This is how to celebrate difference while championing neurodiversity and disability inclusion
SEWF23 speaker, Atif Choudhury is a social entrepreneur who is pushing for a future that recognises the importance of inclusion and global equity. As the CEO and Co-Founder of Diversity and Ability (UK), Atif has been advocating for better environments that welcome diversity of thought to unlock the hidden assets in everyone. We caught up with Atif in this eye-opening interview to learn more about D&A’s impact and latest initiatives.
Highlights and successes of Diversity and Ability
Diversity and Ability (D&A) has had several incredible highlights in the past years, including the global disability inclusion training and consultancy work they have carried out with various United Nations organisations. They’ve delivered training courses with the Commonwealth of Learning and were awarded the UK Inclusive Company of the Year. As a team that is made up of 79% of neurodiverse and/or disabled people, Atif recognises that the success of his team is not despite their differences, but because of them. In his words,
“We know that we are ‘that good’ not despite our differences, but because of them”.
Diversity and Ability has been commended as a social enterprise building diversity, equity, inclusion and justice. But the biggest highlight and success is how the team at D&A successfully worked to support the UK during the COVID lockdown.
Speaking on what people and the government need to do encourage more diversity and inclusion
When asked about specific practices that would encourage more diversity and inclusion, Atif responds that people and the government need to address the socio-economic realities of people facing barriers due to disablement and loss, as well as “attitudinal barriers”.
“To recognise that system change lies not with the difference of just good or bad people, but rather policy change that speaks to the heart of socio-economic realities. These realities, such as poverty, affect people’s voice, agency and ability to have advocacy or even the social capital to know what support is available”.
Continuing this, Atif further mentions that reactive measures such as performative calendar days “where we react to diversity and inclusion, or a sudden shift because of moral outrage”, can be avoided if the government showcases initiatives that come from places that struggle to participate. Hence, rather than performative reactions, what is needed are better policy changes that provide support for the present-day realities of people with disabilities or dealing with loss.
Is there anything Atif would have done differently when he began Diversity and Ability?
“For me as a neurodiverse learner, perhaps learning on the job was the only way that I could have learned”, says Atif.
However, he wishes he believed more in himself in the early days of his work and wishes he had spoken up more about what was needed, looked for help and sought funding opportunities to access support earlier, rather than waiting to be noticed and being vulnerable.
New projects and initiatives
“We are committed to advocating and shining a light on the intersectional realities for marginalised people,” says Atif.
“Without an intersectional understanding of the barriers in neurodiversity, how can we have a relevant understanding of neurodiversity? Class, migration, poverty, race, gender, shame and healing. They all play a part in the conversations of neurodiverse safety and innovation we need to have. This year, 2023, we are launching a new course on “Neurodiversity: Race and Realities”, unpacking the systemic barriers impacting Black and Brown neurodiverse people. We will be reflecting, unlearning and reshaping understandings. This course is anti-racism in action!”
Diversity and Ability has also recently launched AXS Passport, a digital system available online and as an app where people can input their accessibility requirements, “from needing dimmable lighting to flexible working hours. It is designed to be inclusively enabling for everyone, regardless of whether they identify as disabled, as neurodiverse or not”.
Their needs will be shared “with employers and beyond easily and securely”.
By helping organisations to identify barriers and address the stigma and cultural impacts of being neurodiverse or disabled, AXS creates a more inclusive, productive workplace for everyone.
“We are building AXS as a behaviour change for so many people looking at difference and diversity and inclusion”, Atif concludes.
Fairness, ensuring equality and inclusion for all is one of the themes at this year’s Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF23). Come join Atif and thousands of changemakers around as they form new collaborations and share ideas on several ways to create fairer and more accessible systems for all.