Ivanne and David of Coworking IDEA Project come back as our guests for this episode, and we are thrilled to have them as always. Welcome to another episode of COworking Values Podcast, where we aim to keep you updated with the Coworking community.
We talked with Ivanne and David before about Moving the Needle Towards Accessibility and it barely scratched the surface. So, in this episode we are deep-diving on accessibility in coworking, the Coworking IDEA project monthly challenge and how it can make our community as inclusive as it can be.
What is Accessibility?
I think it’s important to first recognise some things that people think about most, when we think about accessibility, we are thinking really about the visible issues of accessibility, which might be vision loss, hearing loss, web content, accessibility guidelines, wheelchair access, things like that. But another aspect of accessibility that came to prominence during this challenge, and during the research is that of invisible disability and accessibility considerations. So things like dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia, even depression, anxiety, autism, things like that, thinking about those elements and how accommodating those can improve the experience of everybody associated.
What did you Discover this month?
David: One of the things I think that really opened my eyes in the research for this project was just the connection between the importance of accessibility and Coworking in particular. Because Coworking is absolutely packed full of entrepreneurs.
I mean, you know, it’s the highest percentage of openers per square metre, is in Coworking and anywhere in the world. I’m absolutely certain that I don’t have statistics on that. That’s My good feeling.
And the research shows that there’s a higher percentage of entrepreneurs who are neurodivergent. And therefore, it’s all the more important and incumbent upon I think Coworking and the opportunity exists in Coworking more than anywhere to take advantage of these neuro advantages, these neuro superpowers, which are currently somewhat being left on the table.
And so that was a big one for me. It was like, you know, not just, it isn’t just important, because we need to be inclusive, we need to bring everybody together and no, no person is broken, we need to fix the system and all of those good things. But also, because coworking is really the great starting place for this conversation to open these doors.
Ivanne: And I’ve learned during this multi challenge that one in seven people are neurodivergent, which makes it about 17% of the population, and quite at the same time.
So when we talk about neurodiversity, it’s about autism, dyslexia, or ADHD. During the same month, I saw a documentary on the French TV about women and healthcare, and how we men are less easy. You’re sorry, it’s more difficult to be diagnosed, we identify whatever your condition by the medical system, at least in France.
And so when you know that half of the neurodivergent people don’t know about their situation, it’s very likely that an even bigger share of women don’t even know that they are neurodivergent. So by designing coworking spaces and communities, to worlds, these extreme users, you also foster inclusivity. And to me, it’s just a kind of learnings, insight during the process that has been a great issue. A great discovery.
Bernie J Mitchel 0:19
Hello folks, and welcome to this week’s edition of the Coworking Values Podcast, and we’re going to dive right in. Today, we have two of our esteemed Coworking Idea representative, so, David, sir, what are you known for what would you like to be known for?
David O’Coimin 0:38
Great question. So, I’m usually known as the CEO and the company inventor of Nook. What I’d really like to be known for is the way that I made people feel either directly or indirectly across the course of my lifetime from moving the needle on inclusivity in the workplace.
Bernie J Mitchel 0:57
Yes, and moving swiftly on to Ivanne, what are you known for, my favorite world touring author?
Ivanne Poussier 1:08
I’m known for undertaking the first European tour of women focused coworking spaces, just before the pandemic, and I would like to be known for shedding light on the social movement, grassroots movements of fabulous women and pouring themselves on their communities and foster a broader movement around the employment of women entrepreneurs.
Bernie J Mitchel 1:38
Love it. So, you’ve both been here before, and folks, we’ll link to those podcasts in the show notes . On today’s episode we’re going to talk about the Coworking Idea Project, which is a monthly challenge, where a group of us have all got together to talk about inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility in coworking. And this kind of plays out as a monthly challenge. David and Ivanne ran this month challenge, so it was about accessibility, but let’s kickoff about what is accessibility, because I’m not sure as many people as we like, understand what that means.
