On 5 March the one-day conference organised by AT-Autism, explored Autism-Friendly Environments: "Can Universal Design bring success?" The event was attended by 60 guests, comprising organisations and individuals eager to learn more about making reasonable adjustments that enable access for autistic and other neuro-diverse people. The conference drew on personal and professional experience and evidence of autistic and scientific work. The “design for living” themes covered practices ranging from architecture to facilities, transport, services, education, and employment.
Speakers on the day included several senior academics including autistic academics, a specialist architect and policy experts, whilst the day's proceedings consisted of an interactive programme of talks, panel discussions, and workshops.
VENUE ACCESSIBILITY AND INCLUSION
In the lead up to the event, the dedicated event coordinator team of Church House worked together with AT-Autism to offer an inclusive and accessible venue for delegates.
The organisers prepared pre-event information relating to accessibility that utilised simple colours, plain English as well as simple and consistent layouts. The objective for circulating these materials in good time is to prepare delegates for their visit in advance and making the unfamiliar accessible. Pre-event information for a conference of this nature is essential in anticipating expectations of attendees and reducing anxiety.
Communicating pre-event information, which included
• Venue details, such as
- a 360-degree virtual tour that offers a walk-through tour of Church House from the convenience of a laptop or PC, with no sound to avoid potential triggers
- a visual aid showing the location of venue entrances and journey details from the nearest tube stations, Westminster and St. James’s as well as parking
- displaying the event space for the event, which was the Harvey Goodwin Suite, conveniently located on the ground floor, with step-free access from Great Smith Street
- showing the layout of the event space for the conference, detailing seating arrangements and allowing plenty of space in the room for freedom to move around for the delegates.
- indicating facilities available within Church House, including the location of restrooms, how to find quiet rooms with comfortable seating and a PDF document of venue accessibility.
• Programme information, such as
- timings, with a proviso that these may be subject to change but an overriding commitment of keeping to the timings throughout the day
- requests to communicate any dietary requirements in advance.
- communication of a sensitive applause to be upheld during the day’s proceedings to accommodate sensory sensitivities such as hyperacusis and tinnitus.
Creating awareness of the physical environment, collaboratively
- On the day, Church House’s Front of House team was available to support the organiser’s staff and volunteers in identifying delegates who needed assistance. The wearing of badges indicated to delegates that help may be sought from these individuals throughout the day. Delegates wore colour-coded badges which provided a guide as to permissible interaction.
- to ensure a comfortable and relaxed environment, Church House’s in-house audio-visual team kept lights low and ambient. Soft lilac backlighting was used around the stage set.
- highly polished surfaces were reduced and it was ensured that there were no uneven surfaces
- mugs without saucers were used for tea and coffee breaks to reduce noise.
- no scented products were allowed.
The event organiser pro-actively asked for feedback from attendees and speakers on the day and post-event to improve on future events, which was then shared with the Event Coordinator in a post-event follow-up.
Jacky Towells, Director of AT-Autism, commented after the conference: "Once again, the Church House team excelled. Nothing was too much trouble and everything possible was done to ensure the setting for the event was flawless. All delegates commented on how much the environment contributed to their enjoyment of the day".
View images and posts from the conference on Twitter #AutUD.