What is this? This is the checklist for having the Talk. Would you like to know why you should do the things on this list? Here is the Explainer! Use me as a checklist!
Print me! Tick me off! Fill me in!
The Talk – about how we want to talk to each other.
How do we want to communicate with each other? O Frequency: how often do we want to meet? ____________________________________________________________________________________ O Medium: do we want to meet in person or online? O in-person O online O agree each time (If you choose online, DSN recommends Zoom or Teams. NOT Collaborate.) O Length: are shorter meetings better or longer meetings? Our comfy meeting length is _______minutes max. O Notes: Should we take them and who is taking them? Maybe send a wee email with bullet points after the meeting. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ O Style: Can we hint at something or should we always be explicit? Can we use metaphors? (yes, really!) ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ O Other ways to communicate: Should we use other ways to communicate (as well)? O Teams chat O Teams voice messages O Teams video messages O MS To-Do Tasks O Other ____________________________
What can we expect of each other? O How much time do we realistically have for each other? _______________________________________________________________________ O How much work/feedback do we expect of each other and when? _______________________________________________________________________ O What are our working hours? When can we reach each other and how? ________________________________________________________________________ O emailing outside of working hours is ok for us, but we will reply during working hours O emailing outside of working hours is NOT okay for us O emailing in this time-slot is NOT okay for us _____________________________ Knocking on the office door is O okay O okay if door is ajar O NOT ok, please email/message first
Remember: √ Consider the needs of both parties and find something that works for both. √ Try to openly discuss needs, but be prepared that the student might be ashamed or scared and not tell you everything right away. √ Keep talking, these terms can be changed later if they no longer work!
What is this? This is the checklist for having the Talk, but with explanations why we should do the things on the list. Don’t just believe me, understand why those things make sense. You just want the list? It’s here.
How do we want to communicate with each other?
O Frequency: how often do you want to meet? Why? For some people, short, frequent meetings are better as they need reassurance they are on the right track. For some people, a meeting requires preparing themselves for the social interaction, so fewer meetings might suit them. O Medium: do you want to meet in person or online? Why? Some people benefit from seeing the other person’s entire body language, so they prefer an in person meeting. Some people prefer their meeting online, for various reasons. They might have to minimise the risk to exposing themselves to pathogens. They might find being in their own home anxiety reducing. They might be able to focus better in their home where they can control the light, temperature, etc. There might also be financial reasons, such as the price of commuting, or physical barriers such as inaccessibility or the length of commute. If you choose online, we recommend Zoom or Teams. NOT Collaborate. Zoom is widely known, that means many people are familiar with the software and its looks. It comes with the widest range of inclusion features of any popular meeting software (epilepsy protection, noise reduction, very good CC etc). MS Teams is the second best choice. UoE has licenses for both. UoE also has a license for Collaborate. Do NOT use that software, it is one of the worst softwares on the market for inclusion; it does not even have native CC. O Length: are shorter meetings better or longer meetings? Why? Focus varies between people. Especially some neurodivergent people might struggle to focus for more than 20 or 30 minutes. A long meeting will be exhausting for them and they won’t benefit from the later parts of the meeting. Other people need to overcome anxiety first and need some time to “thaw” before they can relax, focus and engage. O Notes: Should we take them and who is taking them? Maybe send a wee email with bullet points after the meeting. Why? Some disabilities and types of neurodivergence impact memory. Notes might be needed. Other types require not writing and listening at the same time. Some people need to take notes to process. Clearly establish who takes notes. Sending a wee email after the meeting is a good way to avoid misunderstandings and also a good way for a supervisor to keep a supervision record. O Style: Can we hint at something or should we always be explicit? Can we use metaphors? (yes, really!) Why? Some neurodivergent people are bad with metaphors and social cues. They need direct and clear communication. So are some non-native speakers of English as social cues, hints and politeness vary strongly from culture to culture. O Other ways to communicate: Should we use other ways to communicate (as well)? Why? Not everyone prefers to communicate in the same way. E.g. a hearing person might have an auditory processing disorder that makes a synchronous meeting very exhausting. Written messages might be easier. Someone with a visual processing disorder, on the other hand, might be better off with a voice only Teams call. Someone who has issues with language processing speed and is anxious about asking for repetition will probably love video or audio message they can play back several times, and then think about their answer before sending it. That goes for some non-native speakers, too!
What can we expect of each other? O How much time do we realistically have for each other? Why? Making it clear and explicit how much contact we can expect of each other is anxiety reducing. There is no guessing involved what too much or too little might look like. How much time a supervisor and student have for each other varies by culture, too. O How much work/feedback do we expect of each other and when? Why? Same as before, we can reduce anxiety and avoid disappointment by making explicit how much we can expect of each other. This helps with anxiety, neurodivergence and cultural differences. O What are our working hours? When can we reach each other and how? Why? Not everyone works 9-5, Monday til Friday. Make explicit when they can email (maybe they can email 24/7 but you will only reply in your working hours) and when they can expect a reply. In some cultures, it is considered impolite to email outside of working hours.