David O’Coimin 2:18
Yeah, well for me if I may start, I think it’s important to first of all, recognize some of the things that people think about most. When we think about accessibility, it’s thinking really, about the visible issues of accessibility which might be vision loss, hearing loss, web content accessibility guidelines, wheelchair access, things like that. But another aspect of accessibility that came to prominence during this challenge, and during the research is that of invisible disability and accessibility considerations. So, things like dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia, even depression, anxiety, autism, things like that, thinking about those elements and how accommodating those can improve the experience of everybody associated.
Ivanne Poussier 3:12
Furthermore, accessibility is something you can consider from a permanent point of view, and also a temporary point of view, situational accessibility, because whether you have one arm, or you are busy carrying an object or carrying a child and using one arm to push a door for example, it’s a situational impairment of your ability to access a room for example in this face. So, we have many aspects of accessibility.
David O’Coimin 3:49
I love what you said there, Ivanne. You even made me picture a table, and across one access is visible and invisible. And on the other access is permanent, and temporary, and situational and in this grid, you can build a nice picture of what’s happening in the real world.
Bernie J Mitchel 4:12
So, what did you discover in this month? Because I feel like I’ve read more than I’ve ever read in my life about this, and I still don’t understand it, it’s like that Paul Weller line where he goes, “the more I know, the less I understand”. I hope this doesn’t sound odd, but when people say accessibility, I think most people think of, is there a wheelchair lift or something like that, unless it unless they have that challenge or issue, this doesn’t occur to them.
David O’Coimin 4:47
Well, if I may start. One of the things I think that really opened my eyes in the research for this project was just the connection between the importance of accessibility and coworking in particular, because coworking is absolutely packed full of entrepreneurs. I mean, the highest percent of entrepreneurs per square meter is in coworking in anywhere in the world, I’m absolutely certain. I don’t have statistics on that, that’s my good feeling. And the research shows that there’s a higher percentage of entrepreneurs are neurodivergent. And so therefore, it’s all the more important and incumbent upon, I think coworking, and the opportunity exists in coworking more than anywhere to take advantage of these neuro advantages, these neuro superpowers, which are currently somewhat being left on the table. And so that was a big one for me. It isn’t just important because we need to be inclusive, we need to bring everybody together and, no person is broken, we need to fix the system and all of those good things, but also because coworking is really the great starting place for this conversation to open these doors.
Ivanne Poussier 6:12
And I’m very lucky to have worked with David on this issue, because you David, are a real expert in neurodiversity, and I’ve learned during this messy challenge that one in seven people are neurodivergent, which makes about 17% of the population, and quite at the same time. So, when we talk about neurodiversity, autism dyslexia, ADHD, during the same month, I saw a documentary on the French TV about women and healthcare, and how it’s more difficult for women to be diagnosed. We identified with one condition by the medical system in France. And so, when you know that half of the neurodivergent people don’t know about their situation. It’s very likely that even bigger share of women don’t even know that they are neurodivergent. So, by designing coworking spaces and communities to one of these extreme users, you also foster inclusivity. And those, to me, are learnings and insights during the process that has been a great discovery.
Bernie J Mitchel 7:56
So, for the people, what does it mean when we say neurodiverse. In every talk, in that event it came up. And what struck me about that event was people weren’t saying, oh, it’s this nice idea, maybe we should do something about it, is there something we should include? it was like we’re doing this now. I’m sure everyone realizes how huge it is. So, back to my original question, what does it mean?
David O’Coimin 8:44
Let’s explain it really simply, neurodiversity is not just a belief, but an understanding that the brain has natural differences in how we process information. So, on the one hand we would have what we would consider to be neurotypical and that only refers to people who are more aligned with society’s normal expectations of how our brain works. And on the other hand, you would have neurodivergent which might indeed as we previously mentioned, identify people with dyslexia, autism, etc. But these are all fitting under the umbrella of neurodiversity, which are natural differences which are found in the human brain. And to give really small examples of, ADHD, for example, of dyslexia, having heard this expression, I love it so much. Having an ADHD brain is like a filing cabinet which was set upon by a leaf blower.
