Weekly Learning Objectives
By the end of this week you should be able to:
- Research the subject of your self initiated project and utilise appropriate research methodologies.
- Distill your research to determine a clear rationale and the visual direction of your project outcome.
- Imagine a range of concepts to inform the visual direction of your self initiated project.
- Make five mood boards to demonstrate points of reference and how your self initiated project could be developed and applied.
- Collaborate with experts who have relevant expertise in the field of your self initiated project, to gain a unique theory or contextual insight to establish a clear direction.
Collaborate with experts who have relevant expertise in the field of your self initiated project, to gain a unique theory or contextual insight to establish a clear direction.
Getting lost and readjusting
On Saturday, I went to Knots Arts’ Youth Club based in Mortlake to reconnect with the people who went and to see what they did in a session. The group ranges from 14 to 25, with “guys, gals, and non-binary pals”, and people who were in high school, home-schooled, or post-grad level. My aim was to attend, observe and participant with the activities without mentioning my project: first was news, where we each shared a piece of news from our week, followed by active games running around the hall. Next, was Break with healthy snacks and squash, and charades. Each person there was different and participated in different ways, but it was clear that the group allowed people to communicate and act freely without outside judgement.
Afterwards, though, I was stumped at how to progress my project and hoped that a flash of inspiration would come to me. In our tutorial, I presented a few ideas to Ben and Tony, and they provided useful feedback about what might work and what might not.
Yesterday I had an email conversation with Cassandra Yates of Knots Arts, presenting three different possible directions:
- If exhibitions can be overwhelming in certain circumstances, what exactly is it that can be overwhelming, and how can they be changed? (rhetorical question) In this project, I could look at different forms of art: shop floors, public transport, perhaps: can they be sensory overload and if so, how, and what would help reduce the overload? The project would form as a primer for other designers to be able to refer to as an example of what people with autism would appreciate, with images of overwhelming situations and solutions.
- The typeface brief from D&AD New Blood 2019: I do like this, but I’m not sure how I can break down your group in all their unique idiosyncrasies to a typeface that would reflect who they really are.
- Looking at language, and create visuals letterpress to “translate” how people with autism vs people without autism interpret the same visual clues.
- One idea was to present that Greta Thunberg sees her autism as a superpower. How do the people in Youth Group see theirs, or what is their superpower? I didn’t really feel completely convinced about where I was going, though.
- Layouts of forms, more specifically application and information forms that are used every day. The people in Youth Group have to apply for university, for jobs, for bank accounts, and sometimes the way they are asked for information about themselves and how the forms are presented is confusing. So, my project will be researching how the forms can be worded and laid out to better help neurodiverse people understand them.
She thought that the third option would risk, with the timescale, risk overgeneralising neurodiverse people, which I definitely don’t want to do. We continued talking about shops and confusing layouts and environments, and how a project could struggle to balance accessibility with a shop’s perceived identity. Also, how could I do this in a few weeks?
The conversation followed onto the layouts of forms, more specifically application and information forms that are used every day. The people in Youth Group have to apply for university, for jobs, for bank accounts, and sometimes the way they are asked for information about themselves and how the forms are presented is confusing. So, my project will be researching how the forms can be worded and laid out to better help neurodiverse people understand them.
Research the subject of your self initiated project and utilise appropriate research methodologies.
Roughly 700,000 adults and children in the UK with autistic spectrum condition (ASC)(Autism.org.uk, 2019), however, in 2007 only 15% of these people were in full-time paid employment and in the decade since the figure has only improved by 1%. Including part-time employment, the employment rate in 2017 was 32%, compared to 80% of the general population and 47% of people with disabilities (National Autistic Society, 2019).
People an ASC have a huge range of skills, however some in employment feel that “they are in low-skilled work and employers don’t see their abilities” (National Autistic Society, 2019) and “79% of adults with autism who receive out of work benefits say they would rather work” (Hill, 2019).In the foreword to Grandin’s Developing Talents, Tony Attwood writes that “This is a remarkable waste of potential talent. The American workforce needs the benefit of the qualities of people with Asperger Syndrome and autism” (Grandin, Duffy and Attwood, 2008)
I agree with these statements: that people with ASC can greatly enrich their workplaces and communities, learn essential skills and build confidence. This project will delve into why the employment levels are so low, and how I can, in a small way, attempt to address this imbalance.
