Using data to effectively manage inclusive learning for your entire institution – whether on campus or not.

Using data to effectively manage inclusive learning for your entire institution – whether on campus or not.

As higher education moves into the era of hybrid learning, there has never been a greater need for a holistic approach to assistive technology and mental wellbeing support. CEO Andy Gough of Learning Labs, looks at the need for data to mitigate the effects of remote learning, as well as supporting the new pathway to learning of the future.

Looking ahead with a hybrid of human-digital learning

The future for higher education provision is looking increasingly hybrid. The last few years have provided plenty of practice for this blend of on-site and remote learning approach. However, if this is to become accepted as the new normal moving forward, then the next unprecedented challenge is to also provide engaging and inclusive educational experiences and maximise wellbeing, all within a hybrid learning format.

The global population’s sentiment has been diverging, with expectations, perceptions and behaviours having all shifted as a result of COVID-19 (McKinsey, 2020). During the pandemic, the consumer world accepted a lower level of service from all industries because that human connection we naturally crave (something we now no longer take for granted) was not possible. Moving out of lockdown restrictions, the higher education sector was tasked with not only delivering the educational goods, but also delivering on customer satisfaction in a format and at a level not tested before. No longer will consumers accept that certain aspects of service are currently unavailable – there is now a greater expectation that service providers will innovate online – because consumers want more choice, support and care in every area of their lives.

In higher education, the need for greater accessibility and wellbeing support is more in demand than in any other sector.

In terms of accessibility, individual students can apply for Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) and receive recommendations for a variety of assistive technology solutions, training and e-learning. However, not every student is aware of this and not every student qualifies, but most would still benefit from this level of support. Universities are responsible for providing reasonable adjustments to ensure an inclusive learning environment for all, and finding solutions that create real value across a broad spectrum of needs can be challenging.

There has also been an increase of 450% of students declaring a mental health issue on their UCAS application over the last decade, and UCAS say there is still more to be done in removing the stigma surrounding such a declaration, as they believe this statistic should be higher (Starting the Conversation: UCAS report on student mental health, June 2021).

Furthermore, the lesser talked about, but still equally important wellbeing support, is for staff in higher education. Staff who, under increased pressure to deliver outstanding educational provision, also need to be considered in an inclusive mental wellness programme themselves. This can all add up to being a daunting task for higher education providers to achieve successfully.

How can data support student mental wellbeing?

Mental wellbeing has become too big of an issue in higher education to manage without being able to look at data. There is an abundance of services, apps and resources, both free and paid-for, that higher education providers can use to support students and staff in mental wellbeing. But without raw data and understanding relating to markers of mental wellness, there is neither the means of measuring it, nor tailoring guidance that directs individuals to the right resources at the right time. Ultimately, resources are great but without strategy, measurement and evaluation, who’s to say if any of it pointing in the right direction or working at all?

Spotting this need for simple measurement of mental wellness we (Learning Labs) began working on our own mental wellness portal to be able to collect and extract this type of data, and most importantly to turn it into information. We teamed up with mental wellbeing research experts at the New Economic Foundation (NEF, who have previously worked with the NHS and Mind), and created a new concept for understanding and managing mental wellness called The Six Domains of Mental Wellness™.

The Six Domains explains there are six different influences in our lives that can impact our overall wellbeing; the impact of this is that an individual can assess their mental wellness status in each of the Six Domains, they can then take digital Action Labs to help them maintain and improve in each of the Six Domains. Breaking down a daunting subject of mental wellness into six simple parts makes it more manageable at an individual level.

Then, at a total institution level, higher education providers can access a dashboard of anonymised data that shows them the current status of mental wellness across their entire population. Progress can be tracked, and evidence can be shared with key stakeholders (think: reports for parents by term and year, for example).

