FOUR North-East Job Centres are celebrating after achieving gold standard accreditation for their commitment to autistic customers.

Staff at Job Centres in Sunderland, Washington, Southwick, and Houghton Spring worked extensively since 2019 with the North East Autism Society (NEAS) to learn about neurodivergence and adapt their practices to better accommodate autistic visitors.

Jan Neve, customer service leader for the area, said: “Working with the North East Autism Society has been incredibly rewarding. Creating an environment that meets the needs of customers can be so simple, but it can make a huge difference for people.

Customer insight is so significant when encouraging customers into work, and our partners at NEAS helped us to better understand the needs of our autistic customers – we all feel we’ve learned a great deal from the experience.

More than 500 employees – including work coaches, front-of-house staff, and customer care officers – have now received the NEAS autism training, earning the Society’s exclusive Gold Standard for Autism Acceptance Award.

Derek Groves, NEAS’s employment services manager who delivered the training, said:

I was very impressed at not only the dedication to improving the experience for autistic and neurodivergent customers, but also at how committed staff are to sustaining and sharing the training and changes we put in place.

Through its business training and education arm, the Autism and Neurodiversity Academy (ANDA), NEAS has helped dozens of organisations better understand and accommodate the needs of neurodivergent people.

To be awarded Gold Standard status, organisations must demonstrate an extremely high level of understanding around autistic issues, introduce dedicated training plans for employees, make reasonable adjustments to their environment, and implement autism-friendly measures in day-to-day practice.

Among other measures, the Sunderland Job Centres achieved these goals by nominating an autism lead in each branch, and introducing an ‘About Me’ passport – a printed booklet of personalised information to help customers quickly and discreetly communicate neurodivergent needs to staff.

Staff also took time away from their desks to visit the Society’s specialist school in Sunderland before lockdown began, to better understand how to interact with autistic young adults.

It was a real pleasure to work with them,” added Derek, “and we hope we’ll be able to build on such a successful partnership going forward.

If you would like to know more about the Autism and Neurodiversity Academy (ANDA) please email [email protected]