News story legal challenge

2nd April 2019 • Emma Cooper

The national autism and learning disability support provider Dimensions has ramped up their autism friendly initiative.

Working with autism consultants and industry experts they have develop ed national autism friendly training for cinemas, libraries and museums across the UK.

In becoming ‘autism friendly’, staff will be trained on how to make small adjustments to the environment which can create a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere for people with autism.

Launching the new training for World Autism Awareness Month, Dimensions are calling on venues and the autism community to work together in their journey to become autism friendly.

Autism friendly screenings

Working in partnership with the UK Cinema Association and BFI Film Audience Network (FAN), supported by National Lottery funding, the not-for-profit support provider has developed free autism friendly training resources for all cinemas and cinema staff across the country.

Autism friendly screenings are intended to open up cinemas and cinema-going to people with autism, and may help people with autism transition into attending traditional screenings.

The launch coincides with research from Dimensions highlighting the pivotal role of autism friendly screenings in helping people with autism feel valued and included in society.

Elements of a traditional cinema screening can discourage visits from people with autism, 80% of whom have felt excluded from their local community. Their top concerns include too much noise, having to sit through adverts and trailers, and worrying about being judged by others.

The training tackles this with guidance on how to make small adjustments, such as altering the volume and lighting levels. As a result, people who go to autism friendly screenings feel more valued and understood (33%) and more connected to their community (27%).

Crucially, breaking down barriers to inclusion and communication, four in ten people with autism (41%) say that autism friendly screenings give them a reason to leave the house.

Autism friendly libraries and museums

Libraries and museums could be considered autism friendly already, with their quiet and welcoming atmospheres, but feedback states that guests on the spectrum worry about disturbing the peace and 40% never visit.

Dimensions research found 90% of people with autism would visit the library if some changes were made.

In 2016, in partnership with the Association of Senior Children’s and Education Librarians and the Society of Chief Librarians and funded by Arts Council England, Dimensions launched the first edition of its autism friendly libraries training.

In late 2018, Salford Community Leisure Services approached Dimensions as part of an Arts Council funded project: Libraries Live.

They commissioned the work of a Dimensions Quality Checker and expert with lived experience to audit a number of their venues for autism accessibility.

This feedback fed into bespoke reports for Salford Community Leisure Services, revamped autism friendly libraries training and brand new autism friendly museums training which is free.

Key recommendations include clear signs and instructions, staff training and awareness of sensory stimulation. Dimensions hopes these steps will go towards helping the 80% of people with autism who have felt excluded from their local community.

Sarah Clarke, Campaign Manager at Dimensions, said

‘Most people don’t have to think twice about going to the cinema, library or a museum. But if you have autism, they can be stressful experiences. With 80% having felt excluded from their local community, we know how important autism friendly environments are in tackling this issue.

‘We’ve been campaigning for years for more autism friendly environments and we’ve seen first-hand how successful these initiatives can be. But there is still a lot of work to be done.

‘We found that over 90% of people with autism would go to the cinema and library more if there were more autism friendly opportunities. With our new training, we’re calling on every cinema, library and museum in the UK to become autism friendly, to ensure current and potential guests feel welcome and valued, and – in turn – help make society more inclusive.’

Lauren, 18, has autism and helped produce the training. She said,
‘Film is a real passion of mine and I am proud to have helped develop this training with Dimensions. Autism friendly cinema screenings help people feel more relaxed and confident, so you can fully immerse yourself in the film without worrying about being judged.

“It also means so much to families and friends, who can relax and spend quality time together instead of feeling like they have to stay home. It’s so important that there are more autism friendly environments across the UK so everyone can benefit.’

Are you doing anything to mark World Autism Awareness Day or World Autism Awareness Month? Email or tweet My Family, Our Needs and we will share your story.