Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum: What a Rare Neurological Condition Can Teach Us about Customer Service and Employment

Published February 10, 2021

Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum (ACC for short) is a neurological condition in which a person’s brain is missing — partly, or in full — its corpus callosum. The corpus callosum is part of the brain known as white matter, as opposed to grey matter, which makes up most the cerebrum. The corpus callosum is the primary communication path between the left and right hemispheres. Therefore, the corpus callosum aids the brain in any activity which requires coordination between the two hemispheres.

According to Dr. Lynn Paul, a neurological researcher at UCLA, the corpus callosum functions like a bridge between two cities separated by water. If the bridge is broken or not present, no cars (thoughts) can cross. In her book ACC and Me, Dr. Paul writes that without the corpus callosum, the brain can struggle to send messages between the hemispheres. This means that the speed at which the brain processes information and acts upon it can be slowed down significantly.

Individuals with ACC can be asymptomatic, or can have severe delays in learning, processing, and developing, or be somewhere in between. Because ACC interferes with co-hemispheric processing, some individuals with the disorder may struggle to regulate emotions and typical social responses. Short-term recall may also be a challenge. Like many other disorders, ACC’s symptoms exist on a spectrum, and the challenges faced by one individual are not necessarily faced by another.

One of the greatest challenges faced by individuals who have ACC is that by its nature, ACC is non-apparent. Because there are no visible indicators of this condition, it is often difficult for the individual in question to receive the services and aids that are essential for helping the individual develop. However, it is important to note that regardless of external appearances, individuals with ACC do have neurological difficulties, and these difficulties need to be accounted for when considering the issues of inclusion and accessibility.

While no single trait defines ACC as a disability, in many cases, individuals with ACC have processing delays, which can lead to some difficulties in everyday situations. And it is here that access and inclusion come into play.

When considering ways in which to make a business more accessible and more inclusive, it is important to stress to all employees that every customer will interact at their own pace, and not to rush customers during interactions. It may very well be that a customer who seems to be struggling to make decisions or answer questions has a neurological issue such as ACC, and the customer is doing the best they can, at the fastest speed they can manage. At the same time, it is possible that the customer is having a bad day and is not focused on the task at hand.

In either case, the customer should always be treated with dignity and respect. This is perhaps the most important part of giving equal access to all customers — treating each one as an individual and trying to give that individual the best service possible. Employees should be taught that equal access stems from not seeing customers for any disabilities they may have, but rather, should be seen as vital to the success of the business.

One of the most important lessons to teach employees is that the language used to describe disabilities exists not to label individuals, but to address any concerns in accessibility. For example, some of the most damaging language an employee could use would include phrases like, "Oh, she looks so normal," or, "He seems just fine to me." This kind of language is both terribly imprecise, and terribly insulting. To a person struggling with typical daily tasks, being told that they seem "normal" dismisses the very real challenges being faced. The language of inclusion and access should be focused rather on providing service to customers, rather than be focused on ways in which individuals differ from one another.

The other side of this issue is employment. In the same way that the expectation of a business must be that all customers are treated with dignity and respect, the same is true of employees who have ACC. Because an employee with ACC may have processing difficulties, it is important to give employees enough time to complete assigned tasks. Also, another useful accommodation is to present training in a multi-sensory way, to best reach a wide variety of learning styles. Further, as recall may be a challenge for the employee, it is imperative that the employer display patience if having to repeat instructions.

It is also important that while accommodations are being made, that the individual employee is not made to feel embarrassed because of their difficulty. Instead, an employee with ACC should be treated, and spoken of, just like every other employee. An employer who treats all employees fairly (not equally, but fairly), will recognize, and value, the different skills and abilities that all employees bring to the business. When employers value employees for their uniqueness, all employees will benefit, and bring more value to the business.

In a world that is becoming evermore inclusive and accessible, the same kind of awareness and acceptance given to individuals with visible disabilities needs to be given to individuals with non-apparent or cognitive disabilities. Ideally, every single customer will be treated with precisely the same level of dignity and given the same level of service by employees.

When employers and employees learn to see inclusion and access as the most important part of their job, providing that access will become second nature. Seeing, and valuing, each individual will create the kind of inclusive and accessible environment in which all can thrive. And where customers and employees thrive, inevitably, the business will thrive as well. In the end, accessibility and inclusion create scenarios where all parties concerned benefit from mutual interactions.