What is neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity is a nonmedical word used to express the concept that people’s brains function differently. This may be differences in social preferences, ways of learning, ways of communicating and/or ways of perceiving the environment. Neurodiversity encompasses a range of conditions, including autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), brain injuries, bipolar disorder, dyslexia, dyscalculia, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Tourette’s and others. Neurodivergence may cause challenges, i.e., with communication or mobility, but may also produce strengths. It’s not the same as a disability or mental illness, but it can be associated with them.
The needs of neurodivergent travelers are as unique as the people themselves and people vary greatly in how they self-identify
Neurodivergent business travelers may experience trips differently in areas such as:
- Accessibility – People with cognitive, sensory or physical differences must be assured that travel communications, destinations, accommodations, and transportation options are accessible and inclusive.
- Accommodations – Hotels and accommodations can play a significant role in accommodating neurodivergent travelers. This may include providing quieter rooms, offering sensory-friendly amenities, or having staff trained in assisting neurodivergent guests.
- Booking – Make desktop, mobile and agent-facing booking platforms as accessible as possible. Where possible, allow for flexible booking options, such as the ability to forego layovers, choose seats in quieter areas of the aircraft or request accommodations for specific needs. Train staff to be open to requests for dietary restrictions, sensory accommodations, or assistance animals.
- Communications – Visual schedules, social stories, or written instructions can help neurodivergent individuals understand the travel process and what to expect during their journey.
- Planning and preparation – Travel disruptions, unexpected delays, and changes in schedules can be distressing. Detailed planning and communication may reduce anxiety for neurodivergent travelers.
- Sensory sensitivity – Travel environments, such as airports, crowded tourist attractions, and public transportation, can be overwhelming due to noise, lights, and crowds. Travelers might appreciate a guide to find inclusive, sensory-friendly retreats in airports or other congested public spaces.
The travel industry – including travel management companies (TMCs) and airline, hotel, and transportation suppliers – can take action to make neurodiversity considerations standard practice so more people travel with dignity and ease. The goal is to create environments where travelers feel comfortable communicating their needs and advocacy is embraced.
Getting started: Neurodiversity education and action in the travel program
- Begin with education and awareness discussions that involve stakeholders from every possible touchpoint within your organization. Ever heard the saying, “Nothing about us, without us?” In this case, it means that people with relevant lived experiences must be involved in the process of integrating neurodiversity considerations into travel policies and practices.
- Examine your company culture and travel policy for opportunities. Build upon what’s already working and make a plan for continued improvements. Some considerations:
- Is your company’s stance and support for diversity evident in the travel policy?
- Are the travel policy and other governing documents that address these topics stored in a known place and accessible formats?
- Are the documents well designed and easy to read and comprehend?
- Is there an opportunity to provide policies, guidelines and other communications in both audio and visual formats for different user needs?
- Does your TMC partner contract with suppliers that can meet a broad range of accessibility and inclusive travel needs?
- Can neurodivergent travelers who require human assistance easily contact a person in place of online or automated systems?
- Are travel counselors trained to sensitively adapt their approach and use inclusive language to serve this population?
- Don’t panic if you don’t have the answers to any (or all) of these questions today. Instead, work with your internal stakeholders to set goals, create a roadmap and build in timelines to make steady improvements. Executive buy-in is critical and also inspirational. Leaders set the tone and expectation for how your organization should support neurodivergent travelers.
- Seek out advisory, auditing and consultancy services. For example, to improve web-based accessibility, consult The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international standards organization widely regarded as the expert in Web standards and compliance.
- Partner with advocacy groups and organizations that specialize in supporting neurodivergent individuals to develop traveler assistance programs or guidance for travelers. The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower is a growing global network that uses the sunflower to encourage inclusivity, acceptance and understanding. The flower is worn by individuals as a discreet symbol that they have a hidden or invisible disability or are neurodivergent and signals to others they may need support.
- Publicize everything that is available today for neurodiversity support within the travel program and regularly update resource materials as changes occur.
- Establish a feedback system where neurodivergent travelers can provide input on their experiences and suggest improvements.