Monthly Archives

January 2017

A man starring at a TV in a dark room

ABA isn’t Always the Way to Unlock Autism

By | Disability, Hollie Williams, Lifestyle, TV/Film | No Comments

BBC4 had a fascinating documentary this week on a new and controversial treatment for dealing with children with autism. Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is a system of teaching started in the 1960s which stems from a reward and punishment approach that was developed from experiments with animals. It claims to reduce unwanted traits in children with the condition through a system of drawing attention to good behaviour and ignoring or not responding to negative actions. While this approach simply sounds at first to be nothing more than good parenting, ABA has split the autistic community down the middle. Many parents who put their children through ABA programmes swear by its effectiveness. But those who believe that autism isn’t so much a disability but a different way of the brain working disagree.

Watching the two camps articulately argue their cases, it is hard not to fit them into the old opposing social versus medical model of disability and like always I can see real validation in both points of view. I do not claim to be an expert in autism, it is one of the disabilities I find hardest to understand, although ironically I am told by close family members that my personality shares many traits  recognised as symptoms of autism (I sometimes struggle with social cues and communication and am prone to obsessive thoughts and behaviours). I have friends who have been classed as being on the milder end of the autistic spectrum. What strikes me is that autism IS a spectrum of intensity of behaviour, just as Cerebral Palsy is a spectrum of physical and mental ability. No two people are the same.

I can fully understand the intense frustration for parents especially when they struggle to gain any meaningful communication from their children. It must be a very heart-breaking and lonely place to be, and the desperation to try anything that might work must be immense. But, as with the case of PETO in the treatment of those with disabilities in the 1980s, I would think it would be very hard to judge whether a child’s ability to develop skills such as language are indeed down to a course of intensive repetitive treatments, that can last for eight hours a day, or whether they would have picked up them naturally. Practitioners of ABA claim that the tantrums and adverse behaviour displayed by autistic children at the start of a programme when ‘unhelpful’ traits and habits are denied them will lessen over time as they no longer receive a response. But  the question has to be asked how long is it acceptable to leave a child in distress before they learn that their behaviour is getting them nowhere. We know now the autistic brain is wired differently; that the channels of perception of information from the outside world take in stimulus in a way that is different from a ‘normal’ brain. The filters that many of us take for granted to block out much of the data flooding into us every moment of every day simply aren’t there, and many of the repetitive ‘ticks’ and habits are a self-formed method of comforting  and a way of focusing the brain on one thing to form some sort of mental order in their world. It is many of these ticks that ABA works towards removing because they are seen by the wider society as unacceptable. I was struck when watching the programme by a scene that showed a young Swedish boy repetitively turning the pages of a book back and forth and his ABA therapist saying to camera this was not ‘productive behaviour’. While this maybe true, the question must be raised as to who does this behaviour actually hurt and whether, if the repetition gives the child comfort,  does it have a purpose beyond that which we can understand? Are we, as a society,  prepared to spend immense amounts of time and energy to mould autistic children’s minds into a set of pre-agreed social behaviours against their mental comfort and well-being? Is such behaviour on the part of adults a bit abusive when it is basically breaking someone’s will to make them become something they are fundamentally not? Many autistic adults gradually learn to lessen their ticks in public settings to conform but still maintain their way of seeing and reacting to the world as a fundamental part of who they are as a person. In fact, there are those who use their ability to focus and take in immense detail to achieve phenomenal feats in areas such as maths and art. Is it right to ‘cure’ such a way of thinking?

It is hard to knock ABA  when you see the case studies  in which it works. When you witness a child go through the programme and develop and improve you do feel good for not only them but for the relief seen in their parents. But any achievement comes at a cost. A cost of time and effort put in by parents, child and teachers to get the child to that goal and also the loss of seeing where the child’s autistic mind would naturally lead them. By making a child always have to submit to a behaviour decided by an adult in order to get approval and rewards rather than loving them for the person they are, you are perhaps leading them down a road of self doubt where they don’t develop the important ability to decide for themselves and say no.

Image of grey stairs with silver handle bar representing the career ladder

Is Disability Inequality the Employer’s Fault?

By | Business, Kasmin Cooney OBE, Workplace | No Comments

Working within any industry can have advantages and disadvantages for any individual, but especially if you have a disability. As mentioned in my previous blog about the impact of Unconscious Bias in recruitment and selection, it might be harder to get shortlisted for an interview if you’ve spoken openly about your disability in your cover letter. But what happens once you’ve got the job? When you get through the front door of your new career? Is everything ready for you?

A study in 2016 found that 1 in 5 claimed employers failed to make adequate provisions to accommodate their, or their colleagues’, disabilities. This statistic is shocking in a time when 20% of the UK have either a genetic or accidental disability.

According to the Equality Act 2010, an employer must consider making “reasonable adjustments” for a disabled employee or job applicant if:

  • It becomes aware of their disability and/or
  • They ask for adjustments to be made and/or
  • A disabled employee is having difficulty with any part of their job and/or
  • Either an employee’s sickness record or delay in returning to work is linked to their disability.

So does this mean 1 in 5 employers aren’t showing signs of equality in their workplace, or does it mean that they haven’t shown adequate change within their business for their employees?

