Guest contributor: Mari Saeki, Project Lead for the Greater Manchester Autism Consortium Project
(Written 05 October 2020)
Since February 2020, the Greater Manchester Autism Consortium has been running a campaign called The Greater Manchester Enabling Employment Campaign. This campaign has a single aim, to raise awareness of the strengths and gifts of autistic and learning disabled people within the workplace. The strengths are not only corporate social responsibility, or filling equality and diversity policies, but your business and organisation benefitting greatly from employing autistic and learning disabled people.
We can talk about the woefully low figures of autistic people in work, at just 16%, or learning disabled people in work, at only 6% - but far more interesting is the positive reasons why employers would employ autistic and learning disabled people. This is what our campaign aims to do. We spoke to employers such as Autotrader, Cisco, Sharp Future, BBC and ABL Health Care and we spoke to many autistic and learning disabled employees who worked within a variety of settings such as in local authorities, freelance work, corporate mentoring and charities.
The conclusions were universal - what works for autistic and learning disabled employees, works for everyone. Adjustments made in these workplaces include more individualised communicated styles, greater awareness of the impact of sensory factors on stress and anxiety, more time to employees who needed it, clearer instructions and more efforts to provide visual backups with communication.
The positives that came out from those small adjustments were great to see. The autistic and learning disabled people we interviewed for the campaign were so enthusiastic about what work had given them, but unfortunately the journey to getting these jobs was often long and arduous. Often, support had not been reasonably adjusted to meet the communication and sensory needs and in one instance, the employee had been told they should reduce their aspirations to voluntary roles. Many of the autistic and learning disabled people we interviewed had felt driven out of organisations by colleagues and managers who did not understand, and failed to make appropriate adjustments.
At this point, I think we should mention our colleagues in the many employment support organisations across Greater Manchester, that had helped many of the employees interviewed in our campaign. These include organisations that offer employability support, as well as supported employment, mentoring and coaching. Examples who are key members of our group include Pure Innovations, PossAbilities, United Response, Bury Employment Support, Wigan Supported Employment, SEND Code and Digital Advantage to name but a few.
GMAC run a group called the Greater Manchester Autism and Learning Disability Employment Implementation group. Rachel Jones is the chair (Salford CVS and Chair of North West British Association of Supported Employment – BASE) and Mari Saeki (Project Lead for Greater Manchester Autism Consortium project) acts as secretariat to the group. The group was launched as a response to the GM Autism Strategy and the GM Learning Disability strategy and has multiple stakeholders including people with lived experience of autism and learning disability, employment support organisations, DWP and various social enterprises. The group have also launched an employer forum to follow up the campaign work. We are keeping this group small at the moment, but if you have an interest in employing autistic and learning disabled people or you have some good practice to share with us please get in touch with Mari.
The next steps for the implementation group are to develop a training offer to employers, including a webinar that we would like to put together for the Good Employment Charter. We also think there is some specific work to do to support self -employed people or those who wish to be self-employed. The group are a really passionate and innovative bunch, so get in touch if you have any ideas we could follow up. Whatever way we get there, our mission is to make sure that in the next few years we see far more autistic and learning disabled people in jobs across the vibrant economy of Greater Manchester. You would be missing out if you are not part of that journey!
All the campaign films and blogs can be found here.
The Greater Manchester Autism Consortium
The Greater Manchester Autism Consortium project is funded by the 10 Greater Manchester Councils and local NHS organisations.
Their work includes providing information and advice to autistic people, family members, carers and professionals. This involves training for professionals in health and social care, and good practice sharing with events and workshops.