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Tag: inclusion

Somewhere under the Double Rainbow – Discussing Intersectionality  in the LGBTQIA+ & Neurodivergent community

An infinity symbol in rainbow colours
The rainbow infinity symbol – sometimes used to identify the ‘NeuroQueer’ community

As a queer woman with ADHD, the subject of intersectionality is one I’ve always been interested in.

There have been numerous discussions and studies about the links between people with Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) and Gender Dysphoria; with the theory being that there are many Trans/ gender-diverse folks who have ASC; perhaps because (in the words of an acquaintance of mine) “folks with ASC are less likely to just accept societal gender rules without questioning them when they make no logical sense”. This sentiment certainly seems to be backed up by the data; with one study of 641,860 people finding that “about 5%, of the cisgender people in the study had autism, whereas 24% of the gender-diverse people were also Autistic.

I’m Cis and I don’t have ASC; so I’m in no way qualified to comment on any possible links; and why or why not they might exist; and I will leave that conversation to people who are far more informed than I. However, what I can comment on; at least from my looking around my own friendship group and social media; is that there does seem to be a significant overlap between LGBTQIA+ folks and those who are neurodivergent of some flavour or other (although sadly there’s no specific data on this subject). 

3% of people in the UK identify as LGBTQIA+ (according to the ONS; but it’s acknowledged it’s likely to be closer to 10% as underreporting is still an issue due to the amount of stigma that still exists) but let’s just say 3% for now; and 15% of the UK population is estimated to be neurodiverse. There is evidence to suggest that neurodiverse people are more likely to be gender diverse and/or identify as lesbian, gay, queer, or asexual themselves, compared to neurotypical people. One study in 2008 found that more adults with ADHD identified themselves as bisexual compared to individuals without ADHD. Again, the predominate theory as to why more neurodivergent people identify as LGBTQAI+ is that “if you are positioned to question “norms” than you are automatically more willing to embrace a non-conforming gender identity or sexuality.”

Ok, more neurodivergent people identify as LGBTQIA+, so what? 

Well firstly; it’s important to recognise that there are lots of parallels between the experiences of neurodivergent people and LGBTQIA+ people; with some neurodivergent folks describing having to ‘come out‘ at work or to friends/family as neurodivergent; in the same way LGBTQIA+ folks have to ‘come out’ about their sexuality. Interestingly I found it much harder and got much more backlash from my parents when I told them I had ADHD than I did when I told them I was Queer. 

Being Neurodiverse, like being LGBTQIA+, also still comes with a lot of stigma; and both neurodiverse and LGBTQAI+ folks still face a lot of discrimination. There are ‘charities’ and organisations out there dedicated to finding a ‘cure’ for folks with ASC just like there are for ‘curing’ or finding the ‘cause’ of being Queer; with conversation therapy being a harmful ‘tool’ used against both neurodiverse and LGBTQIA+ people in an attempt to ‘normalise’ them.  

Secondly, it’s important to recognise that because of the above; folks who are both neurodivergent and Queer (I’ve seen this referred to in some circles as being NeuroQueer) can face double the amount of prejudice, discrimination and hurdles to overcome. As the Equality Network explains; “having an intersectional identity often generates a feeling that someone does not completely belong in one group or another, and can lead to isolation, depression and other mental health issues.” 

Many LGBT-focused organisations sadly have little knowledge of, for example, disability or race issues, which can lead to people feeling excluded or shut out of the community. In 2019 Brighton Pride faced accusations of running an inaccessibly pride event, with disabled LGBTQIA+ folks feeling excluded from attending; and they weren’t the only one facing this accusation. This has led to an increasing number of conversations happening recently about how to make Pride events inclusive to people with disabilities. 

Recognising the importance of intersectional inclusivity, “several organisations and groups in the UK have been set up to specifically cater to Queer disabled people’s needs, like Brownton Abbey, “where queer, black and brown disabled folks reign supreme”, ParaPride, who work with venues to improve accessibility, and LGBTQ+ Disabled Queer and Hear.” 

But this isn’t just something that LGBTQIA+ or Neurodiversity focused organisations need to consider; it’s also equally important for every businesses to recognise the importance of inclusivity and intersectionality when they are considering how they support their staff; or develop services for people to use. As an example, addressing issues that may affect the recruitment or retention or promotion of LGBTQIA+ folks in a way that’s not inclusive of neurodiverse people will likely not have the impact you’re hoping for; and vice versa. Sadly, only 1 in 10% organisations in the UK take neurodiversity into consideration as part of their people management procesess; and this lack of support is likely to impact Queer staff more.

As it’s Pride Month, and many organisations are considering how they support LGBTQIA+ folks better; it’s extremely important that we focus on creating inclusive environments that respect every part of people’s identity rather than focusing on singular elements of it. 

