A Personalised Approach to “Autism Friendly” Businesses and Experiences
Charlene Tait, Deputy CEO
As an organisation, we are increasingly approached to support businesses, employers and public services become more autism friendly. Other organisations such as The National Autistic Society have taken a formalised approach to this by taking businesses and venues through a process that results in them being awarded “Autism Friendly” status.
Such schemes have their merits and are undoubtedly welcomed by some autistic people and their families.
At Scottish Autism we do not seek to replicate this approach but to compliment it by supporting venues, employers and businesses to think about accessibility and acceptance of autistic people within a whole range of different environments.
There is however one significant drawback to our efforts and that is the heterogeneity of autism. As an organisation we advocate personalised approaches developed in partnership with the individual and or their family and wider professional team. It is therefore challenging when asked to provide more general principles. Communication, sensory and cognitive support varies so much from individual to individual that I often hear myself state the obvious idea of asking a person what would be helpful for them as the most effective means of ensuring an autism friendly approach.
I was therefore greatly encouraged by a discussion I had with a company called “Neatebox”. They have developed the “Welcome” app which enables users to send more personalised requirements to host venues and businesses. The venue can also access high level, generic information about a range of conditions including autism.
Gavin Neate, the app developer, has practical experience of supporting blind people and was acutely aware of the discrimination, intended or otherwise that this community, as well as other disabled people face.
Since we are a long way from sensitivity, respect and kindness being downloadable from an app, I find this a really promising development. I have had very minimal input to the process in that I offered some general advice. The willingness to listen and take on that advice is reflective of the spirit in which it was developed.
The free app allows a person with a disability to create a profile and provide details of the additional help they might need when they visit a business. When users book visits to participating venues with the app, the staff will be alerted of their needs ahead of their arrival. On top of that, the customer service team receives tips on how to best interact with the disabled visitor and are notified when they arrive at the venue.
A range of venues are currently using the system including Edinburgh Airport and the Falkirk Wheel. Early uptake suggests that users are experiencing more personalised support due to them being expected and being able to outline their specific needs. For example, Jenners House of Fraser saw a turnaround from 1.5 star average to 5 star reviews on Euans Guide for every visit since using the system.
Those of us with a personal or professional interest in autism must, of course do all we can to support understanding and acceptance of autistic people across our society. An important aspect of that is to enable people to be self- determining about the support they need but also to work towards sustainable accessibility across a whole range of settings.
Perhaps the “Welcome” App can help achieve that one person at a time.