Why Reasonable Adjustments Are Just That

Podcast Episode 61  We all understand why work is an important step toward independent living, but all to often the employment opportunities are limited for young people with additional needs. This weeks guest Pascal Fintoni is not only helping to create employment opportunities in digital marketing, but he is also having the conversations around reasonable adjustment that will help create a greater number and a wider choice of employment options.

Pascal talks about his work with the North East Autism Society, in the UK, around developing an internal marketing program designed and developed by young people with autism. This not only helps them to develop digital marketing skills but also offers them a voice in determining where the future of the organization lies.

In addition, as an employer, Pascal is making sure that he has the kind of conversations with other employers that will help change perceptions and make the term reasonable mean exactly what it should mean: ‘Reasonable’. As he points out most employers make and have been making reasonable adjustments for their employees every day.

It is forward thinking employers who understand what reasonable adjustments are that will ultimately benefit from a motivated workforce with varied skills.

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Podcast Transcript

DEBRA: Welcome to episode 61 of the Journey Skills podcast. This week, it’s back to what I admit is my favorite topic– work. Why? Because I believe that this is going to be key to everything that will provide an independent future for my own daughter. Do I know what jobs she’ll do? No. Absolutely no idea. But to be fair, nor does she. And that’s probably the case for most people of her age regardless of their needs.

But the reality is that a job will give her not only financial independence, it will give her a feeling of belonging in the community. The ongoing issues around work for young people with additional needs is often around the types of jobs that they are perceived to be able to do. There has been in the past I think certain job types that traditionally that young people with additional needs have moved into and these have included working in cafes and supermarkets. And for some people, those are the kind of jobs that they really want to do. But for other people, and I think that’s got to do with changing expectations of the young people themselves, they’re starting to see that there are other jobs that they might want to do that no job is out of bounds. And as you’ve no doubt heard on past episodes of this podcast, there are job opportunities out there; as bakers, as brewers, as furniture recyclers, they’re out there if you know where to look.

This episode is really in two parts: one part is about the employment skills program that my guest, Pascal Fintoni has developed with the North East Autism Society which is based in the UK where young people with autism are developing a digital internal marketing program for the organization and obviously developing their skills around that.

And the second part of the discussion is about Pascal’s experiences as a business owner. As he says, his exposure to young people with additional needs was limited before working with the North East Autism Society and through working with them; he has become more aware of the challenges faced in terms of access to work opportunities. So, Pascal talks about the whole issue around reasonable adjustments from the point of view of an employer. And as he says, as an employer, he has been making those reasonable adjustments for many years.

There’s a lot to talk around reasonable adjustment and I feel the term itself seems to represent a barrier to many employers. Again, listening back to some of the previous podcast interviews, there are other examples of where reasonable adjustments have been made by employers and they’ve turned out to be just that very reasonable.

Pascal is not only creating new opportunities for the young people he’s working with; I think he’s also helping to encourage the necessary discussion around what reasonable adjustment really means. If we can change it so that the focus is on the word reasonable, then maybe employers will lose some of the fear that seems to go with that term.

DEBRA: Today I am talking to Pascal Fintoni who is a digital marketing expert who works with the North East Autism Society which is based in the North East of England. And he provides advice and support for them as they help design digital programs to help young people who have autism. Welcome, Pascal.

PASCAL: Hello. Thank you very much.

DEBRA: Can you tell me first of all a little bit about yourself and then about the kind of programs that you design and develop with the North East Autism Society?

PASCAL: I’ve been involved with the world of digital and online marketing from the mid-90s., so I’m not considered to be a bit of a granddad by my younger trainees, because I was there when the internet began. Do you remember the news last week was that the internet was 30 years old and I was around when it all started? In fact, I remember vividly when I got my first email address; I knew nobody else to write to, so I emailed myself, that was what happened back in the 90s. And I just found my thing and just become very passionate about online communication and how, of course, you can bring people closer together and create big and better things.

And I met the CEO of the North East Autism Society about 6 years ago. It was after a mutual friend’s wedding, the bride was our mutual friend, we didn’t know of each other. And as is often at the bar we got talking about business and changing the world, to making the world a better place. He told me about his work with the children and young people who are on the spectrum and at the time, he had a bit of an IT problem and I thought, “Well, I’ll do my thing. I’ll go help out.” And little did I know that it became a 6 year long journey of really immense fulfillment on my part to help them create programs whereby young people in the spectrum are able to apply some of their talents in the world of digital and actually what we can do is navigate some of their preferences in terms of how they would want to operate within the group situation or solo.

