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Celebrating World Autism Awareness Week with three exciting announcements

I’m Sarah Clarke, I’m Dimensions Campaigns Manager and I have been involved with our autism friendly initiative for many of my six years at Dimensions. World Autism Awareness Day 2019 sees three exciting announcements from Dimensions about our autism friendly training.

Pictured, left to right: Sarah Clarke | Lauren Rebello | Michelle Rebello-Tindall receiving the IMIS Award in Feb

Today [2 April 2019] is World Autism Awareness Day and – to celebrate – I’m excitedly sharing three new, national autism friendly training materials with you:

Cinemas, libraries and museums all across the country can now use Dimensions autism friendly training to take guided steps on how to be more accessible and inclusive for customers with sensory sensitivities.

It’s been such an honour to be part of the project teams developing these materials, and I’d like to share our journey with you.

The growing need for autism friendly environments

Autism is a neurological condition that affects 1 in 100 people in the UK. That’s around 700,000 people. Autism can affect how people sense and understand the world, but it is an invisible disability so it is very often misunderstood.

We recently ran a survey about living with autism and experiences of autism friendly cinema screenings. An incredible 1,675 people responded. In my role I have read many statistics and stories from people with autism, but I was still shocked and harrowed by what our guests have had to go through.

  • 80% of respondents have felt excluded from their local community, and around 60% worry about being judged by and not understood by other people.
  • 41% of respondents say that autism friendly screenings give them a reason to leave the house and around a third say they make them feel valued, understood and connected to their community.

The results from this survey really hit home at just how important autism friendly cinemas are to our guests, and why we must continue creating more accessible and inclusive opportunities.

Autism friendly cinema screenings

It’s been almost eight years since we partnered with ODEON and hosted our first autism friendly cinema screenings. What started at 40 cinemas has grown into at least one autism friendly screening each month at over 350 sites across the country.

These screenings provide individuals, friends and families the opportunity to enjoy the latest films in a sensory friendly and inclusive environment. So far, we’ve provided 400,000 of these opportunities to new and regular guests.

But we found that more cinemas were asking for help and hosting their own autism friendly screenings. A need for industry training became apparent.

Conversations with our friends at the UK Cinema Association (UKCEA) quickly gathered momentum and they kindly agreed to fund new training.

With myself, Michelle Rebello-Tindall (our wonderful Involvement and Engagement Coordinator) and her daughter Lauren (autism ambassador and our Autism Consultant) on the project team; Dimensions, the UKCEA and BFI Film Audience Network worked together on the written training and a new, professionally produced training video.

In October 2018 we descended on Showcase Southampton with 50 guests ready to record the training video. Our film stars enjoyed a free autism friendly screening of Minions 3 and a LEGO afterparty; Lauren is also a special star in the video with her own segments talking about autism and the screenings.

Pictured: guests at the filmed screening for our training video

Now, fully produced and designed, we’re excited to share Dimensions new national autism friendly cinema screenings training with you. Watch the video on YouTube.

Find out more about autism friendly screenings.

Autism friendly libraries and museums

Libraries could be considered autism friendly already – they are quiet and welcoming venues. But, being worried about disturbing the peace and not understanding the processes or “rules” can cause anxiety.

We ran a survey and found that 90% of people with autism would visit the library more if autism friendly adjustments were made.

We launched the first edition of our autism friendly libraries training in April 2016. It was produced in partnership with the Association of Senior Children’s and Education Librarians and the Society of Chief Librarians and included written training and a video, kindly funded by Arts Council England.

Key recommendations include clear signs and instructions to help raise autism understanding and help guests on the spectrum feel welcome and secure.

Expert led accessibility audits

In 2018 we were approached by Salford Museum and Libraries to provide extra, paid for, support with their autism friendly work.

They commissioned a Dimensions Quality Checker who travelled to Salford and – over three days – audited Salford Museum and four of their libraries for autism accessibility.

Their work was the first of its kind by Dimensions and we’re very proud of what they achieved. They were busy days, with lots of travelling, walking and recording observations.

Their findings helped shape the updated libraries training the new museums training. Together with Michelle and Lauren we produced two guides; one for libraries and one for museums.

Salford Museum and Libraries received a thorough report of our Quality Checker’s observations and recommendations, as well as access to the new training materials before anyone else.

They said:

“Salford Community Leisure Services are now working on a set of social stories for each venue that will give information about visiting these venues, guidance about Library membership and how to navigate the spaces, by September 2019. They will make use of Dimensions’ social stories templates and further support.

“Salford Community Leisure Services has already commissioned autism awareness training for staff, which took place in January and February 2019 and we hope to roll out further training opportunities later this year.

“We hope to make good use of on-line training materials from Dimensions for all library and heritage staff to build on the work we have done so far, and explore the provision of calm spaces in our buildings.”

Find out more about autism friendly libraries

Find out more about autism friendly museums

Find out more about our autism friendly training

It’s truly an honour to work with such wonderful people and partners who have shown nothing but enthusiasm to make the country more inclusive.

I’m looking forward to seeing how cinemas, libraries and museums respond to the training and Dimensions will continue to share updates and stories on @DimensionsUK social media channels and via our enewsletters: