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Autism Review: Autism, Neurodiverse and Learning Disability Friendly Waterfront Festival

I recently attended the Autism, Neurodiverse and Learning Disability Friendly Waterfront Festival at Leeds Dock organised by Leeds Autism Services and the Canal and River Trust.

I wanted to share my experiences of the event in terms of how accessible it was for autistic people. I will cover:

  • the information available before the event,

  • the accessibility of the event,

  • Royal Armouries horse shows.

Information available before the event

There was information available before the event about the accessibility in advance which included:

  • the activities that were on,

  • information about the location of the quiet spaces,

  • information about the sensory environment,

  • what you might want to bring with you,

  • a video showing the same event from last year.

There was also extra information added closer to the event about the accessible horse shows that were put on by the Royal Armouries.

All information about access wasn’t in the same place so it would have been easy to miss some of the information provided. Having one page for the event dedicated to access would have made this much easier to locate.

Accessibility at the event

The first thing I noticed when I arrived was that the event was on the same day as a graduation, so the area was very busy. This, for me, meant the event was quite overwhelming so it would have been better if the date wasn't the same as a graduation.

The busiest area was where the stalls for the different organisations were, so I didn’t spend much time in this area but there appeared to be a good mix of organisations represented including:

  • Leeds Autism Services,

  • Leeds Autism AIM,

  • Specialist Autism Services,

  • Canal and River Trust,

  • Leeds Museums and Galleries.

I did spend most of my time in this area at the Leeds Museums and Galleries stall. Whilst I was there, I noticed they were doing tours of the Leeds Discovery Centre store as part of the event. It was a real shame that the event listing hadn’t mentioned this. I had planned my day around the events listed so wasn’t able to take part in a tour. This further highlights that all information about the event should have been in one place so that information wasn’t missed.

In the access information, it did mention that there were 2 quiet spaces available however, I didn’t notice where they were. There didn’t appear to be any (obvious) signage about them in the event space or in the museum.

I didn’t take part in any of the water based activities due to my own access needs but it was clear how much everyone was enjoying what was on offer.

My final point on the general accessibility is that the terminology used throughout was 'person with autism' which would not be my preferred terminology. I have raised this with Leeds Autism Services after a previous event but this doesn’t appear to have been addressed. It would have been good to acknowledge different terminologies to reflect everyone attending.

Royal Armouries Horse Shows

My personal highlight has got to be the horse shows, as I was really impressed with how accessible they were!

There was information provided before the event which included:

  • Performers would play themselves not a character,

  • Performers faces wouldn’t be covered,

  • Background music would be removed,

  • Relaxed seating would be involved.

I did also notice information about how they would use gun firing in the 2pm show, including a countdown to when it would happen. I am so glad they decided not to do this as it would have been too overwhelming!

Usually there are long queues before a horse show just waiting to get into the arena but there were no queues on this day. You could just go straight in which made a lot of difference. I hope that ways of implementing a better queue system are going to be available at future events here.

The removal of the usual background music meant that it was much easier to focus on the commentary, which was also really clear. Having been to, and worked at, so many of these shows over the years, it made me realise just how much better the experience was without the background music!

The performers were still in costume, but the commentary made it clear why they were wearing those costumes.

Overall, there were so many things from these shows that I hope become part of how they are usually run as it made so much difference.


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