Updated: Jan 6, 2020
I feel the above heading is a good introduction to talk about the news affecting Autistic people within society. So far on my blogging journey I have been mainly talking about my own personal experiences of growing up on the Autistic Spectrum and highlighting the shortcomings of employers and the state when it comes to the recruitment process for disabled candidates.
Today is different as I am using this space to talk about the news through the eyes of Autistic people and the weekly challenges that affect those living on the spectrum. The first topic that has been really at the forefront of my mind all week as I have travelled to and from work was the decision made in the courts which ruled that all schools must provide reasonable adjustments for Autistic children in school before resorting to exclusion. The National Autistic Society challenged a loophole in the 2010 Equality Act that had meant that schools did not have to provide reasonable adjustments for disabled children when they have a tendency to physical abuse, completely missing the point that this behaviour is often down to a lack of support from the schools in providing learning support assistants and disability mentors. The judge in this case quite rightly ruled that a failure for schools to provide reasonable adjustments for Autistic children is a flagrant breach of the European Convention on Human Rights of children with a recognised condition such as Autism to not be discriminated against. To me this is a ground breaking decision and the judges who presided over this case should be commended for coming to the right decision. Yet, this case raises several troubling questions, namely how in a modern 'supposedly tolerant' society has it taken until 2018 for children on the Autistic Spectrum to be given the same equal rights to an education as their neuro-typical peers. To my mind the primordial nature of UK society and a seeming intransigence on the parts of the government, the education system and society as a whole have contributed to the fact that many Autistic children have been excluded. In 2015-2016 over 4,400 Autistic children were excluded from school many of them on a permanent basis, often being sent to pupil referral units who have even less understanding of complex neuro-disabilities or sent to so called special educational schools that not appropriate for many Autistic children. Additionally, now that schools will be expected to provide reasonable adjustments for Autistic children, will this mean that the government will now start providing more funding for the education system so that there are more special educational needs assistants and disability mentors in schools? Will Schools look at providing comprehensive disability awareness training for their teachers particularly around complex neuro- disabilities? If the education system and the government are serious about overhauling the education system then changes such as the ones I have outlined need to be incorporated into a new code of practise for teachers on how they can best help students with complex neuro-disabilities without just taking the easy way out and excluding them.
I think fundamentally that the single biggest problem is the archaic Equality Act which in all honesty needs to be replaced with legislation that is fit for the 21st century. The Equality Act was seen as ground breaking when it came into force, and the expectation was that the Equality Act would make society in the UK a more tolerant, equal and fair place for all to live and work in. In reality, the Equality Act has not evolved with society, this is particularly the case for people with Autism with just 32% in full time employment and those with high functioning Autism, Asperger's Syndrome that figure is just 14%. The main problem with the Equality Act from an Autistic perspective is that it is light on detail and merely affords a minimum standard of discrimination prevention for those that are disabled. The consequence of having a law that is light on detail is that employers know that they only have to comply with a minimum standard of discrimination prevention. There aren't tough enough punishments for employers who fail to adhere to this legislation and neither are there the incentives needed for employers to go and implement their own disability, friendly workplace policies that go above and beyond the remit of the Equality Act. If employers chose to develop their own disability policies which factored in all disabilities in detail that employers are likely to encounter then this could help revolutionise workplace opportunities for those on the Autistic Spectrum. The state and many employers for the most part seem wedded to the idea that the Equality Act is a great piece of legislation that is leading towards a fairer more tolerant society, to me this is a total fallacy and shows the intransigence and ignorance of those in power to what life is like for many people on the Autistic Spectrum. In all honesty until those in power in business and government really start having the serious pragmatic conversations about neuro-disabilities and how to help and give the best possible opportunities to those on the spectrum then how is the average man in the street expected to understand what 'Asperger's Syndrome is'. It is estimated that only 30% of UK society fully know what Autism is and how it affects people with the condition. This goes to show how far society has to go before meaningful changes for Autistic people in society and the workplace will bear fruition.
I have also read this week the interesting article about whether the universal sign for disability should be changed. Visability93 that I have shared on my news feed is a project designed to get society to start talking about invisible neuro-disabilities such as Autism. The founders of the project are keen to educate people that just because someone doesn't have a physical disability it doesn't they aren't disabled. This links in with a video I watched that was on the BBC about a young woman's daily anxiety about commuting linked to her Autism. She gave one example which links to Visability93's work when she was asked if she would give up her seat for an elderly woman on public transport. She said no as I am disabled the other passenger tried to force her from the seat claiming that she was lying and that she wasn't disabled. To me this is a shocking example of societies ignorance towards neuro-disability. It also highlights the need for greater education in industry, society, schools and universities to remove these prejudices from our society. On a personal level I have often been told that I don't look disabled because I look 'normal' which is nice of people to say but I would rather they ask me questions about my condition and not be afraid of offending me. In my view as a society we shouldn't be afraid to ask questions about neuro- disability as it will enhance knowledge, understanding and debate nurturing on a subject that many people know little or nothing about. Just thing the next time you meet someone who has a neuro-disability and they tell you about their disability look upon the time with that person as a learning lesson so that the next time you meet someone with a similar condition you will be able to put your knowledge and experience into practise.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this blog.