Facilities Management Journal: Neurodiverse individuals prefer ‘person-first’ language in the workplace

Exceptional Individuals, the UK’s first employment agency for the neurodiverse community, conducted The Exceptional Individuals Language Consultation Report to highlight the need for inclusive language when referring to neurodiverse individuals within the workplace.

The survey revealed that 75 per cent of respondents disliked the use of the term ‘disabled people’, instead noting a preference for ‘person-first’ language, such as ‘people living with a disability’ or ‘people with a disability’.

It also found that 87 per cent of respondents with dyslexia oppose the term ‘dyslexics’, in comparison to 71 per cent of respondents preferring to be referred to as ‘people with dyslexia’. Additionally, respondents indicated a significant preference for ‘dyspraxia’ over ‘developmental coordination disorder’ (DCD), with 92 per cent voting in favour of ‘dyspraxia’.

Respondents with ADHD, dyspraxia and dyslexia favoured ‘person-first’ language by 88.9 per cent, 65.5 per cent and 71 per cent respectively.

The survey found that people that are neurodivergent prefer the term ‘neurodivergence’ (40 per cent) over ‘condition’ (34 per cent), ‘difference’ (20 per cent), or ‘disorder’ (six per cent). ‘Disorder’ saw the lowest number of votes, with one person noting that they “very much dislike the words ‘disorder’ and ‘ condition’”, and another stating “I use ADHD because people understand what that is. However, I really hate the word disorder”.

Matt Boyd, Founder of Exceptional Individuals, said: “The meaning of a word can evolve over time. Some good words turn bad. Some bad words turn good. So it’s important that we stay vigilant of what is and isn’t considered acceptable language within our communities. But change doesn’t happen overnight. In the long, messy phase between words shifting from appropriate to inappropriate, or vice versa, there is often confusion, mistakes, and maybe even unintended hurt caused. In these moments, there needs to be patience and compassion, alongside consideration for those affected by these words.”

A recent study reported that 65 per cent of neurodivergent employees fear discrimination from management within the workplace, whilst 55 per cent fear discrimination from colleagues. Forty per cent of respondents also claimed that there aren’t enough knowledgeable staff to help. In addition, the report also found that all neurodivergent employees reported low levels of well-being – highlighting the importance of ensuring that all members of staff use inclusive language.

Fintan O’Toole, HR expert and Owner of The HR Dept, shared his insights into the importance of valuing neurodiversity in the workplace.

He said: “Employers need to embrace the different skills and competences that they have in their workforce and to explore individual development plans for all staff regardless of their apparent abilities. What may at the outset present itself as an obstacle may well be a strength that can be built on for both the employer and the employee.

“All staff should be made to feel welcome in the workplace. Diversity including Neurodiversity can be celebrated and recognition given to the real achievements of the whole team and the individuals in it. Employers have a duty of care and a legal obligation to provide a safe place of work and should consult with all employees and respond to the feedback they receive from that process.”

Originally published on Facilities Management Journal, click here to read the article. 

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