A brain in rainbow colours
A rainbow brain

(Race is another important area of intersectionality that I haven’t touched on in this blog; as a white person I’m really not qualified to comment on that so, I won’t touch on that here and will instead provide some links below and defer that topic to those with more lived experience and knowledge of the issues that need addressing.) 

Other useful links:

Making User Centred Design more inclusive

How do we support people from minority or disadvantaged backgrounds to get a career in User Centred Design?

If you look around for ways to get a careers in Digital/Tech, you would probably trip over half a dozen Apprenticeships, Academies or Earn as you Learn Schemes; not to mention Graduate Schemes; without even trying. However, all those opportunities would probably be within Software Engineering.

If you want to move into a career in Research, Product or Design; opportunities to do that without a Degree, or years of experience, are sparse.

Paper Prototypes/ Wireframes

When trying to find Design Apprenticeship or Entry Level schemes ahead of a talk I was giving to some sixth formers last month; I really struggled to find any opportunities that didn’t requite a Degree. In 2019 Kainos ran it’s first Design Academy, but for placements and Entry Level roles there was still the expectation you’d have a degree in Design; and its Earn as You Learn programme is for people looking for a career as a developer. Hippo are about to run their first Academy for Digital Change Consultants; which will then facilitate graduates moving into Product or Design careers etc, but it’s only for those with existing work experience looking to change careers; not young adults looking for their first career. FutureGov have previously run Design Academies but again these have been focused at Graduates. MadeTech’s Academy accepts people without a Degree, but is only for those interested in Software Engineering. Even the Civil Service Apprenticeships Scheme is focused on Software Engineering roles; with no opportunities within Product or Design. The National Apprenticeship Service does have a section for Design apprenticeships; but all the roles are focused on Content Marketing etc. rather than User Centric Design; and within the Digital Section, all the opportunities are for Technical Apprenticeships. Google have many Apprenticeship options, but their UX Design one only runs in the US.

After hours of searching I did find several opportunities; the first I found was with Amazon; who are now running their own User Experience Design and Research Apprenticeship, sadly however the criteria for candidates specifies that they must be working towards their Bachelors degree, or be an existing Amazon employee. The Second was a previous apprentice discussing their UX Apprenticeship with Barclays Bank, however when I searched for the Apprenticeship with Barclays itself, I could only find Technical ones, and none for Design, so if it does still exist, it’s not easy to find! While I could find plenty of Design Internships; they were all like the Amazon one; designed for students currently studying for the Bachelors degree.

I finally, FINALLY, found one actual opportunity I could share with the students I was speaking to, so well Done AstraZeneca, who seem to have the only real Research and Design Apprenticeship Programme available in the UK. But that was the only opportunity I found at the time of looking.

(EDITED TO ADD: The NHS Business Service Authority have just recruited their very first UCD Apprentices; all being well this programme will continue!)

group of fresh graduates students throwing their academic hat in the air

So, if you’re a budding 17 year old passionate about User Centred Design (UCD), is graduating from University your only real option? And if so, how many of our potential rising star researchers and designers are we losing because they can’t afford to attend University (or don’t want to)? Why are we (unintentionally or not) making Design so elitist?

There is a lot of data to suggest that Design as a career is predominantly white; there are many articles about the intrinsic racism within Graphic Design (as an example), and how racism has manifested itself in UX Design throughout the years. Given most Design roles insist on candidates having a Bachelors Degree or equivalent, the fact is that 72.6% of people starting undergraduate study in the 2019 to 2020 academic year were White. This, by default, suggests that most graduates will be white; and therefor White people will be the most likely to be able to apply for Entry Level roles in Design.

However, we also know that as a group, white students are the least likely to progress to University, and this is in part due to the wide gap in university participation between students who were on Free School Meals and those that weren’t, which is currently at 19.1% and growing. So, not only are most graduates going to be white, they’re also more likely to be from middle/high class backgrounds. Which could help explain (at least in part) why as a career, Design has struggled to diversify.

Given the massive demand for Designers within the Public Sector (and elsewhere) surely we need to once and for all sit down and crack the topic of Design Apprenticeships and Entry Level roles that don’t require a degree? Surely there’s a way we can give helping hand to those people out there who are interested in user centred design and desperately looking for their way in; but can’t or won’t attend university?

The only way we can make UCD as a career actually representative of the communities we’re meant to be designing for is if we can stop prioritising a Degree over passion and skill. So let’s aim to be more inclusive when we’re thinking about how we recruit the Design Leaders of tomorrow.

After all, inclusive design is the whole central principle of User Centred Design!

person in red sweater holding babys hand