Remember: √ Consider the needs of both parties and find something that works for both. Why? This has to equally work for both. Making arrangements that fit your needs and the student’s shows them you do what you preach. It also helps you to build trust. And making sure you are comfortable is important because you cannot pour out of an empty jug. Looking after you is part of looking after others. √ Try to openly discuss needs, but be prepared that the student might be ashamed or scared and not tell you everything right away. Why? Every single disabled person that you will meet is traumatised. Every. Single. One. They have been gaslit and mistreated so often that they might not trust your offer of help. They might have learnt in their past life that offers of help always come with condescending behaviour or are a trap. It might take time until they accept your help. Should it never happen, remind yourself that you did everything you could, and that their past trauma is at fault here, not you. √ Keep talking, these terms can be changed later if they no longer work! Why? Needs and availability on sides may change over time. It is also possible that they still have to figure out what is helpful for them. You might be their first help ever. If that is the case, they need to figure out what to do with help, as they never experienced true help before.
Print me! Tick me off! (Wanna know why we should do the things on this list? Check out the Explainer)
Hybrid or Not Hybrid, that is here the question O Check if you can make your event hybrid (do it if you can!). O Choose good meeting software, Zoom or Teams. Do NOT use Collaborate.
The Venue O You can book more than one room close to each other. O Have options: chairs for sitting, standing spaces, wheelchair spaces in all spaces. O There is a lift, and it works. O There is a way in and out for wheelchair users (ideally as long or shorter than the not accessible route). O The venue is labelled/has clear signage (bonus if the labels are in braille, too). O If you’re hybrid: does the venue have conferencing tech?
The Tech O The audio tech in the venue is adjustable by venue staff or you (e.g. you can turn the volume up and down). O The venue has screens and microphones (ideally with hearing loop connection). O There are plenty of sockets and/or you can safely bring extension cords. O Hearing loops are available. O Have roaming mics.
The Loo O There are clean toilets nearby. O There are gender-neutral toilets available. O There is at least 1 wheelchair accessible toilet. O There is a baby changing facility (bonus: it is separate from the women’s toilet). O There are sanitary products in all loos, both pads and tampons.
The Food O Vegan/Vegetarian/Halal/Kosher/Gluten-free options are available. O The caterer is willing and able to provide a meal for people with food allergies. O There are non-alcoholic/non-caffeine/sugarfree options. O There is access to drinking water/bottle filling option at all times, outside of breaks and meals. O Brews are offered with dairy and alternatives, such as oat milk. There is a caffeine-free option.
The Talks O Have Captions (if you have funds, consider providers like Streamtext, if you need it at no cost, Zoom or Teams call yourself and switch on CC). O Encourage speakers to face the audience and design accessible slides. O If you have a BSL interpreter, make sure BSL users are sitting close to the interpreter. O Close the chat on online/hybrid and open it only for messages to the host. O Have an alternative feedback/question system, such as cards.
The Social O Offer a quiet room and a loud room. O Avoid music in the background, unless it’s a dance/ceilidh, then offer free earplugs. O Consider a play area (fidget toys, a deck of cards or two, a simple board game). O Make it clear that alcohol is NOT the default and both alcoholic/non-alcoholic options are offered equally. O Consider a coloured cup system “Give me space”, “Happy to chat”, “Would rather just sit here and listen”.
Before the event O Send out the invitation with a calendar invite (internal) or with a .ics calendar file so those who struggle with working memory can add a placeholder to their diary right away. O Ask for accessibility needs right at the start. Physical, sensory, dietary. Make clear the event is inclusive. O Offer papers digitally and as a paper copy (Accessible docs guide here). Offer a golden copy that is not editable, such as .pdf and an open format, editable copy .docx or .odt. If you have funds, offer braille on demand. O Consider if you want to help attendees connect, offer a way for them to interact after the event, such as Zoom chat if it was hybrid. Alert them before the event and offer opt-out.
During the event O Have name badge for your attendees, ask for attendees’ preferred name (e.g. people from Hong Kong often have a Chinese and an English name) and pronoun, put it on the badge. O Consider colour coding (such as a red frame for those who need/want 1m+ distance around them for various reasons), have max 3 different badges. E.g. “Organisers”, “Attendee”, “Attendee – give me space”. O Have at least one “Here to Help” person on duty at all times during the event. O Have comfort breaks. Do not skip them.
After the event O Send out a follow up with slides, links to videos, etc. O Consider asking for feedback in a simple form, act on the feedback. O When publishing news about the event, highlight it was inclusive.
Questions? Want us to check if your event is accessible?
Email me here. Or send me a Teams message here. Or book a slot to meet with me digitally or in person here.
What is this? This is the checklist for event planning, but with explanations why we should do the things on the list. Don’t just believe me, understand why those things make sense. You just want the list? It’s here.
