Welcoming Accessibility

I am aware of my autism. Sounds are grating, they twang through my ears like over-extended elastic bands, and I wait for them to snap and hit me.

 

I have things to plan, and I am putting off planning them so that I don’t miss out on what is actually happening now. I don’t want to spend my time in a continuous cycle of minute detail, data analysis, and variable controlling, instead of living.

 

People are aware of my autism, I have had two such examples of adjustments given to me in the past week. Both were thorough and thoughtful and considered, one was unsought.

 

Can you guess which weighed less heavily upon me? There is something about listing your deficits to strangers, that is unsurprisingly horrible.

 

I hate having to say that I find things hard, I hate having to point out what I need to make things easier. It takes me back to what we all have to do to get diagnoses.

 

I once heard Shona Davison give a great talk on the problems inherent in the Medical Model of Autism. No one else has to go to their GP and list all the negative aspects of their personality to learn how they work.

 

No one else has to rock up and say, “My logic is rubbish, problem-solving doesn’t come to me naturally, I’m not at all in tune with my senses, I focus on people to the exclusion of all else, and I’m not a natural pattern-finder!”

 

But that’s what autistic people have to do. They have to examine and remind themselves of all their difficulties, and lay them bare for everyone to pick over.

 

They have to relive all the times they got things wrong, all their social mistakes and the times they were othered. All the moments of hideous embarrassment and shame.

 

Only if you can prove your weaknesses can you be given a diagnosis. That’s how it can feel. In a world where you have spent a lifetime doing your best to mask and hide those things, and focus on your positives, that can be a traumatic experience.

 

It’s not healthy to focus on your weaknesses. It’s not good for your mental health to constantly be telling people the things that you can’t do. No one should be expected to go through life asking for adjustments.

 

When I received the unsolicited adjustments, it was like a weight was lifted from my shoulders. It was a detailed explanation of what would happen and when, it offered information about the order of events, how I would be met, how I could contact people, and it offered me more if I needed it. I had previously been sent pictures of rooms, now I also had names, times, plans.

 

The other group had provided the same. In fact I could even say that the other group gave even more tailored information – since I had asked for specific things – and they clearly put a lot of thought into providing it all.

 

But… I felt lesser for asking. I felt like a pain in the neck. I felt like I was causing people work and getting in the way. I felt vulnerable for revealing my weak points. The world is not always kind, and revealing my soft underbelly doesn’t make me feel secure.

 

There is a difference between accessible and welcome. Both examples showed excellent practice, one made me feel welcome.

 

Some would say that you don’t get what you don’t ask for, and that’s true, but there are ways to make things more accessible for autistic people, without them needing to ask.

 

Websites are useful resources, where possible I would love to see them used to provide photos of rooms, floorplans, photos of reception, photos of the building, photos of staff where appropriate, video walk-throughs. Then all you need to do is have a standard, “Check out our website for more information” when you contact people. No extra work for any individual at any one time.

 

I would love to see invitations include details of who will be present, where it will be held, a brief breakdown of timings. These are things that need to be decided anyway, why not share where practical to do so?

 

I have seen places do this admirably. I have seen interview packs that contain all the information I would ever want to know, sent out as standard to every interviewee. No neurodiverse applicant would need to ask for more, or reveal a diagnose they aren’t ready to divulge. No one has to go through their weaknesses, because everyone has already been treated to as much detail as they want. No one is made to feel unwelcome.

 

I don’t want to be treated like a special snowflake, I want everybody to be treated the same. I want us all to be welcomed in. I want spaces to be made accessible to everyone. I want equality.

 

With Autism Awareness Month looming on the horizon, I am aware of my autism. I am aware of who I am and all my strengths. Autism Awareness month can be a difficult month for autistic people. It can be a month of having your deficits scrutinised publicly. A month of being spoken about as though you’re not listening. It can be a month when many autistic people step away from social media for a while, to avoid being made to feel less than human by well-meaning, but unthinking, words.

 

Words are important.

 

Let’s be a little more aware this year, let’s be thoughtful about how we welcome people in. Let’s be truly accessible.

13 thoughts on “Welcoming Accessibility

  1. “There is a difference between accessible and welcome.” Accessible puts the burden on you to ask, welcome anticipates your needs. Basic principle of hospitality, from bringing visitors into your home to putting on conferences. But it seems over the years we have abandoned many aspects of civility and customer service, this being but one glaring example.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I can absolutely relate to your blog. There is nothing worse than that totally lost feeling when one is in unfamiliar surroundings/ situations. (In the past, whenever I found myself in these situations I always tried to identify the one person who looks most “like they have a clue”. That did not always work out well…) To simply be able to pick up a pack or visit a website where one can find the necessary information without having to “aut”oneself to a stranger ( who more likely than not will be clueless) sounds like heaven……

    Liked by 3 people

  3. For me it’s the human built world. Sure, there can be elements like it’s a life sized role player game. (What’s the floor plan? Which way do which door handles turn? Which keys for which locks jiggled just how? Smile exchanged for passing a goblin; paperwork in exchange for passing a dragon. Enter your password to receive a message.) Losing in a game, well, it’s just a game. Then in the natural world there’s nothing more worrying than a random bear who is usually more scared of you than the opposite. Meanwhile there’s deer, turkeys, woodpeckers, all kinds of trees waving, and boulders poking up here and there in hello = a lot more chill as it’s a predictable world–even when it rains, because then the other humans leave!
    I try not to trade on the Spectrum, but I do want friends to realize why I won’t do something. (The smells of that type of cooking will make me a poor companion. The chairs are the type that consume your spine. The lighting and sound qualities are like tightrope walking on razor blades.) So I just suggest a walk in the woods as there are plenty in every direction.
    Then last week when my supervisor (who’s in the know) heard me tell her that I wasn’t going to the new department Chair’s meeting, she froze for a moment then proceeded to offer two ways I could say my point to the Chair that would be win-win. I thanked her several times. I didn’t have to negotiate. I didn’t have to get into the tortuous explanations. There was no game to be played. She appreciates who I am and what I bring such that she just coached me on how we all could win.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Autistic people don’t know how to solve problems? I didn’t know it, but it explains a lot. Recently, I’m getting a bit obsessed about solving problems.

    I’d also rather read what to do on the web. The internet is great for aspies. I also hate feeling dependent and unable to do things others can. That’s why I was so proud when I first got a job, too embarrassed to complain about bullying on that first job (and the job after that and the one after that) because other people didn’t get bullied. They knew how not to get bullied, and how to stop the bullying if it did happen.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Definitely. I’ve always struggled with knowing how many questions are too many, and it’s much easier if the information is available somewhere for me.

      I’m really sorry you experienced bullying and didn’t feel able to ask for help 💐

      Like

  5. Thank you for this post. I shared it on my Facebook page. My son has autism and I believe that your words are a reflection of how he feels although he does not have the right words to express it.

    Liked by 1 person

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