Background - Appendix A

Notes from the Meeting between the Northern Ireland Assembly and National Autistic Society NI on Accreditation

Background

The National Autistic Society Northern Ireland has been working with the Northern Ireland Assembly with a view to making their building more accessible for people with autism.  They are keen to move to have it accredited and we are in the process of working on standards with NAS Accreditation. As part of this process NAS NI “mystery shopped” the assembly. This involved organising a group of adults with autism to visit the assembly and give feedback on their experience. They also took an official tour while they were there. As a follow on from this we also organised a meeting between Assembly staff and adults with an ASD. The Assembly sent six staff, which included the Equality Manager, Health and Safety Manager, Outreach Manager and Education and Events Manager. The meeting also involved six adults with an ASD, a parent and two NAS staff. This was an extremely productive meeting the adults with autism reported that “they felt as if they had been really listened to” by the Assembly staff and the Assembly reported that “This was a model of good practice as to how the assembly should consult with a charity”.  The people involved in this consultation were adults who were high functioning. We are also looking at running a pilot consultation and trial of changes and use of supports with pupils with autism who attend Tor Bank Special School who would have higher support needs.

Below are some of the comments and ideas with regards to actions which the assembly may take. Some come from our meeting and some from the visit to the Assembly. I have also added some additional suggestions around recruitment and meetings.

Access to the Building

We asked how we make the building more accessible for people with an ASD?

  • Production of as much information as possible for people prior to a visit. Information to be in a format that can be printed and which people can bring with them to refer to. This cuts down anxiety. The information should be in plain English avoiding acronyms etc. Also pictures that people can bring along with them, for example the main hall, long gallery, main entrances, and security facility.
  • Use of symbols and pictures
  • Picture of the uniform that security etc wear so people know who to ask for help from
  • Clear and obvious signage. There are a number of entrances and this caused a little anxiety as people were not entirely sure as to where to enter.
  • The production of a video which took you through every thing that would happen on your visit. This could involve filming an individual going in the main gate, into the car park, through the security clearance, signing in and getting a pass. It would also include information about some of the issues that might provoke anxiety or sensory difficulties for a person with ASD. So for example what to do if there are no car parking spaces, who to ask for help if you become anxious, warnings about the bell that goes off to summon MLAs to the chamber, or the noise that the hand dryers make in  the toilets.
  • Production of written instructions and information also to be in clear language.
  • Ensure that materials are printed on a light coloured background ie lemon and non glossy paper
  • The production of an easy read version of the above
  • A map to be produced which provides clear directions
  • Signage in the car park
  • Sheltered waiting area outside security as there was no covered area to wait if you were with a group.
  • Cafe in the assembly felt too small and too much background noise. We talked about not having the radio on or staff being trained so that if someone asked for it to be turned off that they would do so without complaint and would have the understanding that it may cause problems for someone with sensory difficulties.
  • Clear signage when things are out of order i.e. the computer kiosk was broken during the visit and a number of our group went to use it. There was no sign to say it was out of order this led to frustration.
  • Quiet room to be made available and people being made aware of where this was located.
  • Acceptance of Autism Alert card to avoid waiting and staff to be aware of the card (the production of this could also lead to specific information being given to the person with an ASD i.e. the instructions re finding your way around the building, info about a quiet room, who to speak to if you have any difficulties etc)
  • Individuals with an ASD who pre arranged their visit could access the building via the side entrance on busy days as this would be less congested.

Accessing committees and the plenary

  • A warning that access to committees are on a first come first served basis so if you cannot access the public gallery of a committee then you can alternatively watch it on one of the screens (only for some committees)
  • Information about how you can access the plenary and how you do this
  • Training of committee clerks so that they understand the needs of people with autism who may be giving evidence at a committee meeting
  • Examine the possibility of producing an accessible summary of key debates minutes etc?

Sensory issues

We also discussed some of the sensory issues that people experienced and ways to combat this within the constraints of a listed building

  • One person thought there was a very strong chemical smell. The Assembly will check out when cleaning is carried out and would consider a change in cleaning products.
  • Issues around noisy hand dryers in the toilets. We asked the Assembly to ensure that there are paper towels available and possible sign warning about the noise (this would be included in any information given out prior to a visit)
  • Warnings about the bells summoning MLAs to the chamber
  • Quiet room

Tours of the building

The Assembly runs tours which informs you about the history of the building and how the assembly works etc. This received a good response from the Mystery shoppers except for a couple of comments around being told about a “secret passageway” and then not shown it. A number of people could not concentrate for thinking about this. Also some felt the tour was too short and would like more detail.

  • The Assembly to look at putting a picture re the “secret passage in their materials”
  • Production of detailed information for those who would like to access it
  • The Assembly would put together a tour that was specifically tailored to a group of people who had autism i.e. those who were visiting as a group.
  • They would also look at the script and ensure that the language was clear and in plain English.
  • Tour guides would have autism awareness training

How do we create good autism awareness amongst Assembly Staff

Training

  • Autism awareness training for key staff i.e. reception, tour guides security
  • Creation of autism champions within different departments who have more experience of autism and a higher level of training.
  • Assembly Staff made aware of whom they can call for help and advice on how to support an individual with autism who may become anxious during their visit.

How do we make people aware that the Assembly is an “Autism Friendly “Public Building

  • General media stories about what the assembly has achieved re accreditation
  • Autism logo to be placed in different areas so people are aware that the Assembly is autism friendly.
  • Autism Accreditation plaque to be displayed
  • Information on the website re the steps that the Assembly has taken

Working at the Northern Ireland Assembly

Recruitment and management of people with an ASD

Examine HR policies and look at how to make the process more open for people with autism to apply. Actions could include:

  • Ensuring that good communication skills are not an essential criteria in job adverts and specifications if the job does not require it
  • Training for HR staff so they are aware of adjustments that can be made throughout the recruitment, and interviewing stage to make applying for jobs in the Assembly accessible e.g. someone with autism having an advocate to support them through the interview, use of job trials, sensory adjustments etc
  • Production of literature for staff in the NI Assembly on how to support and manage someone with autism in the work place
  • Training for any staff who are managing someone with autism in the workplace

Making meetings and events accessible for someone with Autism

Production of a guide on how to make meetings and events accessible for people with autism. This could cover:

  • Format of the meeting i.e. numbers attending and length of time i.e. if people cant concentrate for long periods have more breaks
  • Timing of the meeting - give as much advance notice as possible, not during school holidays for parents/carers etc
  • Allowing someone to come with the person with autism to support them
  • Looking at the sensory issues around the venue
  • Preparing people for the meeting
  • Production of autism friendly documents i.e. avoid clashing colours, jargon, non literal language or inference through language

The above is not an exhaustive list.

Monitoring/Evaluation and Improving

  • The Northern Ireland Assembly will sign up to the NAS Accreditation
  • Evaluation via the NI Assembly evaluation system i.e. online questionnaire or feed back form
  • “Mystery shop” events to test the assembly

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