And more importantly, I was kind of driven because my work is helping businesses be more successful and within that the people element is very, very important; team management and performance. Elements like organizing different cultures because people sometimes work from different nationalities and different backgrounds. So, you have to make those small adjustments all the time, in any case, let alone whether or not somebody is on the spectrum.

So, when I was invited into meetings, I will listen obviously at these expert meetings about the world of autism and neurodiversity. I did not understand all of it but I could draw analogies between what they were describing and my work which is finding a way for people to work well together when they have different preferences and different methods of going about the activity and then bring that more online, to be able to work remotely and be able to actually do things at different times of the day and that kind of thing.

And then my kind of passion project, if you will, outside of work is to find a way to prepare our young people for the world of work where digital is very, very important. And I don’t wish to come across as critical with regard to education but education tends to prepare young people to become specialist but the need of a small business owner in the UK (and I’m going to go as far as to say perhaps all around the world) is to have a new employee that has specialism but also can apply themselves more generally to support the small business.

So, what we’ve been looking at is what can we do to make sure that young people walk into new employment and their digital skills are such that they can make a difference quite rapidly. So, as I was listening to those expert meetings with a language that I didn’t fully understand but I could recognize the challenges. I said “Have you thought of? And that’s been essentially my work for the last 6 years; challenging and stimulating debate in and around preparing young people for work no matter essentially who they are and their kind of talent and so on and so forth.

And for me because I was late entrance back in the world of autism, I had a different view because, of course, I was older, I had developed maturity. And I was thinking, so what you’re describing in terms of what can happen in a situation is similar to me traveling to a foreign country where the social cues and what is normal are very, very different to me and there is an investment period where things are being done very very differently. What you are describing, I recognized as putting a team together from different backgrounds, different social demographics or kinds of professions and yet they have to be able to operate. And therefore, we’re looking at operating where kindness is the kind of the starting point, understanding is the second point and then there is a common goal

So we’ve been talking about this for the last 6 years but the program I’m doing right now in this moment in time with them is to invite the young people who are attending their specialist schools around autism and neurodiversity to become essentially the future of digital marketers for small businesses whereby we give them project where they’re going to be constructing media content from video to podcast (which I know you’re very fond of) to doing graphics together and so on and so forth.

And for some of them, to even be given real work with employers almost as part of building a CV, if you will, of what they’re going to do. And for me it came about when we were having discussions with the North East Autism Society and as it is a case with all of my clients, they were saying, they were talking about the challenge of internal communications so for anyone listening to this you’ll know that for all businesses, no matter the size, internal communication is a challenge; knowing what’s happening at the right time. And the challenge was We don’t have the time. No one wants to do it really. It’s all down to marketing and marketing is overworked and under-resourced. So, I said, “Have you thought of getting the young people to do it?” There was this silence in the room and then bursts of laughter and I’m not afraid to say it, kind of tears when people said, “This is genius. Why don’t we ask the very people who are actually taking part in the schooling? Why don’t they become the journalist and the reporter on behalf North East Autism Society?”

So we’ve embarked really in this kind of creation of a mobile recording studio, if you will, where we’re going to be moving from site to site across the different premises of the North East Autism Society and the young people will be the ones to do the interviewing of the teachers, they will be doing the interviewing the parents and they’re going to combine all this into the internal communications for the North East Autism Society. In the process they will be learning valuable skills that can prepare them for the world of employment and for those whose journey is not geared towards employment, there are going to be essential life skills. Because for my part, looking back at my requirements as an employer and team leader in the 90s I would ask somebody “Can you use Microsoft Office?” and that was almost like a pre-requirement. And then in 2000s, we ask them, “Can you build a website and do a bit of an SEO?” In 2020, we’re going to ask someone, “Can you create media content and literally, can you produce a podcast for me? Can you produce a video? Can you put your mind to writing an article?”

And I don’t ask people whether they can use Microsoft Office, two things I assume they do and frankly, the frequency which is required is diminished over the years as you well know and on that basis, myself as an employer but for my customers, we have very, very different needs and it strikes me that those needs and those talents are well within the reach of our young people with additional needs.

