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TSSA's neurodiversity programme uncovers 'hidden disabilities'

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The 2011 TUC Equality Audit recorded that the TSSA had undertaken a project on workers with dyslexia. Since then, this has evolved into a wider programme on ‘neurodiversity’, a term covering dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, attention deficit disorders (ADD/ADHD), and autistic spectrum disorders (autism/Asperger syndrome).

In 2012 the union commissioned the report Neurodiversity in the Workplace. Following this, and using money from the Union Learning Fund, TSSA employed two part-time neurodiversity organisers and now has 33 neurodiversity champions in workplaces, who actively promote awareness and visibility of these ‘hidden disabilities’.

The neurodiversity champions have undergone training that enables them to screen people for potential signs relating to neurodiversity. They can then signpost them to further assistance and advocate for effective reasonable adjustments and inclusive workplace policies and practices. The union has also conducted some neurodiversity awareness training with employers and the wider membership to raise awareness among their managers and workers.

One TSSA neurodiversity champion who helped signpost a member to support described the result: “I received a call from our TSSA member who had a dyslexia screening... She said that it was such a great relief that, after 26 years, she has some understanding of why she has struggled with reading, and broke down in tears at the office there. She is going to go for a full assessment so that she can be diagnosed fully and helped. She feels today has made a very positive difference to her life. Times like this make you feel proud to know that you’ve been able to help someone as part of the neurodiversity champion role.”

A TSSA member commented: “I had been diagnosed at school with Asperger syndrome, which is a form of autism, but due to the negative experiences that I had come across in my past I never had disclosed this to my manager. However there were parts of my daily life in the workplace that I really struggled with and found quite stressful. My neurodiversity champion gave me the confidence and support to speak to my line manager and helped me to put some adjustments in place that now give me much more support in my working life”.

A number of other unions have begun to train reps on neurodiversity issues and the TUC has recently published its first ever guidance, Autism in the Workplace.

Case study from Equality Audit 2014: Improving representation and participation in trade unions

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