So once those changes have been made, you’d expect that you would join in with your colleagues on the progression ladder of your new career? According to a study commissioned by the PMI Health Group in 2016, this may not be the case. The study showed that 37% of UK workers believe disability is still a barrier to career progression.

So while you may be completing the same work as your colleagues, you may not get the promotion you deserve.

However, this may not be pinned down to a lack of equality within your office. There may be other factors at hand – born out of lack of knowledge from the employer who only has your best interest at heart.

Purple, an organisation that provides bespoke advice to employers and disabled employees, found that 45% of UK businesses are nervous about hiring a disabled person, citing further concerns about the interview process, not knowing whether to help with tasks such as opening doors or pulling out chairs and falling foul of discrimination law.

So what can be done?

There are many solutions to this issue, but one that ranks higher above all is the need for Equality, Diversity & Inclusion training within organisations.

The common reason for inequality against yourself, or a member of your team with a disability, can stem from a lack of knowledge from both sides. You understand what assistance you need, but are unable to communicate it in an efficient way. Maybe you feel as if you are being awkward, or “don’t want to be too much of a hassle.”

But it can also come from the employer. They may be unable to communicate with you in a way that doesn’t come across as insensitive. They may not understand that you are used to this conversation, and feel comfortable talking about it openly.

Enhance The UK provide Disability Awareness Training in Organisations, and my organisation Righttrack Consultancy creates bespoke Equality and Diversity Training. Both these programmes are designed to help alleviate the awkwardness in these types of conversations, as well as providing practical knowledge, skills and awareness to champion fair, non-discriminatory practice.

Do you think disability inequality is the employer’s fault? Share your thoughts in the comments below…




A man's hand holding a microphone with a black background

A day at the voice bank with Speak Unique

By | Emily Yates, Lifestyle | No Comments

As a manual wheelchair user, my main concerns around access and inclusion usually fall to physical and social access:  ramps, lifts and ample parking space as well as perceptions of disability and how those around me might view me and my impairment.  As a writer and presenter, communication difficulties are something I rarely face.  I have several Deaf and hard of hearing friends, and have learnt so many communication techniques from delivering disability awareness training with Enhance the UK.  We teach delegates common sense communication techniques, from choosing a well-lit meeting room to having Skype as a possible tool for lip reading!

A few months ago, I started working for Disabled Access Day, an initiative that encourages disabled people, their friends and family to try something new, with organisations and institutions doing all they can to showcase the importance of accessibility in their own establishments and the wider community.  Disabled Access Day is powered by Euan’s Guide, the well-known and well-loved disabled access reviews site, founded and co-run by Euan Macdonald.

I recently read this article by Euan.  It focuses on something I was totally ignorant to as a disabled person: the need for voice donation so that people like Euan, with the help of amazing technologies, can communicate using voices with accents like theirs.  As a Yorkshire girl now living in Glasgow, my accent, alongside my chair, is one of the most noticeable things about me, so I decided to donate it!! After an hour reading 400 sentences at the Speak Unique clinic in Edinburgh, my voice can be used by someone else who is partial to the rolling hills and dropped ‘t’s of God’s own county!

To find out more and whether your accent is needed, visit

A steaming hot mug of coffee held by someone wearing knitted grey mittens

Not always a Winter Wonderland: How to survive and thrive in the coming months.

By | Emily Yates, Lifestyle | No Comments

Hearty roast dinners, gift giving and cosy open fires.  Winter really is a season to tickle your tastebuds and satisfy all the senses.  But what is it really like for disabled people? And what can we do, individually and collectively, to survive and thrive in what is not always a winter wonderland?

Travel and Transport

We know it is truly winter when traffic jams rise, trains slow or stop, and the car needs defrosting before it’s roadworthy! But there are things you can do to ensure that you’re as geared up as can be for bad weather and the effect it has.  It is possible to buy long handled ice scrapers for the car, especially for wheelchair users who are unable to reach very far over the windscreen.  It’s always good (although sometimes more expensive) to buy flexible train tickets where possible, just in case there are unexpected hold-ups, and there’s never been a better excuse than slippery floors to treat yourself to a stress-free taxi journey!


Delays in traffic and transport, and generally feeling unwell, can often play havoc with our work lives.  Technology is not everyone’s best friend, but it can be a total saviour for a disabled person who wants to stay business savvy in tougher annual conditions.  Work from home where possible to keep the risk of winter weather incidents low, skype colleagues and potential business partners when it’s appropriate to do so, and don’t be afraid of asking for patience on an automatic email reply if the winter bugs really grab a hold of you!


Keeping a home warm and making sure that colds and flu stay at bay is important all year round, but especially in winter.  Your bedroom and living room, in particular, should be a minimum of 18 degrees, and the consistency of temperature is important to prevent conditions like hives.  Electric blankets and hot water bottles can also be used (but not at the same time!) and you may even be eligible to get government help with a winter fuel payment.  Cold weather does not have to mean a cold home!

And finally… If getting out and about is proving a problem in cold and slippery conditions, let your friends, relatives and colleagues know, and see if they can come to you! It may sound obvious, but all too often we push on alone and then find ourselves run down because we have forgotten to take a break or ask for help.  Winter can be a truly magical time, but it’s also not much fun if it prevents us from doing what we love on a regular basis.  Wrap up, take it easy and enjoy all that this winter wonderland has to offer.