Neurodiversity and disability diversity in tech

a group of colleagues discussing around a meeting table

Hear from two Ten10 Academy Consultants as they share their experiences working in IT with neurodivergencies and disabilities

We’re very proud of the support we give our Academy Consultants, helping them grow their skills in every environment they find themselves in. This is especially true for those who have disabilities and neurodivergencies. Tech is an industry for all, and no-one should struggle to enter a field they’ve shown a spark and passion for.

In this episode of Ten Minutes with Ten10, we spoke with Bianca Walker, an Academy Consultant working in the finance sector on a credit risk team, and Daniel Jakus, an Academy Consultant who conducts both manual and automated testing. Bianca and Dan shared their stories and experiences about their day-to-day lives working in IT and dispelled some misconceptions people have had about their conditions.

Bianca, can you describe what neurodiversity means to you?

BW: Neurodiversity to me is understanding that we all think differently and that all our minds vary. Neurodiverse conditions can include ADHD, autism, tick disorder, dyspraxia. They essentially are the fact that over time our minds have become different, but they can have both environmental and genetic factors. These conditions can be considered learning difficulties, neurodevelopmental, and can impact a lot of people’s daily lives.

And Dan, can you describe what disability diversity means to you?

DJ: I think it’s appreciating the fact that there are disabilities out there in the real world in the workplace. They should all be acknowledged and included and, most importantly, those [people] with those disabilities should be treated as equally as anyone without a disability.

Bianca, can you tell us what kind of neurodiversity you have and how it impacts your work and personal life?

BW: At the beginning of my training, I was diagnosed with ADHD. The main symptoms that I experience are overwhelming hyperactivity of my mind, struggling with emotional regulation, struggling with speaking to people, social interactions, but also the idea of my mind always being on. It’s very hard for me to switch off.

Being and working in an office environment has been very intense for me. It impacts my daily life [in] that I do not always have the same energy levels as somebody else who works day-to-day and I often find that I burnout really fast. I can often feel overwhelmed and exhausted very easily. I think that my ADHD also makes me very creative but it also has its downsides where I can get so consumed in things, and it’s hard for me to pull away from other stuff.

Dan, can you tell us what kind of disability you have and how it impacts your work and personal life?

DJ: I have cerebral palsy and I think to preface work-life, the way it affects my day-to-day life is it affects all four limbs and their coordination, along with having muscle spasms that can make it hard for me to walk. I’ve also got a speech impediment.

How that might transcend into difficulties in the workplace is that it can make it difficult when communicating. I think it requires, on both ends, for people to be patient and take the time to listen to me and try to understand what I’m saying and to value what I’m saying as well as much as everybody else, which again brings into my definition of disability diversity – that everyone should be inclusive of that. It’s quite hard to sometimes get people to be inclusive in the manner in which they are patient, they listen, and they treat me as a valued, equal member of the team.

What are some of the common misconceptions about your conditions that you would like to dispel?

BW: I have combined ADHD which means that it’s both hyperactive and attention. One of the biggest misconceptions about ADHD is that basically you just have all these balls of energy [and you’re] bouncing off the walls, running around. People experience it differently. For me it’s mental hyperactivity, so my mind’s always thinking. For others it may be physical hyperactivity where they’re always on the move. Always fidgeting, can’t stop.

I also feel like ADHD has often been branded as a learning difficulty. But it impacts a lot of people’s whole entire lives the way they function, the way they live, the way they sleep, the way they eat. It’s very, very consuming.

DJ: The one that annoys me the most is that people think I’m drunk. And then because of that, they don’t treat me as a normal, functioning human. That can exclude me from whatever I’m doing in in my day to day life. They also assume that because I’ve got a physical disability, that I’ve also got learning difficulties or any other sort of disability, which is frustrating because I have to convince them that actually, it’s only a physical disability. So repeating that and having to convince people of that is quite annoying and also some people can be quite stuck in their beliefs. Despite being told about the actual circumstances around my disability, they still want to believe what they’ve already assumed before.

Do either of you have any workplace hacks that could make work interactions easier?

BW: Sleep is literally the basis of ADHD so I always have to make sure I get eight hours if I want to have a good day. Essentially, if I don’t sleep, I don’t function. And exercise as well, because we need more dopamine. It’s harder for us to produce dopamine. We have to exercise, keep fit, and find other ways to do so.

I’ve got one tip that someone suggested – splitting my work day into four. That was very useful. It allows me to take breaks when I need to, stretch my legs, detach from work, which is very hard on medication. I’d suggest with ADHD to always to be patient with yourself during work days. Some days you can do everything. Some days it feels like you don’t have the capacity to do a lot. So being patient in whatever role you’re in that you will and can get the work done.

DJ: The impediment of people struggling to understand me verbally has allowed me to improve my written communication. That extends into explaining things in a simple way, improving my vocabulary, knowing when to message people, how to message people, and how to do that in a professional way. I’ve managed to come across those skills by trying to counteract the struggles of my verbal communication.

I think just to counteract that point, I’ve also improved my verbal communication. I’ve been more confident trying to speak in public and the way that’s helped me counteract those problems is that I practiced public speaking and speaking out during meetings, which has allow me to get people used to how someone with a speech impediment might talk.

Can either of you describe a time where your conditions have given you an advantage in a particular situation or a task?

BW: I think while working on support of such a complex and hard system, we get a lot of questions from traders and from a lot of different people. But how my condition helps me is that I can be very relentless. Often when I’m faced with a query that is very hard, or we can’t seem to get to the bottom of, I often go and deep dive and investigate even more to get to the bottom and find answers. I also find that on the back of that, I can raise PBIs and find bugs quite easily, and it is essential to software engineering because you need to have an eye for detail but also not give up with what you’re looking for.

DJ: The way in which my disability can be an advantage in the workplace contrary to the point I said earlier about people not taking the time to listen to me, some people they take the time to be understanding and therefore it affects the group. If some people are really trying to understand what I’m saying, then it sort of catches on so that can be a benefit.

I think it’s really also helped me in terms of growing my perseverance and patience. So trying to be calm and repeat things in a polite manner when people haven’t understood me. Another advantage that I’ve had is that the company I’ve worked for have been really accommodating towards my disability. From the get go, they were understanding the fact that I might need extra time in exams, that I might take a little bit longer to do a certain piece of work, but I’m more thorough when I do it. So I guess, an advantage I’ve had in my workplace is that the people that I work with are really understanding.

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