As you can visualize that, and to call dyslexia a disability is like saying a boat is broken because it can’t fly. It’s just a different way of thinking. But it’s against how society has been set up, and that’s why I use the expression, no person is broken but the system is broken. Our systems are aimed towards a neurotypical brain, but the neurodivergent brain is a very natural state for our brain to be in. It’s a small minority more or so ,rather than the majority which are neurotypical, but that gives you a high level of understanding of where it all fits together.
Bernie J Mitchel 10:27
How’s your brain, Ivanne?
Ivanne Poussier 10:31
Oh, wonderful. When I listen to these kinds of insights from David. Again, I’m new to this business and I discovered this from the point of view of someone who is creating a coworking space, the most inclusive possible by design. And of course, this is not something I can do on my own, and by saying that I would like to stress that, of course for coworking leaders who already own a space, this can seem challenging and even overwhelming. The purpose of the challenge was really to open the doors of accessibility in your coworking community, but it’s not a bundle of books, it’s not with the idea of being perfect or ticking all the boxes of the checklist. It is a mind shift to abstaining this somehow frightening concept of accessibility. And I think the issue of neurodiversity is also a nice way to reframe the problems so we could see through the lack of flexibility and improve the design, and also empower the community.
Bernie J Mitchel 11:59
So, what do can coworking space operators do? In this space I’m in here in sunny Ilford in London, Paul and Joe can’t go around and interview everybody about their individual features and then reconstruct the place. I’m sure they’d like to but it’s impractical. So, where could they start?
David O’Coimin 12:27
Well, there’s some really great and impactful simple things that can be done and there’s some great resources online and we’ve linked to a couple of those in the challenge, not t not to sound glib, of course, but I would say this, take the challenge, that’s a great starting point because what it does is it divides the challenge up into some bite size sort of segments that makes it easy to pick one or two or all of those, if you feel like it. It’s aimed both at the operator and the user of the coworking space uses language that encourages you to speak about your own experiences but also talk about the space in general if you’re managing the space. And I think there’s really, not to jump now into tips just yet, but just provocation to start with, is a the nice blog on the subject, which talks about little tasks that can help people understand issues that come up with ideas like the concept of joining an online meeting with social anxiety or managing daily tasks with a brain injury, or imagine that attending an hour-long remote workshop, while having ADHD, or going to a workplace cafeteria with autism. These are little tasks that went on in a little sort of workshop kind of setting, really explode with possibility and insight and understanding. And everybody comes out of it afterwards with a really quick grasp on the challenge, and what can potentially be done about it. To go to what can actually be done about it. Well, there are some really lovely examples which came up from the feedback from the challenge over the course of May, things like allocating space for particular things, for example, one might be making a quiet area. Quietness came up, a lot of noise as a disturbing factor, creating a space for new moms, making it possible for people to sit with their back to the wall. These are not particularly challenging things to do, but they can have a huge impact on a space’s accessibility and things like that.
Bernie J Mitchel 14:44
Always feel like just asking people because there’s so many tiny little things like that. And if people feel it’s okay to ask for those type of things, it just makes it flow a lot better. And when people understand. If I’m working with someone who I know is a certain way and I know there are a certain way, then, I’ll go oh that they’re a certain way, rather than getting angry because I make up all this stuff in my head about why they’re trying to disrupt me, screw me over. And that happens in our house or home, I swear my kid’s out to get me, and it turns out he’s just got a lot of energy. So taking an interest in people I think is my is my point, and asking really good questions. Ivanne, what can you add?
