This blog is inspired by our chat with the phenomenal Josh Artus on the Workplace Geeks podcast. Have a listen.
Quite rightly, as part of the wider debate about inclusive workplaces, there has been a recent focus on ensuring those who identify as neurodivergent are having their needs met. In a world designed for neuro-typical employees, how do we make sure everyone has a place in our corporate spaces? Well, we spoke to two experts to get different perspectives on this conversation.
First up was Josh Artus. With a background in fine art sculpture, Josh embarked on a unique journey that led him to the forefront of reshaping our understanding of health and place.
Josh's unconventional path, starting from art school and navigating through the world of film shoots and events, eventually brought him to the founding team of Appear Here. In 2017, driven by the vision of integrating emerging neuroscience into the built environment, he co-founded Centric Lab with neuroscientist Araceli Camargo.
Centric Lab's approach goes beyond traditional research. Rather than confining scientific knowledge to controlled environments, they bridge the gap between the sterile conditions of laboratories and the chaotic real-world settings. This paradigm shift is crucial for understanding the true impact of the urban environment on human well-being.
We caught up with him to talk about a specific project commissioned by the British Council for Offices (BCO) – the "Designing for Neurodiversity" paper. This ambitious undertaking aimed to equip organisations with the tools to create more equitable, dignifying workplaces for neurodivergent individuals. Neurodiversity as a movement, advocates for the inclusive integration of all cognitive functions in society, challenging stereotypes and fostering a deeper understanding of diverse perspectives.
The report, informed by neuroscience, epidemiology and lived experiences, serves as a playbook for organisations. It not only provides practical insights and recommendations but also educates readers on the physiological mechanisms underlying neurodiversity. The paper takes a bold stance, framing neurodiversity as a movement for social inclusion and challenging the notion that the individual has a problem; rather, it is the societal architecture that must adapt to support a broader range of variability.
Josh’s personal connection to the work adds a layer of authenticity and urgency. Having a younger brother who identifies as neurodivergent, he understands the challenges faced by individuals navigating spaces that may be disorienting or disabling. This first-hand experience fuels his commitment to delivering justice in designing environments that prioritize the well-being of all.
“I have a big personal relationship to this work. So, my younger brother Isaac, identifies as neurodivergent. And that's the important thing. Neurodiversity is the movement, but people identify as neurodivergent. So personally, as we've built on this work, there is a big importance to really delivering justice because I know what it's like to see someone suffer in spaces that are disorientating and disabling to them".
With so much focus on neurodiversity, Josh highlighted how easy it was to fall into stereotypes with recent conversations talking about ‘untapped talent’ making it a more commercial conversation rather than a human one. He stresses that neurodiversity is not about a competitive advantage in skill sets but recognises that individuals might excel in areas where they have sought alternative methods and activities. This nuanced perspective challenges preconceived notions and emphasizes the need for equitable inclusion in the workplace.
To bring to life the idea of inclusive design, Josh told us the story of Luke, an individual navigating a sensorially overwhelming atrium in a building.
"…the wonderfully designed atrium, clubhouse, whatever you want to kind of call the modern hotel lobby meets fun park meets office building was sensorially really overstimulating fatiguing. And as a result, actually kind of painful."
Luke, attempting to cope with the sensorial challenges of the atrium, decided to take an alternative route through the back of the building. This route, however, was primarily designated for cyclists, not pedestrians. This choice led to Luke facing criticism from property management, adding a layer of complexity to his daily routine.
Luke's situation encapsulates the broader issue of inclusivity in design, where individuals with different needs and sensitivities may find themselves at odds with environments that do not consider their unique perspectives. It highlights the importance of recognising and accommodating diverse ways of experiencing and navigating spaces.
Furthermore, Josh emphasises the potential psychological impact of such experiences on individuals like Luke. He discusses the potential for negative feedback loops, stress and vulnerability that can arise when individuals are faced with environments that do not align with their needs. The story serves as a compelling argument for the adoption of inclusive design principles, urging architects and property managers to consider the diverse range of experiences that occupants may bring to a space.
In essence, Luke's story becomes a powerful anecdote illustrating the real-world implications of design choices on individuals, reinforcing the necessity of creating environments that cater to a spectrum of needs and neurodivergent experiences.