Hybrid or Not Hybrid, that is here the question O Check if you can make your event hybrid (do it if you can!). Why? No matter how accessible you make your in-person event, some people cannot attend. Maybe they cannot cope with large crowds or the travel is not physically possible. Some people can also not cope with an online only event, e.g. due to some forms of neurodivergence. Offering hybrid is best practice. O Choose good meeting software, Zoom or Teams. Do NOT use Collaborate. Why? Zoom is widely known, that means many people are familiar with the software and its looks. It comes with the widest range of inclusion features of any popular meeting software (epilepsy protection, noise reduction, very good CC etc). MS Teams is the second best choice. UoE has licenses for both. UoE also has a license for Collaborate. Do NOT use that software, it is one of the worst softwares on the market for inclusion; it does not even have native CC.
The Venue O You can book more than one room close to each other. Why? We do that so we can offer a quiet room and a loud room. The quiet room is important to help people with hypersensitivity, which is often the case when someone is neurodivergent. We want that room to be quiet, no music, close to no talking, dimmed lights, not strong smells. O Have options: chairs for sitting, standing spaces, wheelchair spaces in all spaces. Why? Wheelchair users need a table with no chair, other disabilities require pacing or moving, or standing. That may be due to being on the Spectrum or lower back pain or knee problem, etc. The best thing to do is: offer people choices in both spaces. In the talks area, make sure the standing area doesn’t block sitting attendees’ vision. A horseshoe set-up is great! O There is a lift, and it works. Why? This applies to wheelchair users but also other physical disabilities. Do try the lift in the building to make sure it really works. O There is a way in and out for wheelchair users (ideally as long or shorter than the not accessible route). Why? If you aren’t sure, take one of those wee shopping trolleys and walk the way yourself. If you have to lift the trolley, the path is not accessible. O The venue is labelled/has clear signage (bonus if the labels are in braille, too). Why? It can be a huge stressor for people if they are in a new place and they do not know where they are going. Good signage reduces that stress. O If you’re hybrid: does the venue have conferencing tech? Why? It saves you having to bring your own set-up. Preset conferencing tech, screens, mics etc make your life much easier and improve the sound and CC for everyone.
The Tech O The audio tech in the venue is adjustable by venue staff or you (e.g. you can turn the volume up and down). Why? Some speakers project very well naturally, some speakers are very quiet. You need to be able to adjust the volume speaker by speaker so that people with hearing aids do not end up in pain. O The venue has screens and microphones (ideally with hearing loop connection). Why? You need screens for captions/subtitles, and you need microphones because they feed hearing loops and they provide adjustable volume so very quiet speakers or speakers with speech impairments can be heard equally well, without working harder. O There are plenty of sockets and/or I can safely bring extension cords. Why? Some people need to plug in a device to access their accessibility tech. Some people need to bring a small HEPA filter. Do a Risk Assessment and make sure the cables are not a tripping hazard! O Hearing loops are available. Why? Some people with hearing impairments need them to hear the speakers properly. They feed directly off the microphones so background noise is minimal. O Have roaming mics. Why? It allows speakers to use a mic who cannot come up to the front/podium or would have to put more labour in to do so. We always want the mics to be used for attendees with hearing impairments and/or the CC.
The Loo O There are clean toilets nearby. Why? People need to go to the bathroom often for various reasons, from prostate conditions to pregnancy all the way to too much coffee. Make sure they can go any time without having to go far or disturb the event by having to walk in front of the speaker, etc. O There are gender-neutral toilets available. Why? Non-binary people exist, so do intersex people. They might not be comfortable going to the wrong toilet. O There is at least 1 wheelchair accessible toilet. Why? Wheelchair users need to go to the loo, too. Even if no one in a wheelchair is present, the toilet with wheelchair access has support handles that can help other people, too. That could be because of mobility issues, old age or third term pregnancy. O There is a baby changing facility (bonus: it is separate from the women’s toilet). Why? You might have a parent with a wee one attending your event. That attendee might be a man who would be more comfortable not having to go into the women’s bathroom to change their baby. O There are sanitary products in all loos, both pads and tampons. Why? Period poverty is real and can affect anyone. Someone might have just forgotten to bring products or gotten surprised by their period. Anyone who has a uterus or had a uterus but still has a cervix can bleed. That includes transmen, non-binary people and intersex people. Uni will offer the products for free, when in doubt just bring some and leave them in the loos. Men sometimes take product home for a family member who cannot afford it. Just put it there. It’s free for you and it might preserve someone’s dignity.
The Food O Vegan/Vegetarian/Halal/Kosher/Gluten-free options are available. Why? Some people’s religion will restrict their diet. Some people make the choice to be vegans or vegetarians for ethical or environmental reasons. Some people make dietary choices for health reasons. Some people restrict their diet because of neurodivergence related sensitivities. We want to respect all of these restrictions and offer a meal for everyone, so people can eat together and feel equally provided for. O The caterer is willing and able to provide a meal for people with food allergies. Why? By law, they have to be able to tell you exactly what is in the food and what the kitchen handles in which the food was prepared. If someone has a severe allergy, e.g. against peanuts, trace amounts can literally kill that person. Not all caterers are equally good at this, so if you can, choose one you had good experiences with. O There are non-alcoholic/non-caffeine/sugarfree options. Why? Some people do not drink, either for religious or for health reasons. Under no circumstances should they be peer pressured to drink alcohol. Diabetics and people with other health conditions will need sugarfree options. O There is access to drinking water/bottle filling option at all times, outside of breaks and meals. Why? keeping well hydrated is important for everyone, but even more important with some disabilities. That may be because of physical disabilities like kidney conditions or because of neurodivergent needs to time water intake. O Brews are offered with dairy and alternatives, such as oat milk. There is a caffeine-free option. Why? Some folk choose to go diary-free for environmental or ethical reasons, some for religious reasons, some are allergic to milk protein or lactose intolerant. Please have one alternative, and also offer a caffeine free alternative.