By the way, you and I spoke before this interview and as a linguist at heart, I suppose because I’m from France originally, I do like this idea of ‘additional needs’ as supposed to other terms that are now being used because for me, when I reflect on my 6 years in the world of autism, so I know I’m a newbie at this but the work that I’ve done with them and also my work with people in business in general, I don’t perceive this as being deficient at something. It’s just that, you have a different way of approaching life, in general, which is the case for most of us. So, this idea of full already but there’s some additional support that I might need is I think a wonderful way to approach this moving forward.

DEBRA: What have been some of the challenges in working with the young people there? You’re basically saying that you use them for creating internal communication and I guess feedback from parents and understanding what some of the challenges are for them, what have been the challenges for the young people moving into that real-world environment?

PASCAL: Well I think the challenges for the young people were very few they were ready to go because I think some of them had some exposure already. I found the challenge (I think that is a strong word) but the kind of thinking was more around the parents and how they would obviously adapt into the process. But also, this idea of “Well, is it going to work?” and I said, “Well the world is made of people who dared to do something different so if it doesn’t work, what’s the biggest risk?” That essentially the audience who watched or read the article are nonplussed. If that’s the worst that can happen then it’s not enough to not do it.

I think for my colleagues (or client) at the North East Autism Society, the challenge wasn’t really the technology or the process it was mostly How do we make this a safe environment for them? Because this is about change obviously. What they’ve done is use existing premises that were known to the young people. We’ve used the same iPads that some of them use to communicate as well. So, it was a very safe, familiar environment and also by approaching it and making it part of the curriculum. For example, with some of the schools, we’ve made sure it was part of the English lesson or the Math lessons so by the time the project was fully formed, they had already had technical tester sessions before going into the full version. And they will work indirectly with tutors and carers that they knew very well as well. So, it’s as if for me were more of the adults, “What if it doesn’t work?” and my reaction was almost “It doesn’t matter. What matters is that we dared and ultimately in the world of business if you think about it how many industries have really moved forward because something decided to do something that wasn’t safe.”

DEBRA: What have been some of the outcomes of these? What kind of media have they produced?

PASCAL: So, we are in the very, very early stages and for now it’s been mostly audio and video, we’re not there in terms of the writing and the infographics and so on. We also want to expand the contribution wider within to all the young people so that we could also have some very, very simple traction with people who are deeply interested but they don’t have the skills set. Maybe they could craft a very nice title visually using a very simple kind of interfaces like Kendo and others. So, what we’re looking at is really everyone making a contribution no matter it’s size and scale because it’s about the exposure and the experience.

There’s been some who have kind of forged ahead and has now become a YouTube sensation and privately within the Facebook group. We tend for now not to go public; this is internal communications within a safe and confined private Facebook group or a private circulation list. There was a young lad who put something up describing his routine and his different needs and so on and so forth. And through this, he has had more success than some of the smartest marketing campaigns I have put together in my life.

DEBRA: So, what’s been the feedback from the young people there who are obviously engaged with all these technologies? Do you think it’s because they already enjoyed technology and it’s just an extension?

PASCAL: I’m going to say yes and also; I’m going to say that they enjoy having a voice. They enjoy being a participant in trying to articulate what it means to them but also allows somebody to respond. And I don’t have the information for this as you know I’m new to this, but I do wonder whether this has been also part of the solution to allow someone to have a voice safely and to have responses that are also kind and help them move forward. And this idea of not being the odd one out or not being unusual.

My experience is a close cousin to that is around adoptions. So, we adopted our children and when they were very, very young and I saw the difference to my children when they discovered that when they went to school that were other kids who were adopted too. And there was almost like a relief I felt, and a behavior change. So, I think for me, it’s also this idea of you have a voice, that voice is not unique, others respond well to it and your additional needs and your routine and so on is part of the tapestry of life and that’s what it makes it interesting.

DEBRA: Just in terms of the… you said it’s all internal at the moment, can you see it going external?

PASCAL: Yes, I do, and this will be done very carefully, and this will be done obviously with much thought and it will be done by the individuals themselves. But put it this way, my role is always to think about the future; the future workforce, the future workplace and all those things. And I can see some of those young people having a voice publicly, very much in a way we did in the 90s with blogging, somebody could actually open a blog or website and express views and opinions and almost sharing their journeys. I don’t really understand this fully but I’m going to explore it nonetheless and then I’m going to share my findings as I go through this.