Ivanne Poussier 15:42
A great lesson that was shared during the conversation at the end of the month. It’s how you can make the space self-explanatory by displaying signs, working on the signage, posters, repeating the rules, and this looks back to the code of conduct as well but making accessibility less visible, and self-explanatory. And also, the fact that we design coworking communities for both extroverts and introverts and onwards, and also some people should have the opportunity to send visual cues about their availability, whether they allow their co-workers to interrupt them or not, and the war of visual cues for simple cues to say, I’m available, I’m not. And some examples were evoked during the conversation about, if I have my headset on, on both ears. Please don’t interrupt me if I have only one ear covered by my headset. And if both headsets are down around my neck on the table, we can go and grab a coffee, maybe, and it was really great because it’s not only making your space and your quiet coworking space soundproof. But it’s also a way to invite your co-workers, to empower them, to work side by side in a respectful manner. They’re not taking for granted that everybody works the same. This was a great, simple tip we could share. Sharing visual cues or explaining what the right way to get to people to interact is.
Bernie J Mitchel 18:01
Thank you. It’s good because that always comes up in coworking because if you run an office. there’s a group of people are all under the same banner company or something like that, and when you have a coworking space, there might be a room with 50 or 100 people in it who are all under different jurisdictions. So, with the headphones, you know if everyone understands the same thing, it is a bit tricky to enforce but I think there’s a way to build community around that.
David O’Coimin 18:40
A hundred percent and to a valid point to as well. It comes back to two things one is having a code of conduct that everybody’s there underneath the same pre-agreed code of conduct. So, okay, they’re all individual companies, possibly with their own HR managers, with their own mission statement ,with their own x y and z, or participating in that particular coworking, they’ve signed up to a certain code of conduct and that code of conduct has some expectations around behavior and inclusivity, accessibility, things like that and participation in the community. And then the other one, so much can be done to create those guidelines and they are just guidelines and enforcement is probably too strong a word to use in this case, there’s an element of self-enforcement through community, through collaboration, through people, through setting expectations.
You can achieve so much if you just give people guidelines for how you would like them to behave in order to nurture a good community spirit amongst people. The problems typically occur when there are no guidelines, not when there are guidelines and people break them. You’ll always get a small percentage, and we’ll go the other direction. For whatever reason, people like us, probably will be people like us and that’s something to be celebrated too. You should look at why and what are the factors around them doing that. Well, those guidelines I think, are absolutely beautiful and essential, especially if you employ the principle of nothing about us without us. Don’t do something for me without involving me in that process, however well meaning. When people participate in the design of these systems that give them not only a sense of control, and a sense of importance, but also the sense of ownership, and it becomes an ecosystem of people who are working together for a common goal.
Bernie J Mitchel 20:38
Where would you like us to go next, Ivanne? What message to close our podcast with?
Ivanne Poussier 20:47
I think I’m 100% sure that accessibility is an ingredient of your community, building your community canvas, and it starts from the onboarding, the welcoming, and the onboarding of your members. And to me it’s really a great playground in fact, for your creativity, for empowerment to design the visible and invisible solutions, and it’s also an ongoing process, and I really wish we will do further challenges to keep chopping it into smaller pieces that truly take the challenge, because if you haven’t had a look yet at the challenge on the Coworking Idea Project website. Now you can find it in an accessible way in English and we also translated into French to allow more French speaking enthusiasts to take part in it. We’re really looking forward to hearing feedbacks and suggestions, and also examples of solutions in your coworking communities.
Bernie J Mitchel 22:14
Right. So, can you just shout out where we can find you online and of course, everything we talked about in this podcast we’ll link to in the show notes, but where can we find you, folks?
David O’Coimin 22:24
So, I’m very easy to find if you know how to spell my surname because there’s very few of me, so it’s O’Coimin. Look for me on LinkedIn, on Twitter, and you’ll find more about Nookpod.com.
Ivanne Poussier 22:42
I’m Ivanne Poussier . Also have a look at the coworkingidea.org website where you find the match challenge here below this podcast, you’ll also find a link to my LinkedIn profile, especially if you’re eager to know more about ADA Coworking and my book Sisters in Arms about women and inclusive coworking spaces.
Bernie J Mitchel 23:12
Beautiful. We’ll to all that in the show notes. Ladies and gentlemen, thanks for your ears today.