The Talks O Have Captions (if you have funds, consider providers like Streamtext, if you need it at no cost, Zoom or Teams call yourself and switch on CC). Why? People might need Closed Captions because they have hearing impairments, auditory processing disorders or they struggle with focus e.g. due to neurodivergence. O Encourage speakers to face the audience and design accessible slides. Why? Some people may need to lip-read. If you are concerned about accessible slides, ask your department’s Learning Technologist. O If you have a BSL interpreter, make sure BSL users are sitting close to the interpreter. Why? Not all BSL users have good vision, so they should be in front of the interpreter. This also allows the interpreter to see if specialist terms are understood or if they need to change their approach. O Close the chat on online/hybrid and open it only for messages to the host. Why? Chat messages can distract the speaker and other attendees. Introduce the chat to host function at the start and explain that people are welcome to send their questions and messages to the host if they cannot/don’t want to speak. The host will read out their question on their behalf. O Have an alternative feedback/question system, such as cards. Why? Not everyone can comfortably speak in front of a large audience. Consider an alternative question pack: Coloured flash cards and a pen. That copies the chat to host function in an in-person meetings. Your host can read out what is on the card. Use flash cards so the host/helper in the room can see right away that there is a new question/comment.
The Social O Offer a quiet room and a loud room. Why? Same as explained above in venue: some people need to retreat to a quiet room to prevent sensory overload. Some people need a space to talk and laugh as loud as they want. Offer choices. O Avoid music in the background, unless it’s a dance/ceilidh, then offer free earplugs. Why? Music in the background may affect hearing aid users and those with auditory processing disorders. Single use earplugs are a good choice. Your H&S department might have them already. If not, you can buy a candy jar with prepacked pairs. O Consider a play area (fidget toys, a deck of cards or two, a simple board game). Why? It is very helpful for people on the spectrum or those with social anxiety. Fidget toys encourage stimming and help people to focus on the person they are talking to. Bonding and interacting over a rule-based share activity (like a board game) is ideal for many autistic people. O Make it clear that alcohol is NOT the default and both alcoholic/non-alcoholic options are offered equally. Why? Dry alcoholics and disabled people may be ashamed to ask for a non-alcoholic option or feel pressured to have to explain themselves. Offering both options equally preserves everyone’s dignity. O Consider a coloured cup system “Give me space”, “Happy to chat”, “Would rather just sit here and listen”. Why? This significantly reduces social anxiety. Especially people on the Spectrum often struggle with the initial part of social interaction. I.e. figuring out if they are okay to approach a person and to talk to them. Or they feel obligated to interact socially even if they don’t want to because they don’t know how to end it/refuse it politely. Do not use more than 3 options because it will overload working memory and you’ll be out of safe colours for colour-blind people by 3. Hot tip: dark blue, bright orange, white. Or bright, dark, with dots.
Before the event O Send out the invitation with a calendar invite (internal) or with a .ics calendar file so those who struggle with working memory can add a placeholder to their diary right away. Why? Many neurodivergent people struggle with working memory and the part of executive function necessary to organise setting themselves reminders. If you do it for them, they are much more likely to remember and attend your event! O Ask for accessibility needs right at the start. Physical, sensory, dietary. Make clear the event is inclusive. Why? You cannot predict everything and some expenses, e.g. a BSL interpreter, are not always necessary. Asking people also shows them you care, that they are really truly wanted at your event and that is incredibly important. O Offer papers digitally and as a paper copy (Accessible docs guide here). Offer a golden copy that is not editable, such as .pdf and an open format, editable copy .docx or .odt. If you have funds, offer braille on demand. Why? Some people need software that reads the document out to them or they need to change the font e.g. because of dyslexia. An open format allows them to do what they need to do, without losing sight of your final version. O Consider if you want to help attendees connect, offer a way for them to interact after the event, such as Zoom chat if it was hybrid. Alert them before the event and offer opt-out. Why? We often make connection during events but some neurodivergent people struggle with names and/or struggle to understand the social rules for reconnecting with people they met. You can help everyone by offering a low pressure option to chat after the event. Nothing without informed consent, so offer an opt-out/provide instructions how to leave the chat.
