the varying cognitive demands [social, restorative, concentration] on a given day
  7. Dignity – A space that allows a person to belong, to know that they are no longer othered or made vulnerable
  8. Ecological – Design solutions should not place any further burden on the Earth’s systems, and should play a role in mitigating the climate crisis


Supporting a Wide Range of Needs


As well as considering the characteristics that make an enabling environment, it is important to consider that like all communities, the neurodiverse community is complex and contains a wide range of people with a wide range of needs.

Therefore, each office space is an opportunity to build a unique and nuanced relationship with the people who will inhabit that space. The report highlights that this starts with creating a set of methods that will delineate how the design team, client and employees will engage in an equitable collaboration with the purpose of creating an enabling environment.

These methods include observation of a “day in the life” composite to understand users’ needs, testing design concepts to ensure they are fit for purpose and a flexible approach to make further changes down the line.


A Call for Regulatory Change


Through thinking of the office space beyond employment and as part of a wide societal ecosystem, the BCO is advocating support for the neurodiverse community through design choices that deliver the ability to begin to shift the narrative from productivity to healing.

When labour and its physical condition put people’s health at risk it can have a wide societal impact by placing a burden on the NHS and impeding people from developing to their full potential and even playing a role in future health inequities.

The BCO is therefore calling for more inclusive design and regulatory change, with this new research proposing recommendations that should be adopted for elements of building design to make buildings more accessible to the neurodiverse community and to protect the mental and physical health of neurodivergent people.

The report can be accessed here:

Picture: a photograph of a person working at desk, reading a book in a library setting, surrounded by shelves of books. Image Credit: © Ben Gilbert, Wellcome Images

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 16 June 2022


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