Time to make Peterborough autism-friendly

Not everything that matters gets media or political attention. One of the things that I want to do as the city’s MP is to put the spotlight on certain issues that affect people locally, without many of us realising, writes MP for Peterborough Paul Bristow in his weekly column.

Saturday, 11th January 2020, 5:00 am
Paul Bristow MP

A good example is the way that those with autism can struggle in everyday situations, which don’t pose a problem for others. I want Peterborough to become an autism-friendly city.

Other places in the UK offer training for residents and organisations to help them support people coping with autism. Peterborough should do this too. We can only reach our potential as a city when local people are able to reach their own, individual potential.

There isn’t enough awareness or understanding of autism and the challenges that adults and children with the condition face. Not everyone’s brain works in the same way. A little more kindness, patience and sensitivity can make a big change, including within our healthcare and emergency services and the way they interact with residents.

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Some relatively small changes would help people with autism to travel more easily on public transport. The same applies to shopping for food and clothes, as well as taking part in sports and other leisure activities. Becoming an autism-friendly city starts by being aware of the challenges that different groups face.

Over the coming months, I will be meeting local charities, voluntary groups and the city council to make this ambition a reality. No one should be left struggling in Peterborough because we have missed easy solutions.

It’s particularly important when it comes to employment opportunities. There is a jobs divide between those with autism and those without – just as there is a jobs gap between disabled and non-disabled people. Government initiatives such as Disability Confident and Access to Work are making a positive difference. These schemes provide some of the support that job applicants and employers need, maximising opportunity and our potential workforce.

There are also local companies who already go the extra mile. This was made clear to me when I visited Westcombe Engineering in Fengate, an employer that knows people with disabilities are capable of achieving extraordinary things. Westcombe are a shining example of what is possible, proving that everyone can stand to benefit from an understanding approach.

Nationally, the Conservative Party Manifesto made a commitment to produce a disability strategy by the end of this year.

I’m doing my bit to urge that the strategy includes proposals for people with autism and learning disabilities.

Lots of progress has been made in recent years, but so much more is possible. Let’s start by doing simple things to fix that in Peterborough and ensure that we are here for everyone.