During the event O Have name badge for your attendees, ask for attendees’ preferred name (e.g. people from Hong Kong often have a Chinese and an English name) and pronoun, put it on the badge. Why? Many disabled people struggle with working memory. Shift that labour onto a badge. Some people are face blind. They rely on voice, hair-do, clothing, etc. to identify an individual. Badges help them, too. O Consider colour coding (such as a red frame for those who need/want 1m+ distance around them for various reasons), have max 3 different badges. E.g. “Organisers”, “Attendee”, “Attendee – give me space”. Why? Some people need more space, e.g. neurodivergence, reducing pathogen exposure, survivor status. The emotional labour of repeatedly asking people to give one space might put people off attending. It is also important that people who need help from an organiser can recognise them by their badge. O Have at least one “Here to Help” person on duty at all times during the event. Why? There is always at least one thing you did not plan for and you need to have an organiser there people can ask for help. Make sure they are signaling they are approachable. Meaning: do not give them another job like handing out coffee or tech support, if you can. O Have comfort breaks. Do not skip them. Why? Not everyone can sit for more than an hour. Not everyone can go without using the toilet for more than an hour. Allow for people to leave the talk at any point in time, if they have to. But also stick to comfort breaks. Don’t “vote” to carry on or ask “if anyone in the room objects to skipping the break”. Imagine how you would feel if you had to tell 100 of your colleagues that you need the toilet. Protect everyone’s dignity by sticking to breaks. 60 mins is best practice, 90 mins is the limit.
After the event O Send out a follow up with slides, links to videos, etc. Why? It helps attendees to remember what they heard and it helps them to remember whom they want to follow up with. They may not have been able to take full notes. O Consider asking for feedback in a simple form, act on the feedback. Why? No matter how well you did, there is always something you can learn for the future. Sometimes that something is that you did super well 🙂 O When publishing news about the event, highlight it was inclusive. Why? You did a good thing, you should brag. Show that inclusion is a thing worth mentioning. But also show people you are a safe organiser, so if they were unsure whether or not to come to your event, they will come next time. Show them they are wanted and they will come.
Questions? Want us to check if your event is accessible?
Email me here. Or send me a Teams message here. Or book a slot to meet with me digitally or in person here.
How to use this blog post: There will be a short section at the top explaining briefly what aspect of the spectrum you might encounter (Aspect). The middle section will list a few examples of how it could manifest in a university environment (What you might see). The final section will offer some possible solutions (Things to try). Please be mindful that this list is not exclusive or complete. Please also remember that everything in both the middle (What you might see) and the final section (Things to try) are examples. Always stick to the 5 Ts as well and remember that the individual you are interacting with might be different and that is okay. In this hands-on guide, I have intentionally oversimplified some definitions for pedagogical purposes.
Aspect: Atypical body language = their body language might not meet your expectations and differ from what you are used to What you might see: too little eye contact, too much eye contact, fidgeting, always moving a leg, playing with a pen, rocking back and forth slightly, doodling, chewing on something like a pen, sitting in a way that in uncommon, etc Things to try: Remind yourself that this is normal for them and they are doing what they need to do to focus on you. Ignore their atypical body language and just carry on as you would with anyone else.
Aspect: Lack of Object Permanence = they might struggle to remember something that is no longer in front of them and Short-term memory problems = struggling to remember small pieces of information and have them readily available What you might see: things are “out of sight, out of mind”, they might not send the email/report/chapter they promised until reminded, they might not show up to the meeting they agreed to, etc Things to try: Have a non-judgmental conversation (trust me, they feel bad already). Explore reminder options: Bullet points after a meeting to have a record what was agreed? Calendar invites for all meetings instead of just verbally setting a date? A fixed time a week to send an update to create a habit and/or allow for reminders on phone? Try making to-do lists on a platform with reminders? Maybe using phone alarms? Calendar invites with a 10 mins slot “send report” instead of reminder email? Consider exploring MS To-Do (part of UoE license) to create tasks and assign them to people and/or make use of the Outlook/To-do connection by flagging emails so they get added to the to-do list automatically. Bottom line: try out ways of shifting the labour of remembering small things onto technology.
Aspect: Issues with Executive function = struggling to start a task or remain on a task What you might see: they might struggle significantly to start a task, even though the task seems to be simple. They might only manage to use their coping strategies after hours, so you might receive their work at 3am. You might receive their work very last minute, eg due noon, received 11:59:52am. Things to try: Maybe suggest a different schedule/working pattern: small, simple tasks in the morning, bigger tasks in the afternoon, or tasks they struggle less to start in the morning and the harder ones in the afternoon, for many executive function increases after they have executed some tasks. Support and/or encourage “body doubling” (doing a task with company, eg marking essays together in a room rather than alone) by offering to organise a room and coffee. Consider deadlines, for some they are unhelpful stressors, for some necessary for executive function.
Aspect: Problems with set-shifting and focus = they might struggle with change from one task to the next, having too little or too much focus What you might see: they might struggle to focus on a task and get very easily distracted (hypofocus) or they might focus on a task so much they forget to drink, eat or go to the bathroom (hyperfocus), they might lose the ability to focus if they have to swap back and forth between tasks Things to try: Consider a change in schedule to minimise set-shifting, such as doing all teaching in a block, then doing research in a block. Allow them to schedule their breaks around sets rather than fixed time slots, such as finish teaching for the day, lunch, then paperwork rather than teaching, lunch, 1 more hour of teaching then paperwork.
