Background to Autism Accreditation
The Northern Ireland Assembly first became involved in the Autism Accreditation process in October 2011. A group of adults and parents of autistic children came to Parliament Buildings on a ‘mystery shopping’ exercise. This meant they arrived at the building without notice, checked out the access arrangements, welfare facilities, went on a tour and assessed how they were treated by staff. A small number of staff, representing different business areas of the NI Assembly, visited the autism consultation group at the National Autistic Society in Belfast a few days later to listen to their opinions on the visit and recommendations for any improvements. View a summary of the meeting.
The National Autistic Society advised us about their accreditation process which was now going to be extended to cover public buildings. The Northern Ireland Assembly was delighted to be the first organisation to agree to work towards the accreditation award. The Northern Ireland Assembly has been involved in all aspects of this pilot project and has helped to develop the standard for public buildings which will then be rolled out across the UK.
The Assembly also received a copy of a document produced by Radlett Lodge School from Hertfordshire, England. The document highlights a number of issues that staff in public buildings should consider to make the visit of an autistic person less stressful. A number of recommendations were the same as those raised by the group in Northern Ireland showing that similar improvements need to be considered in public buildings across the UK.
In November 2011, the Northern Ireland Assembly began making the building more accessible and friendly for people with autism. This started with some physical changes to the building such as setting up a quiet room behind our reception area and looking at our signage for example placing warning stickers on noisy hand dryers and symbols on toilet doors.
Autism awareness training was rolled out to front line staff in December 2011 and March 2012, with 90 staff attending training voluntarily. 10 Autism Champions were created and Champions received further training in September 2012. Autism Champions will act as points of contact if anyone with autism needs assistance and their contact details and duties are available on the Autism Champions webpage.
The Assembly have also been working with the autism consultation group to produce an access video showing what to expect when someone arrives at the entrance to the Stormont Estate and makes their way up to Parliament Buildings. Representatives from the autism group came up to the building in August 2012 to help with the content and direction of the video and their assistance was fantastic.
A page on the Assembly website providing information to autistic visitors has also been developed as part of the process and will include useful contacts, links, the access video, guidance and information on sensory issues that may be encountered.
The Assembly received the autism accreditation award from the National Autistic Society on 14 November 2012. A photograph of the presentation is below:
This is only the start of the process and the Assembly will continue to review, update and improve any services to autistic people to enhance their visit to Parliament Buildings. There will also be methods on the webpage to receive feedback on how improvements can be made.