Updated: Oct 3, 2020
"I was travelling through Mordor, a bit like Frodo on a quest, but in this case trying to destroy the ring of Stigma."
When I was younger and looking for that inspiration to provide some future career direction, I could never find that person who was like me, looked like me, identified in a way that I could relate to.
Having to navigate the challenges someone with ASC and ADHD faces in both education and then on into employment without having that sense of direction or even hope that success is possible, makes the journey seem particularly daunting and lonely. I describe it as feeling like I was travelling through Mordor, a bit like Frodo on a quest, but in this case trying to destroy the ring of Stigma.
I’m very aware of this now, in my current position as a Senior Designer in the BBC’s User Experience and Design team and while I’m not particularly one for the limelight, when I have the opportunity to talk about my work I do it primarily to show other people like me that a future in employment, doing something that you enjoy, is possible.
Together with my role in Design I have also created and now run the BBC’s Neurodiversity initiative, BBC CAPE. CAPE stands for Creating a Positive environment and it advocates a positive narrative around Neurodiversity, conditions such as Autism, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia and so on, focused on the skills and abilities of Neurodivergent people.
Cape also comes from my love of comic books and because growing up being different I either wanted to be a superhero or to be rescued by one, depending on the kind of day I was having at the time. Since I was a kid my favourite superhero has been the Incredible Hulk – he’s a superhero who can’t help who he is - he’s severely misunderstood/judged and has to work really hard to be accepted in society. Also his alter ego Dr Bruce Banner is kind, sensitive, intelligent and has a lot of empathy for others.
At Cape, we look to design and create practical tools that help remove
barriers to employment and help organisations to create a positive environment in which everyone can thrive and succeed; for instance this example of a digital collage introducing you to me. I find it easier to express myself in this way rather than with just words.
It has taken some persuasion and persistence, but through BBC CAPE I’ve been able to create a varied portfolio of products and tools to both inform and educate people about Neurodiversity, as well as tools which support employers to create more neuro-inclusive environments.
We’ve created short films including a Virtual Reality experience, online and workshop learning experiences that recognise different learning styles and interactive branching narrative films that are used to support training and offer access support for neurodivergent individuals.
BBC CAPE has been recognised for awards from the National Autistic Society, the Business Disability Forum and Creative Diversity Network, not least for our influence on the new BBC Wales HQ in Cardiff, which incorporates neuro-accessible design in a UK and world first for such a building.
While I intend to continue developing and improving a portfolio of products which support neuro-inclusion, I am now slightly adjusting my perspective to begin to support and grow the conversation toward considering Neurodiversity alongside Intersectionality.
For a long time the focus was purely on creating a dialogue which supported the education on and understanding of conditions such as Autism. This was an important step but as the conversation has grown, the representation of who sits within this group has not and we have tended toward a dialogue focused on and dominated by white males.
Very slowly we have seen the emergence of Gender within the Neurodiversity movement as more people begin to highlight the very different challenges and aspects of being ND, female, non-binary and transgender etc. This is progress but as yet, the conversation hasn’t successfully grown to include Black and Asian people, who face an even greater struggle for acceptance when they are also dealing with issues of systemic racism in society.
I’ve always believed that representation is important and I think it would have made a huge difference for me, going through education and then moving into the world of work; a role model like me wasn’t out there so the things other people did were just for other people.
Obviously, my parents and family have been huge inspirations for me and have helped cultivate my values and given me the courage & support to try things and to be a better person. My culture and heritage are also important to me.
A lack of role models didn’t stop me being creative though, so I did concentrate more on my own creativity and those things that I enjoyed. This experience has steered my thinking as I don’t want other people to have the same experiences as I did when I was younger.
I think there remains a lack of representation within organisations and across industry, despite the huge wealth of diverse talent that exists and it is vital now that employers improve their hiring practices to be more inclusive and to proactively make the changes that are necessary to ensure Diverse talent has equal opportunity to pursue and develop within their chosen career.
Training on issues like Unconscious Bias is important and we should also look to better education on Allyship and active listening. Allies hold the power to invoke sustainable change. I feel that I’ve been supported through my career by mentors and allies. For me, good Allyship is about making space for others, taking a step to one-side to allow underrepresented individuals have a voice. Allyship is also a lifelong process.
Paying it forward is for me, about recognising the privilege people have and utilising it to support, encourage and promote those people who do not have the benefit of that same privilege. If more people can think about this and recognise this, we will be able to create change much more quickly. We need more and better allies in positions of privilege who can help to remove the societal barriers that exist to maintain the status quo.
I work hard to be a good ally, making space for others and not taking space from others with the modest level of privilege that I feel I have at the moment. When it comes to paying it forward people with privilege have a huge opportunity & responsibility.
The Neurodiversity movement has built a lot of momentum in recent years which makes it feel like real change and lasting change is possible. I am hopeful that in the near future there will be a recognised place in the Diversity & Inclusion agenda for Neurodiversity in its own right, and that people don’t have to be reminded of its existence.
This future would be a place where the conversation has moved on from awareness, from just having conversations or from having to share personal experiences and stories, to a place where Neurodiversity is simply accepted and respected.
Neurodivergent people would be free and empowered to create and showcase their talent, evolving the movement from awareness to action.
A neuro-inclusive organisation would seamlessly integrate and include the people working within it and be able to offer everyone the opportunity of support, development and career;
I want to make sure that no child or young person regardless of ability, should have to grow up with an uncertain future. It should just be about tapping into true potential and nurturing talent.
If we all worked together on this, imagine how quickly we could introduce change for a lot of people.
If you'd like to get in touch with Leena her Twitter handle is @L1LHulk