Aspect: Time blindness = struggling judging how long things take or took already What you might see: they might be always late to meetings or just barely in time, they often assume something can wait until the last minute because “it only takes me an hour”, in reality it will take 10 hours. Or they will badly plan events, assuming something will fill 2 hours, but it only takes 10 minutes. They might struggle to judge and keep track of the time they invested in a task already, eg they spent 3h on feedback for a short essay when only 45 mins were allocated. Things to try: Encourage them to block of travel slots in their calendar before meetings or teaching (with reminders on!) and to build in a buffer, if they tend to be late. Encourage them to track their hours when marking or similar tasks where time is limited. Encourage the use of agendas with time slots so everyone in the meeting knows that eg 20 mins in 1/3 of the content should have been addressed. This works for teaching too, eg they can mark in their slides when they should have covered this aspect of a topic.
Aspect: Hypersensitivity = being more sensitive to sensory stimuli and sensory processing disorders = struggling to process the input from one or more sense What you might see: they might be sensitive to sound, light, smell, or tactile input. This may reach from causing stress and requiring more labour of them to cope with the input to distress, pain and a shutdown due to overstimulation. They might struggle to hear when there is background noise or the sound quality is bad, they might struggle to focus, they might not be able to see what is in an image or read text from a screenshot. Things to try: Give them as much control as possible about their work environment, such as the ability to control the lights, the room temperature, etc. Provide helpful technology such as noise cancelling headphones. If students/staff are hot-desking in shared offices, consider having a quiet office (no talking at all) and a social office (quiet chats are allowed). Consider providing other colleagues with good tech, such as suitable headsets/microphones for online meetings to avoid bad sound quality. Encourage having cameras on in meetings where possible, mute everyone who is not speaking. Enabled Closed Caption subtitles. Use Teams or Zoom, never Collaborate. Face colleagues/students when you speak so they can lipread. Always use Alt text for pictures/graphs.
Aspect: Working Memory issues = problems with short-term memory and recall on task-relevant information What you might see: They might struggle to remember what was said 30 seconds ago, forget meetings, forget tasks they agreed to carry out. They might forget what they are doing mid task. They might struggle to retrieve information related to the task or not find the right words mid sentence. Things to try: Shift the work onto technology. Send calendar invites. Use MS to-do. Send bullet points after a meeting. Send a wee agenda before the meeting. Reduce additional stressors in the environment, such as background noise (ANC headphones) or people walking into their office. Encourage the use of technology, ancient and modern, such as transferring numbers by copy/paste instead of short-term memory, having a notepad and writing intermittent steps down.
Q: Some of these are very similar, is it possible that more than one aspect contributes to what I see? A: Yes, absolutely! Everyone on the spectrum will show a mixture of different aspects, sometimes they can manifest similarly. And the coping mechanism can overlap, too. What works and why will vary from person to person.
Q: Don’t you always say that they neurodivergent person is the expert? Why do I need this list then? A: They are the expert and they may have coping strategies in place already. If they do, try to give them what they know works for them if possible. Sometimes they are not the expert just yet because they grew up in an environment where they could not safely declare or where they were bullied. They might be at the start of their journey and only now find themselves in a place to ask for help.
Q: I think my student/colleague is on the spectrum. But they don’t seem to know. What do I do? A: Use the tips on this list anyway. They work whether the person knows they are on the spectrum or not. They also are likely to work for other underlying causes. Eg control over room temperature will work for a hypersensitive person and for someone going through menopause. Control over light works for someone who suffers migraines and for a photosensitive person on the spectrum.
Q: Wait… isn’t all of this just implementing the 5 Ts? A: Yes, it is. So, if you need to adapt, you know where to look.
Q: I need more help/have more questions. Can I contact you? A: Yes, email me here. Or send me a Teams message here. Or book a slot to meet with me digitally or in person here.
The 5 T approach to Inclusive Student Supervision & Line Management
The 5 T approach has been designed to support supervisors and personal tutors for neurodivergent students, it is part of DSN’s training. (And works as well for other disabilities or line managers of disabled/neurodivergent staff!)
In the following paragraph you will read about each of the 5 Ts. There will always be a “Why” section first, that will give you the reasoning and background to the T in questions, followed by a “How” section, that gives you concrete ideas and tools to use. So, why do we always start with “why”? We want to enable informed and aware action. Understanding and knowing allows for empathy, and it empowers you to develop your own ideas and tools, tailored to your own circumstances.
Have an open conversation about your professional relationship, work, studies, and about how to have conversations. (Print off a useful checklist here that will guide you through the Talk!)
The one sentence you will hear again and again in inclusion and disability work is “Nothing About Us Without Us”. As a minoritised group, disabled people are often spoken about but not to. While those who discuss inclusion without actually including a disabled person may mean well, they deny us agency and thus equality. Almost all disabled students/staff have experienced that. Having the conversation about how to best support them without them is not only denying them agency, it’s robbing yourself of a very powerful resource, i.e. someone who has managed the student’s neurodivergence for about 20 years: the student/staff member!
