The theme for this year’s International Day of Disabled People is ‘Not All Disabilities Are Visible’. It includes raising awareness of a wide range of conditions – from diabetes and mental ill-health, to chronic pain or fatigue, hearing loss and neurological conditions such as autism.
People are often surprised to learn that disabled Scots make up to 20% of our nation’s population, so a focus on ‘invisible disabilities’ is welcome.
As the dust settles following this year’s Annual Conference, it’s time to develop speeches into manifesto commitments that will improve the lives of people across Scotland, and on International Day of Disabled People, we can explore one such example.
On Monday, the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture, Fiona Hyslop, made reference to a motion brought forward by Shona Davidson, a mum of autistic children.
Ms Davidson’s proposal for an Autism Accreditation Scheme includes mandatory training for employers who take part, providing them with the tools to employ more autistic adults and support them in sustaining their employment in autism friendly working workplaces, including the built environment. The motion passed overwhelmingly.
The creation of an Autism Accreditation Scheme provides Scotland with an opportunity to measure the autism-friendliness of employers.
Ideally, actually autistic adults would be involved in the creation and implementation of such a scheme. This would help provide an inclusive working environment where everyone thrives and ensures that we avoid repeating the mistakes of other well-intentioned employment schemes, where disabled people are stereotyped as either expected to excel or treated as charity cases.
Even worse, after declaring their condition, autistic people are often not genuinely considered at all.
The way our society is structured systematically creates barriers for disabled people, particularly in employment.
Interviews are designed for the neurotypical majority, so neurodivergent people often do not come across well according to the criteria on which we are measured – from making eye contact, to ‘confident’ speech patterns, to body language.
Disabled people sometimes have periods in their lives when we are unable to work or have been unable to find inclusive work, which leads to employment gaps – something application forms are designed to root out as a negative.
An Autism Accreditation Scheme, if run properly and with the input of autistic people, would begin to tackle these barriers.
The SNP Government has a long and successful track record of supporting disabled people.
In Government, we have established the Independent Living Fund and fully mitigated the Bedroom Tax.
We’ve made housing, politics and transportation more accessible and we’re putting dignity and respect back at the heart of Scotland’s new Social Security System.
The introduction of an Autism Accreditation Scheme shows we are not complacent, that we will keep looking for ways to make Scotland the best place to live for disabled people, and that an inclusive economic recovery will benefit everyone.
Jamie Szymkowiak, Disabled Members’ Convener
Stephanie Melnick, Disabled Members Group’s Neurodiversity Education Officer