A note on vocabulary
From now on in the project, I will refer to people with autistic spectrum condition as ‘neurodiverse’, except where quoted sources differ in vocabulary. The term autistic spectrum condition is preferred to ‘disorder’ as neurodiverse people prefer not to be considered disordered. People without an autistic spectrum condition will be referred to as ‘neurotypical’, rather than ‘normal’, because this ‘others’ neurodiverse people. It should be noted that every neurodiverse person might have a preferred way in which to refer to themselves or their condition, and I am using the terms that can be considered the most inclusive and uncontentious.
What are the factors that hinder neurodiverse people from entering the workforce?
Public views of autism have come a long way since Dustin Hoffman’s depiction of a savant in Rain Man(1988): we now understand that to be autistic is to be on a wide spectrum of skills and needs, and individual to each person. The National Autistic Society reports that “employers have told us that they are worried about getting things wrong for autistic employees and that they don’t know where to go for advice”, suggesting that given the right information and support, employers would be more willing to engage with people with autism for employment (National Autistic Society, 2019).
For my project, I will be working with a small focus group from the Knots’ Arts Youth Club that runs for two hours on Saturday afternoons in south-west London. Attracting between ten and fifteen young people with high-functioning autism each session, it is a space created to allow each person to be themselves and meet new people. My housemate, Cassie Yates (to divulge our connection), and her partners Hazel East and Bex Hand formed Knots Arts in 2013 to maintain drama and social programmes for neurodiverse children and young people. Their mission is to “create inclusive, friendly and fun sessions were children and young people feel safe and supported to develop their communication skills and build friendships. By meeting others who understand the challenges that social communication difficulties can bring, children are able to work together to embrace their differences and overcome any obstacles that they may present” (Knotsarts.com, 2019).
Having been to some of these sessions, the people are delightful and interesting and would be an asset to a workplace. What is stopping them? Cassie offers her insight: One of the main challenges that the members of Knots Arts Youth Group face is transitioning to independence. By working, even part-time they are able to not only learn to manage their own money but also timekeeping, travel and decision making. Neurotypical people make thousands of small decisions every day without realising it. For those with a neurodiversity such as autism, those small decisions can feel overwhelming, from simple things like where to sit on their break, to asking someone if they need some help with a task. Being in the workplace allows them to experience a new environment and develop their social communication skills further with a wider variety of people. They are not always in an environment where people know they have a neurodiversity and they have to navigate complicated social and professional situations often with unsympathetic or understanding participants.”
Members of the youth group have got part-time and full-time employment, so how does it help them? Cassie says that “they have grown in confidence, they feel they have something to offer and some have made friends. Employment makes them feel like they are part of society, and to quote the group: ‘It’s what normal people do, so why can’t I?’.”
The HealthTalk website offers another insight into how neurodiverse people find employment and the application process. Oliver thinks “that people with [ASC] fail in normal human resource, hiring situations where it’s ‘please put your name here’ and it’s in a fairly basic form and people would, because the questions are obviously going to filter certain things out and I think this is where people on the spectrum or with [ASC] fail. Because it’s not necessarily that they can’t do the job. It’s they don’t understand what’s been asked of them, because I’ve had this with quite a few situations.” (Healthtalk.org, 2016)
At Knots’ Arts, Cassie has noticed that application forms “cause a lot of stress for the members as they do not understand how to answer them… They can be too vague, too long, they can cause sensory overload due to colour and formatting. They often bring them to the group so we can help fill them out, for example, explain what the questions mean and show them where to write things.” For me, this is a clear indication that application forms can be redesigned to take away the first hurdle that neurodiverse people face when applying for work.
What can I do to help?
It would be too wide an issue for this project to include the many issues that neurodiverse people face in the entirety of employment. There are government-run schemes that can help and coach people into work, however, I feel that the impetus should be led by companies. The National Autistic Society agrees, stating that “if companies are serious about being disability confident, they should explore alternative forms of recruitment or adjustments to the interview process” (National Autistic Society, 2019).
Employment application processes typically revolve around two parts: a job application form (or a CV and covering letter) and an interview. This project, and course, revolves around design and therefore the subject shouldn’t revolve around an oral process. Similarly, CVs and covering letters are very personal and are entirely self-constructed, making it a very large scope to cover. On the other hand, job application forms are a standard for part-time employment, which all sectors of society tend to start with alongside education as an avenue into a career.
List of Resources
- Cassandra Yates and Hazel East from Knots Arts: running arts sessions for neurodiverse people
- National Autistic Society: a collection of research already undertaken on web and physical design. Autism.org.uk. (2019). Autism-friendly design. [online] Available at: https://www.autism.org.uk/professionals/others/architects/autism-friendly-design.aspx [Accessed 2 Oct. 2019]. (Autism.org.uk, 2019)
- Benjamin, W., Bullock, M. and Jennings, M. (2004). Selected writings. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, pp.253-263. (Benjamin, Bullock and Jennings, 2004)
- Higashida, N., Mitchell, D., Yoshida, K. and Picasso, T. (2013). The reason I jump. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books. (Higashida et al., 2013)
- Silberman, S. (2015). NeuroTribes. London: Penguin Publishing Group. (Silberman, 2015)
- Grandin, T. and Panek, R. (2014). The Autistic Brain. London: Rider Books. (Grandin and Panek, 2014)
- Bargiela, S. and Standing, S. (2019). Camouflage. London: Jessica Kingsley. (Bargiela and Standing, 2019)
- Gender dysphoria and autism spectrum disorder: A narrative review. Int Rev Psychiatry. 2016;28(1):70-80. doi: 10.3109/09540261.2015.1111199. Epub 2016 Jan 12.
- The NHS Information Centre, Community and Mental Health Team, Brugha, T. et al (2012). Estimating the prevalence of autism spectrum conditions in adults: extending the 2007 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey. Leeds: NHS Information Centre for Health and Social Care
The National Autistic Society created a Virtual Reality project called “Too Much Information” where the viewer can experience the sensory overload that a person with autism can experience in an everyday situation. The noises louden, lights grow brighter, vision blurs. I think it is a great demonstration to educate people on why situations can be overwhelming for people with autism. It would have been great to create a project like this, however, I could use the information and experience to inform my own.
- Hennessey, B. and Watson, J. (2019). An Aspie Life. EnderLost Studios. (Hennessey and Watson, 2019)
- Forelya, E. (2019). Eyla Forelya Portfolio. [online] Elyaforelya.tumblr.com. Available at: https://elyaforelya.tumblr.com/ [Accessed 2 Oct. 2019]. (Forelya, 2019)
Distil your research to determine a clear rationale and the visual direction of your project outcome.
‘If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.’
This is a phrase I want to keep in mind through my project, as the central aim is to create a way through which barriers that inhibit neuro-diverse people from joining communities can be broken down.
Redesigning a form for education, for employment, for activities might seem small, considering the education.
For people and companies who create application and information forms.
A presentation of the research I have conducted, with process images and original data, along with an “ideal” form that neurodiverse people have created together, with a discussion on individual preferences.
- Gather forms for applications as examples for a range of situations
- Conduct research with the Youth Group What is confusing
- Cut out
If a web form was to be created, personalisation options for background colour and font could be included. This has the option to be expanded for people with dyslexia too.
Imagine a range of concepts to inform the visual direction of your self initiated project. Make five mood boards to demonstrate points of reference and how your self initiated project could be developed and applied.
Most importantly, the outcome I produce should place clarity and form over art. The language itself should be simple and easily understood, and the hierarchy of the form should be clearly signposted.
The project should have the user at its heart. From the forms already designed, I intend to research what works best for neurodiverse people and be inspired by these elements.
To ensure clarity, and to stop the form from being overwhelming, I will ensure that the form has breathing space and clear graphic signposting.
I will research which typefaces will work better for neurodiverse people and make the text as clear as possible so that legibility does not get in the way of comprehension.
The function should come before form, and so I need to make sure that the form is clear, using colour and contrast to guide the user through. It should be helpful rather than distracting.
Oliver: “I think that people with AS fail in normal human resource, hiring situations where it’s ‘please put your name here’ and it’s in a fairly basic form and people would, because the questions are obviously going to filter certain things out and I think this is where people on the spectrum or with AS fail. Because it’s not necessarily that they can’t do the job. It’s they don’t understand what’s been asked of them, because I’ve had this with quite a few situations.”
Read more: http://www.healthtalk.org/peoples-experiences/autism/life-autism-spectrum/autism-problems-getting-job#ixzz61JHQ8kgF
Under Creative Commons License: Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives
Follow us: @healthtalkorg on Twitter | healthtalk.org on Facebook