So I can see some of those young people becoming champions and advocates and away from the so-called experts and the clinicians and the parents and say that now they’re 18, 20, 30 and exploring this talk about going back and my old self and understand better and documenting reflections as it is the case for most bloggers and podcasters which includes you. And for that to become a legacy for the future generations. Also, we know that for example, we work closely with some of the universities and professionals and they’re always very very keen to read and hear contributions from the young people on the spectrum because that helps them understand better.

And what is nice about this idea of (and again I’m being careful here because as I’ve mentioned quite a few times I’m only 6 years in) but there has been an element where the only voice was from the professionals or from the parents but I can see some young people doing very, very well and being heard by captain of the industry, by politicians so that they do start to make those small adjustments in society. And it sounds obviously quite audacious to say that but why not. They may, all of them as a collective, make a bigger impact than any of the national bodies.

DEBRA: As a professional, doing what you’re doing, you got some tips for maybe someone else who’s thinking in their profession that maybe they have something they can offer young people with additional needs. What are some of the tips in creating a project like this?

PASCAL: So, for me, it’s to really be open and receptive to what I call the signals. So, with regard to the North East Autism Society, I went in there, listening to a meeting and then something happened, and I joined the dots in my head and said have you thought of? So, for me, just invite people to listen to a debate and allow them to listen to you because based on my experience the more you listen at a meeting and board meetings, the more ideas come into to our mind and the more you make connections. I’m connected with people in the world of digital which have now become sponsors for example.

So, I give you an example, I was listening to the story of a young boy who would only eat red food and I can only imagine how challenging that must be for the parents. The story was the child would only eat red food; the parents are struggling what can we do all of us? And I said you’re not thinking businesslike. You think it’s about sorting it out on your own but that’s not how it works in life. In business, you would put a call out and say “We’re stuck with this challenge. Who is interested in helping?” So, you could ring the local college who has a curriculum around preparing actually people to work in hospitality and restaurant and say “Are you up for this challenge? Can you help us? Can you ring the local restaurants and chefs? Can you put on a competition, the best recipes with just red food and put that on TV and so on?”

So, my contribution would be to be unreasonable in your expectation of how and who is going to get involved because you going to be immensely surprised. I know that the current media and what happening out there doesn’t suggest that the world is very kind, but I can assure you it is. It is just that perhaps it’s not making the headlines. So, for me is whenever somebody has a challenge even at the family level don’t think you’re at the periphery of the business community, you can get right in the middle and put a call out. Nowadays we have LinkedIn, we have social media, you have the local radio, you’ve got the local papers and so on. They would love to be part of this movement. So that’s kind of my number 1 tip.

I suppose the other one (and I’m going to go back to my life as a manager and team leader) is just look at what you need as a business. Look at the time that would be required and just ask a very mature question “Would a small adjustment make the position or the workplace actually a possibility for somebody to work with me?” And that could be something you already apply anyway.

So, someone says to me for example, I have some real challenges with childcare so can I change my working hours? Can I start very early and leave a bit earlier? To me that is equal to someone saying to me, I’m not a big fan of noise or not a big fan of the hustle and bustle of an open office and can I come in a bit earlier. So, for me, we’re making adjustments already for a range of things to deal with life from somebody that says, as they did last week my boiler has packed in, can I work from home to get the problem sorted? the answer is yes. So why don’t we allow people to work from home that are on the spectrum. And the list goes on and on and on. So, for me, employers are already making adjustments for a range of things. Just to be curious and inform yourself about autism and neurodiversity and it would vastly surprise you, you’re probably 90% of the way there.

And then thirdly, I suppose it’s been the conversation. I can assure you the need around digital and new media is such that regarding many of our young people right now that would be perfect for it and if they have an interest of course in doing that. For me, if you have something like the mini online project that I run, they usually operate with their remote teams, working in a different part of the world at different time zones. So here we are, the internet has had some disrupting effects; good, bad and ugly. But if we look at the good, it’s been making employment so much more flexible and attractive to a whole range of people, no matter their nationality, no matter their talent skills and in the case of today, no matter their additional needs. And if you’ve been a very good employer and you’ve been trading for 5, 10, 20, 30 years, you’ve been making adjustments daily, weekly, monthly to support your team. So, it’s not so much of a stretch to adapt for people on the spectrum.

DEBRA: Pascal, thank you very much for your time.

PASCAL: You’re very welcome.

DEBRA: Key takeaway– what is a reasonable adjustment? Maybe we’re right of thinking, making it much more of a challenge for this because reasonable sounds reasonable. It doesn’t sound like something that we can’t do.

More about Pascal
North East Autism Society

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