Autism-Europe promoted access to education and employment for people on the autism spectrum on World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD), April 2, with its two-year Europe wide campaign “I can LEARN. I can WORK”. In 2021, the campaign has received an immense amount of support from autistic people and their families, policy –makers, professionals, and the general public despite the pandemic and its current containment measures.
The objectives of the campaign are to promote access to quality inclusive education for autistic people and to foster positive initiatives related to the employment of autistic people. The second stage of the campaign in 2021, also addressed specific COVID-19 related topics including distance education, reasonable accommodation, mental health and pandemic related challenges.
AE’s activity around April 2nd
On WAAD, AE called on the EU to better develop access to education and employment. AE outlined the theme of the campaign as well as AE’s key demands in terms of what autistic people need to be better set up for success in education and employment. This call caught the attention of the media and AE’s president Harald Neerland spoke live on prime time TV international channel FRANCE 24 about individualised support for autistic people:
Harald Neerland: “Any intervention for a child or an adult with autism has to be individually designed, typically catering to that person’s strengths. A one size fits all approach does not work for this population”.
On 30th March, AE hosted the webinar “I can LEARN. I can WORK” to exchange the latest EU policy developments and practices regarding access to inclusive education and employment for autistic people (in times of pandemic). An on-demand version is available.
The European Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli and Members of the European Parliament (MEP) Katrin Langensiepen and Chiara Gemma provided insight into the rights and needs of people with disabilities across Europe in terms of education and employment.
Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli: “For people with invisible disabilities such as the autism spectrum, life can be especially difficult as they may not always receive the needed tailored support. I am grateful for the invaluable work of experts and civil society organisations who on a daily basis are ensuring that every single citizen’s access to education and employment on an equal basis with others. The pursuit of equality does require a collective dedication and our strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021-2030 is a step further towards a Union of Equality.”
MEP Katrin Langensiepen: “We in the European Union have to make sure that persons with disabilities, persons who are different, and persons with autism, have the same access to a job in the labour market. This is a human right.”
MEP Chiara Gemma: “It is crucial to strengthen the collection of data on the situation of autistic persons in order to adopt appropriate policies and initiatives. It is necessary to obtain reliable and comparable data for the adequate identification of gaps between persons with and without disabilities.”
Other notable speakers included:
Adam Harris – self-advocate, member of Autism-Europe’s Council of Administration, and founder and CEO of AsIAm: “We must use our learnings from the pandemic to come out of this crisis and create a fairer and more equitable Europe for autistic people.”
Ron Fortuna – Specialist Teacher- Target Autism Consultancy: “There are some positives to come out of this situation. During these uncertain times we can shift our focus from a negative thought and turn it into a positive thought.”
Vincent Grimaldi – M&A and recruiting advisory firm for innovative companies, and member of Autism-Europe’s Council of Administration: “Companies who recruit autistic people end up being better managed, more competitive and more profitable.”
Jean François Dufresne – parent and Managing Director of Andros Food Group: “The more integration among non-autistic people the better. Autistic people’s lives should be as close as possible to everybody else’s life.”
The webinar also featured inspiring testimonials from autistic people and their families about their experiences working and studying during the pandemic.
Sharon McCarthy – parent and autism professional from Ireland: “Any strategy we use in order to support an autistic person in a physical classroom needs to be transferred in whatever ways possible into an online setting and when we do that we set the young person up for success to realise their potential and to become their true authentic, autistic selves.”
Michel Belliart – autistic Ph. D. student in Medieval Studies from France: “During the lockdown it was really hard for me to continue working so I opted to focus on my thesis which involved translating (…) I translated a lot and this routine brought me some solace and also gave me a deep knowledge of my sources.”
Pierre Marcantonio – autistic layout artist from France: “When I told my co-workers and my studio manager about my autism, I did not receive any negative remarks. They accepted me without requiring anything in return. It is this acceptance that has enabled me to work efficiently and comfortably in a team, whether in the office or remotely.”
Krystian – autistic young boy from Poland: “COVID-19 is depressing and I wish life could return to the way it used to be when masks were not worn and there was life free of the virus. We need to stick together and support each other. I strongly believe that our community is strong enough to face all troubles.”
The webinar saw more than 250 registrations and was attended by autistic people and their families, autism organisations, professionals, educators, employers, and EU policy-makers.
In the context of the campaign, AE partnered with broadcaster John Offord to release a special podcast on WAAD for his series, “The Different Minds”. In this podcast, Offord chats with Adam Harris (see above). Adam speaks with John about the importance of self-advocacy and being part of the associative movement to advance the rights of autistic people.
Click below to listen to the podcast:
Supporters of the campaign in 2021 so far
On WAAD, many policy-maker at European, national, regional and local level have shown their support to the AE’s campaign, including Prime Minister of Spain Pedro Sánchez, chair of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) of the EU Parliament Lucia Ďuriš Nicholsonová (Slovakia), or members of the Disability Intergroup at the EU Parliament MEP Rosa Estaràs (Spain) and MEP Radka Maxová (Czechia), among others. Other personalities who celebrated WAAD were President of the EU Parliament David Sassoli, or still UN President António Guterres.
This year the autism community came together to make noise around the campaign and show support in various ways for the social inclusion of autistic people in employment and education.
Supporters from across the globe participated in the campaign by taking pictures and videos of themselves performing the campaign “holding a tool” gesture to showcase their skills. These visual were shared on social media platforms to showcase the diversity of ability that society can nurture to be more inclusive.
Photos and videos were sent to us from at least 10 different counties including: Spain, Greece, North Macedonia, Malta, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Italy, France, Romania, or Belgium.
AE would like to thank to everyone who has participated in the “I can LEARN. I can WORK.” campaign thus far. Please note that there is still time to support the campaign!
Those interested can post pictures of themselves on social media using the hashtag #AutismDay2021. They can either hold a tool that represents one of their skills (it can be linked either with their ability to learn, or their ability to work on a specific field) or hold the campaign visual.