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Empowering Dyslexic Thinking in the workplace

Category: accessible training, hidden disability, Neurodivergent, Neurodiversity Network, Neurodiverse colleagues, Neurodiversity research, Accessibility in Tech, testimonial, Neurodiversity, Dyslexia, Accessibility, Accessibility & Inclusion, Aon, Hidden Disabilities, Digital Accessibility, Insurance, Disability and Neurodiversity, Staff Testimonial, accessibility tool


Patrick Groneman

Patrick Groneman

I have worked as a digital designer at Aon since May 2021. Here, I use my creative skills to produce content, mostly for the commercial sales team – it could be something for a sales pitch to win new business, animated emulators for products, PowerPoint presentations, flyers, graphics, icons, all sorts of things.

Aon is one of the most inclusive work place experiences I’ve ever had. From the very start, accessibility has been the priority. I have dyslexia – it is definitely helpful to be properly diagnosed because it makes things clearer, especially when it comes to my accessibility and inclusivity needs. I was diagnosed in my thirties, and many people go undiagnosed longer, and it can be a real challenge to articulate your needs when you don’t have that piece of paper.  As well as my own needs, I am a carer for my wife. She has a fatigue and sensory condition, which was important for us in deciding on a working role for me.  Those caring needs have to be taken into consideration by my employer, and Aon has shown great receptiveness to this.

A smooth transition during the pandemic

Before I joined Aon, I had a diverse career – graphic design for retail, non-profit organisations, arts management. I have a masters degree in cultural policy with a focus on accessibility and inclusivity, I studied fine arts and I am self-taught with multimedia. It was quite easy to teach myself different techniques, especially with plenty of free tutorials on the internet, and build on the fundamentals of my undergraduate degree.

My transition onto the Aon team was really smooth. During recruitment, I was given more time to use the assessment software, extra time for the interview, and given the interview questions in advance. It was a great interview – an organisational psychologist attended, so it was internally audited to ensure it was conducted ethically and fairly. An hour was set aside for the interview, but we ended up talking for nearly two hours. I got the sense that this place really is different – I could present my strengths and challenges and experiences in a way that I had never been able to before.

The office is in County Galway and I work from home in County Kerry. With the pandemic, everyone was used to working remotely, which was a positive. Onboarding at home meant I could manage the sensory environment and not worry about things like running into people all the time or distracting noises. Even the smell of an office can be a dealbreaker for me. I could focus on logging on, build up everything I need to know to do my job and process information at my pace. This is known as cognitive pacing and it is important for many neuroatypical people. Many of us get tired when we process a lot of information because we can’t always do it as quickly as other people. Remote onboarding made this more manageable.

My manager and I developed minimalist project management processes for our small team. The importance of organisational psychology is clear at Aon – from the start, they knew what I would likely need help with and my manager was very receptive. She was always asking if everything was OK and making sure she wasn’t asking too much of me.  We are getting on very well, and my teammate is really talented and very flexible and supportive as well, which is crucial.

Explaining accessibility needs

If we can communicate accessibility needs in advance with our core teams and wider stakeholders, it helps so much, especially in large organisations.

One issue for neuroatypical people is explanation fatigue, where we have to explain our accessibility needs over and over again to strangers. It is physically and mentally exhausting. At Aon, we are starting to use profile documents to explain our access needs, such as communication preferences. For example, I often prefer to contribute by chat rather than verbally in meetings.

I have responsibilities caring for my wife, which is where accessibility and work/life balance is really important to me. It is another reason why I prefer to work remotely – we can keep the house in quiet mode. Using the chat function in meetings not only helps me communicate better, but it helps keep things quiet for my wife. 

Making these adjustments means it is easier for me to get on with my work, rather than experiencing cognitive overload. When neuroatypical people are allowed to get into the flow of their work, that is when they excel – but it is not about being better than anyone else, it is about being able to contribute.

And it is not just about accessibility needs – it is about wider inclusivity, such as what holidays we celebrate or even food intolerances. There are great reasons to do this; from being able to wish people well on meaningful holidays to giving appropriate gifts to people with food intolerances. This sort of information can be added to the profile documents. I hope that with more awareness, colleagues will make a habit of checking profiles to help with accessibility and inclusion. It needs an HR IT solution, but we have made a start and it will make a difference.

Improving company culture

There is a cultural shift when employers make adjustments, but everyone has been supportive and receptive. We can all do little things to be more respectful - if someone, for example, prefers to communicate by typing in an online meeting, do not unmute their microphone.

When someone expresses an access requirement, it is important to meet them where they are – this makes people more productive and less stressed. Some people need more social interaction, while others prefer working in a quiet space at home. It is about finding ways to help everyone.

Since the pandemic, more people have become more receptive to working from home. A lot of barriers were softened, especially with video meetings where kids or cats or dogs would appear. It was a good way for everyone to realise we are all human.

Diversity is not about privileging one type of person over another. It is about making changes to help everyone. Once people know each other’s needs, there is empathy. Everyone’s humanity is considered. Both my managers at Aon are mothers and I think this helped them understand my needs when it comes to caring for my wife. It is an example of how working parents have so much to offer organisations.

How my outside interests help me at work 

Outside work, I am into restorative activities, quiet pursuits, such as meditation, walks in nature, landscape drawing. And I love traditional Japanese art, which is very minimalist, there is no need to fill every space on a blank canvas. This informs how I do my job, especially when creating accessible content and branding. It is important to keep this sort of work simple, clear and uncomplicated.

Volunteering around ecology and Climate Change is very important to me too. I have been involved in this for about 15 years, especially sustainability programmes. I have volunteered in community gardens, and on organic farms to really understand the approach, and I think about how I can reduce my environmental impact. And this reflects Aon’s ESG work – it’s a big topic for Aon and with a lot of hands-on experience, I have insights here that I hope can help the company and in turn, deliver outstanding service to our clients.

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VERCIDA works with over one hundred clients who are committed to creating an inclusive work environment. If you are an employer and interested in working with VERCIDA to promote your diversity and inclusion initiatives and attract the best candidates, please email [email protected] for more information.

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