Our guest post comes from, Catrin Greaves, a recent recruit to our Parliamentary and Visitor Services team.
Catrin discusses the ups and downs of working life for someone living with the neurological condition dyspraxia and what its like working at the Assembly with dyspraxia, as we mark Disabled Access Day on 16 March.
What is Dyspraxia?
Dyspraxia or Developmental Coordination Disorder, is a common life-long condition affecting how the brain and body communicate.
There is no known cause for dyspraxia, though as in my case, it can be related to being born prematurely. Someone living with dyspraxia can experience a range of symptoms, including difficulty with motor skills, understanding and following instructions and directions, short term memory issues, difficulty with planning and coordinating daily activities, and sensory issues, where a person can be over- or -under sensitive to stimulation such as sound, touch, smell or temperature.
People with dyspraxia all have their own unique challenges and everyone should be treated as an individual with their own specific needs – as I like to say if you’ve met someone with dyspraxia, you’ve met precisely one person with dyspraxia.
‘She’s one of the cleverest young people I know, but she can’t use a photocopier…’
This was once said about me by a former manager! It highlights perfectly that dyspraxia does not affect a person’s intelligence but it can affect many everyday tasks.
To find out more about dyspraxia, visit the dyspraxia foundation website.
What is working life like for someone living with the neurological condition dyspraxia?
Dyspraxia can pose many challenges in the workplace, with high potential for what I like to call ‘dyspraxidents’! Incidences of: tripping over; forgetting things; getting lost for the umpteenth time; feeling panicky when the phone goes, your colleague is trying to talk to you AND the Plenary bell is ringing; etc.
Some of the things that I struggle with include:
- Sensory overload, especially related to conflicting noise.
- Short- term memory issues.
- Difficulty with learning new sequences in order to complete practical tasks.
- Difficulties with time management and planning.
- Difficulty with directions and numbers (Maths was my enemy at school!).
However, with some understanding and a few simple adjustments, I see my dyspraxia as an asset. People with dyspraxia tend to be empathetic, which is highly useful to me in my role engaging with visitors from a wide variety of backgrounds and who have different requirements.
Staff with varied neurological differences can bring a different way of thinking to an organisation, and a unique set of skills and strengths.
My Role – Working with dyspraxia at the Assembly
Working as a Visitor Engagement Assistant, my role is varied and interesting, I work across all the venues on the Assembly estate, including the Senedd and the historic Pierhead building.
I help the public to be inspired by and learn about the work of the Assembly, this includes everyone from tourists and locals to students and family groups. I conduct tours of the building, engaging with visitors on many topics, including the environment, Welsh culture and of course, the political work that happens in the building.
I also contribute towards the smooth running of Assembly business, making sure that the right people are in the right place at the right time. Not an easy task for a dyspraxic person!
Conducting tours around the building, I have perfected my knowledge of how the building is accessible to visitors and am proud to say that we are an accessible venue, our facilities include:
- Ramps and lifts.
- Autism-friendly labelling.
- Hearing loop systems.
- Wheelchair hire.
- A range of different toilet facilities including gender neutral toilets, accessible toilets, a Changing Places facility with adult hoist, and toilets for people with mobility issues.
- Disabled parking spaces.
- A quiet room for prayer, contemplation and a calming space for distressed visitors.
- A specific ‘Visitors with autism’ webpage.
More information on the enhancements that have been included in the design of our estate, to ensure the building meets its target of being exemplar in terms of accessibility in the public areas, is available on our ‘Access’ webpage.
An accessible venue for visitors and staff
As well as having a range of facilities on site which ensure that we are an accessible organisation, the Assembly also champions accessibility for its employees. As I spend more than thirty hours in our buildings each week, I am pleased to say that the Assembly really values the wellbeing of the people who work here.
“I believe it is important that the Assembly leads the way in promoting an inclusive organisational culture and that it is a modern, accessible parliamentary body with which people from a diverse range of backgrounds can easily and meaningfully interact. It is incumbent on us as the National Assembly for Wales to lead on this and share our experiences, ensuring that the values of equality, diversity and inclusion are respected and practiced by all.”
Elin Jones AM, Llywydd, National Assembly for Wales.
In keeping with its values, the Assembly has a range of facilities that have made it easier for employees like me to carry out my role, and for a wide spectrum of employees who have specific needs to be considered, these can be disabilities, family commitments, or religious obligations.
In particular I take advantage of our:
- Quiet Rooms, which can be used for many different reasons including for prayer, quiet reflection, or a break for people struggling with sensory overload. I often use it when my brain feels too full from all the different sights and sounds of this busy assembly building.
- Embrace our disability network, which helps people to connect with each other, share their unique challenges and champion causes that are close to their hearts across the organisation.
- Mindful network, which champions positive mental health. This is important for me because dyspraxia can adversely affect mental health, as dyspraxic people are more prone to anxiety and depression.
More information on our networks is available on the Diversity webpage.
Another reasonable adjustment that helps me is that my friendly manager sometimes offers gentle prompts to make sure that I am on track with my work.
This is very helpful because my dyspraxia symptoms can vary, with ‘up’ and ‘down’ days where I can feel more easily overwhelmed or more motivated.
I am also allowed to work less in our Tŷ Hywel site, where the politicians’ offices are located, because this can become particularly busy and noisy. My team have helped me to work to my strengths, and their positive attitude has helped me to feel supported and a valued member of staff.
It is due to its commitment to being an inclusive organisation that over the years, the Assembly has been awarded numerous prestigious awards for its commitment to inclusion and diversity. These include, but are not limited to being recognised as a:
- Disability Confident employer, by the Department for Work and Pensions.
- National Autism Society ‘Autism Friendly Award’ holder.
- Top Employer for Working Families.
- Age Employer Champion.
- Action on Hearing Loss Louder Than Words charter mark, and Service Excellence Awards holder.
- Investors in People Gold Standard organisation, by the international mark of global excellence.
For more information about working for the National Assembly for Wales, please visit our recruitment pages. More information on our commitment to Diversity and Inclusion is set out in our Diversity and Inclusion Strategy 2016-21.