Autism Friendly Environments


Dimensions, a non-profit group providing services that support people with autism and learning disabilities, recently conducted an online poll asking the public what type of business they most wanted to be inclusive and accessible to people with autism. 250 people responded to the poll. Restaurants were voted as the place most people would like to see made more accessible with 32% of people making it their preferred choice. Supermarkets received 27% of the vote, followed by leisure centres (17%), shops (10%) theatres (9%), events such as firework displays or sporting events (4%) and banks with 1% of the vote.

Dimensions lists the following steps for making a business accessible to people with autism:

  • – Autism awareness training for staff
  • – Improved sign-posting of seating areas, payment desks and toilets
  • – Flexibility to alter the lighting or music volume upon request
  • – Accurate waiting times given to customers
  • – Wider varieties of gluten and casein free food for people on specific diets
  • – Ability to ‘queue jump’ if needed to minimise difficulties in waiting for long periods of time
  • – Autism friendly times/days where alterations are made to suit the needs of someone that experiences autism

An example of an inclusive event can be seen in the autism friendly film screenings that Dimensions organizes with ODEN theaters across the UK. It is common for people with autism to have a heightened awareness and sensitivity to lights, smells, taste, touch and sound. This sensitivity can transform a typical outing to a movie theater into an intense and anxiety causing experience for someone with autism. The autistic friendly film screenings limit sensory-overload by keeping the lights on low, turning down the volume, and not showing trailers, which are often full of flashing lights and loud special effects. Movie goers are also allowed to take their own familiar food and drinks into the theater, and to move around the cinema if they want to. The film screenings allow families to go to the movies together, knowing that everyone can enjoy the experience.

Universal Design (UD) is an approach to design that increases the potential for developing a better quality of life for a wide range of individuals. It is a design process that enables and empowers a diverse population by improving human performance, health and wellness, and social participation (Steinfeld and Maisel, 2012). It creates products, systems, and environments to be as usable as possible by as many people as possible regardless of age, ability or situation.