Many disabilities and especially forms of neurodivergence come with communication styles and needs that are different from what you might be used to. These differences may be purely due to disability and/or neurodivergence or due to cultural and linguistic differences, or both. That is not a bad thing and diversity is precious, but to avoid misunderstandings and misinterpretation of the other person’s action, it’s best spoken about openly.
Predictability is generally calming and helpful for everyone, but for many disabled people it’s essential. Making the process accessible and transparent helps everyone involved and makes sure everyone has realistic expectations.
No matter what it is you need to discuss about the student’s/your direct report’s work or support, include them! Always speak to them rather than about them. Have the Talk about talking to each other and working with each other.
How do we want to communicate with each other?
Frequency: how often do you want to meet?
Medium: do you want to meet in person? On a video call? Should we speak or write to each other?
Length: are shorter meetings better or longer meetings?
Notes: are we good at writing action points down ourselves or should we exchange a quick email after the meeting to clarify what we agreed on?
Style: Can we hint at something or should we always be explicit? Can we use metaphors? (yes, really!)
What can we expect of each other?
How much time do we realistically have for each other?
How much work/feedback do we expect of each other and when?
What are our working hours? When can we reach each other and how?
What we need:
Consider the needs of both parties and find something that works for both.
Try to openly discuss needs, but be prepared that the student might be ashamed or scared and not tell you everything right away.
Make clear that the Talk is not a 1-off. They have forgotten or not dared to mention some needs? You two can talk more later. Their needs have changed? No problem, you can renegotiate how to communicate. You two agreed on talking with no written notes and you feel it doesn’t work? Talk about it openly with the student and agree on notes from now on. Talking is a process, keep communicating!
Building a relationship of trust with your student is crucial, because only trust allows them to open up about their needs and to believe that your offers of help are genuine. Disabled students have reasons not to trust. They have experienced being ridiculed or belittled when voicing their needs or struggles. They have to feel that you are a safe person to talk to.
Building trust between yourself and the student might be harder because they have had many bad experiences. What might help you get there is trusting them first.
Listen. Empathise. Believe them. They are the expert on their neurodivergence or their other disabilities. If they say that they cannot work in this bright light, believe them. If they say the office is too loud, take their word for it. Don’t try to minimise their problem (worst case “it’s okay for the others though, are you sure?”), but trust their assessment of the e.g. workspace. They can tell you what is not suitable for their specific needs, and if they do so, that is a huge leap of faith and a sign they trust you with their vulnerability. Show them it was the right decision by listening and taking them seriously.
Give them reasons to trust you: Make sure your words and actions align. If you made a mistake or missed a meeting, own it and say sorry. If you ask something of them, tell them the reason. When they open up to you, you know what to do: Listen. Empathise. Believe them.
People’s needs are vastly different. Techniques and adjustments that help one person might make another person worse. That is why we want more than equality (everyone gets the same), we want Equity (everyone gets what they need). This has to be said so explicitly because we increasingly see the rise of discrimination in the name of equality. E.g. “We offer only apples for dessert so everyone gets the same.” “I’m allergic to apples, can I have a banana instead?” “I’m sorry. Giving you a banana would mean you don’t have the same experience as everyone else. It’s apples only, because we want parity and equality (sic!)”
Tailor your approach to the individual student. Consider:
Some need pressure, some need space.
Some need more contact, some quiet.
Some need more feedback, some more autonomy.
But all of them need the 5 T. Every disabled person needs you to believe them, to consider them, to ask them what would help them. Listen. Empathise. Believe them.
You won’t find a disabled person that does not have traumatic experiences in their past.
– Having to mask
– Ableist abuse
That is the sad reality of our society. Every disabled person you will encounter is traumatised.
Every. Single. One.
You cannot change that, but you can be aware of it.
A traumatised person can “overreact” to something you might consider harmless or even helpful/friendly. A traumatised person might verbally lash out at you, and will immediately feel bad about it. A traumatised person might shut down completely in response to something you said.
If you want to turn the other cheek and interpret an outburst has the student loudly suffering in your presence rather than rudeness, remember:
That has to be your personal choice. No one can ask you to do this. You have the right to dignity and respect at work. You can remove yourself from the situation.
Choice can only happen out of a position of safety.
But if you can make that choice and see their pain, that might help a lot. Even if it doesn’t make things better overnight. What you can do then is: De-escalate. Be calm. Listen. Empathise. Believe them.
And very important: Tell yourself that it’s NOT your fault. You stepped on a trigger you didn’t know existed. That happens to professionals, that happens to people who know the person. It’s never nice when it happens but it’s not you. Remembering that is important for your own sake but also for the student’s/report’s sake. If you can remain calm and resting in yourself, they will calm down. Trust yourself, so they can trust you.
A cup of Tea
In German we have a saying “Ratschläge sind auch Schläge” (Advice is also a beating). Help you offer, no matter how well intended, could retrigger the student’s trauma. That is of course sad and painful for you, because you really want to help and standing by watching while someone struggles is quite a burden. But for the student/your staff the offer of help could be anything but helpful. It could make them feel ashamed that they cannot do it by themselves, as they have been told for most of their life “everyone else can do so you are just lazy”. It could trigger anxiety, as they might feel they disappoint you. It could make them feel that they are not good enough. Remember, if that happens, it’s not you who caused this. You just put your finger on an old wound. So, where does the tea come in?
Imagine the help you want to offer like a cup of Tea. What would you do with a cup of tea? Offer it to someone in distress? Absolutely! Keep offering it, warmly and plenty, even if it’s not always taken? Also yes! Advertise it by saying you also like this tea and drink it often? Maybe. Offer a different kind of tea if the first cup isn’t accepted? Perhaps.
Be offended or hurt if someone doesn’t want tea right now? No. Force them to drink the tea? No way!
Help works exactly in the same way. Offer it, offer it warmly and plenty. Even if it wasn’t taken the last time. Someone might not dare to ask for help after they didn’t accept your help initially. Offer it again the next time, even if it wasn’t wanted the first time around. If they feel they can trust you, and they are ready to accept the help, they will take it if it’s still there.
Anything else? Need more help? Questions? You can email me here. Or send me a Teams message here. Or book a slot to meet with me digitally or in person here.
DSN offers a variety of training around disability inclusion. We believe that one size fits no one and therefore all of our training offers are tailored to the needs of the cohorts. Here are some examples of training we designed and continue to offer:
– Inclusive Pedagogy Training (aimed at tutors and teaching staff, a 3h mini course that covers general awareness training, higher education specific training and practical pedagogy skills; the training is delivered to a small cohort, using frontal teaching, group work and experiential teaching)
– Neurodiversity Awareness Training for PG supervisors (aimed at staff supervising PG students. It covers general awareness training, neurodiversity awareness, practical tools to foster an inclusive supervision experience and procedural advice. This training can be customised further to focus on a specific neurodivergence, e.g Autism, ADHD, Bipolar disorder, etc. Generally delivered within 90min, 60mins training with 30mins Q&A)
– General Inclusion Training for Admin Staff and HR (aimed primarily at those who work on the procedural side. It covers general awareness training and then heavily focussed on how to support disabled staff using procedure. Generally delivered within 90min, 60mins training with 30mins Q&A)
– Communication in the light of Inclusion and Diversity (not aimed at a specific group. Often we miscommunicate due to our differences, we come from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds, we may be of different neurotypes. This training takes you onto a wee bit of a journey, inviting you to look at concepts of politeness and body language in different languages, giving you a bit of an idea what the neurodivergent experience can be like. The training is aiming to foster better communication by creating diversity and inclusion awareness. It can be delivered in 60mins or 90mins. The longer version allows for more interactive engagement with different languages around the world.)
– Mind The Gap, First Response Tool Kit (aimed at teaching staff of all grades. This covers general first response tools for the classroom and supervision. Student Support service have now taken over and will be looking after the students instead of a personal tutor. However, if a student is struggling in your classroom, having a breakdown in class or during a meeting, there is a gap between the situation and the support structure. You will have to manage the situation and then organise getting support from the system in place. This course is all about The Gap. How to we bridge it? De-escalating, calming, reassuring, ensuring the student gets support, managing the rest of the class. Generally delivered in 90-120mins.)
– What to do with student adjustments? (aimed at teaching staff of all grades. This covers a brief introduction into inclusion and the principles it is guided by, followed by actively working on solutions for implementing adjustments. Every year teaching staff are sent a list of adjustments for the students on their courses, but they are often unsure of how to implement them. This is highly dependent on the subject area and we may ask you to let our trainer sit in one of your seminars/tutorials/lectures well before the training so they have an understanding of your subjects area’s needs. Generally delivered in 90-120mins.)
That all looks very interesting but it’s not what my school/unit/department/staff needs. Can you make something especially for us?
We would be happy to. All our training includes general awareness training (medical vs social model, labour of inclusion, etc). Beyond that, we will tailor to your needs. Do you need classrooms tools? Focus of pedagogy? Tools for individual communication? Procedural advice? Tips on creating inclusive teaching material? How big is the cohort? How much time can we get?
Drop us an email, we’re happy to have a chat and put together the right training for your needs. Email us here
What does it cost my department to invite you?
If you are part of the University of Edinburgh, currently nothing, and we hope it will stay that way. At the moment we can provide our training through citizenship and with some Trade Union help.
What is the advantage of getting DSN to deliver the training?
Our training is grounded in both research and lived experience. We are disabled staff that can speak from experience. And we have another have huge advantage: We know University of Edinburgh policy, procedure and practice. We can tell how to access help and how to handle procedure around inclusion. We are connected to the University community through other Staff Networks, Trade Unions and EDI streams which helps us address intersectionality. Our training is continuously informed by developments and concerns that are specific to our University community.