Looking at the bigger picture (outside of individual learning and single institution needs) there is an opportunity to uncover unknown data trends in student mental health across the UK. By understanding mental health in relation to demographics or geography, we could create benchmarks for what successful mental wellbeing support in higher education should really look like. To date, we have released our first ever HEI Wellness Index for UK universities in 2022, follow the link to download the free report.

How can e-learning support accessibility and inclusive learning?

Statistics show that people with learning disabilities are more likely than neurotypical people to also have mental health issues. This is why Learning Labs offers bite-sized e-learning tutorials (or as we call them, Labs) on assistive technology, study and career skills, accessibility tools and mental wellbeing – all in one holistic digital platform.

Online support is the obvious solution, but it is not the single solution and ensuring you have access to real-time data is only when it becomes a worthwhile investment. With access to more digital tools, the possibility of personalising support is even greater. Granted, there will be less face-to-face support, but that’s where digital solutions can help maintain that personal connection between professional and student, meeting the new post-pandemic world expectation, even when students are learning remotely, off-site. Just as learning is taking a hybrid approach, the holistic solution to inclusive learning should also be based on a hybrid framework of human, digital and other resources – led by the data.

I’ll leave you with something my colleague Rosie Maguire, associate at the New Economic Foundation recently explained to me about understanding the challenges facing students today: “As we move through the different stages of our lives, we encounter changes and challenges that evidence shows can impact our mental wellbeing. Students starting university often go through these life-change events all at the same time; moving house, navigating independent living, becoming financially (more) independent, starting a new course, making new friends etc.”

When you consider how starting university is in fact a cluster of life-changing events, it is easy to see how this segment of young people can struggle – there are simply too many major events occurring with this one move. Offering a holistic, inclusive digital solution to inclusive learning can be the thing to just help move the dial on attainment in our current era of hybrid learning.

Find out more about how Learning Labs can support your institution’s accessibility and mental wellbeing by clicking here.

Initiatives improving accessibility in the world around us

In the middle of the image is a large blue circle with 'accessibility' in the middle. Around the word are 6 accessibility icons. To the left is an image showing how to sign 'B' 'S' and 'L' in British Sign Language. To the right is the What3Words logo

Initiatives improving accessibility in the world around us

This month sees the 13th annual Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) take place. It’s fantastic that we have a dedicated day to accessibility. It gets people talking about and acting on accessibility. However, with approximately one billion people or 15% of the world’s population experiencing some form of disability, it’s important to not let the momentum slide and ensure you have 365 days a year dedicated to accessibility. That’s why this month I wanted to take a look at what’s been happening since last year’s GAAD so we can see how far we’ve come in 12 months and what could happen before GAAD 2023.


Sharing accessibility resources

At the end of last year tooltester conducted a study which looked at 200 of the most popular websites across the globe and ranked them on their accessibility. There was a mixed bag of results. H&M was the most accessible site with just 0.38% of the site begin inaccessible. Amazon came in second with just 0.72% of their site showing as inaccessible. At the other end of the scale was ASOS with almost a quarter (21%) of their site being inaccessible. ASOS responded to the report by saying:


“We want everyone to be able to confidently shop at ASOS. We take issues of accessibility incredibly seriously and regularly conduct full audits of our websites and apps to ensure we account for everyone’s unique needs and experiences.

“Since our last audit, we have made a number of changes, including adding alternative text to images, sound and captions on product videos and improved adaptability for keyboard-only users.

“However, we know there are always ways we can do better so we will review the report in detail and assess any further improvements to ensure the ASOS experience remains as inclusive as possible.”

Studies like this are important as not only does it alert companies to their accessibility errors but it also enables them to see what is being done by companies succeeding in accessibility thus supporting them on making their website as accessible as possible. This study prompted ASOS to put accessibility in the forefront of their long-term development plan, not just for one day.

While I was researching this blog I came across a handy tool which gives you an insight into how many people who visit your website may have a disability, just by putting in the number of visitors your website has. For example, if a website has 1,000 visitors 160 of those visitors could be deaf or hard of hearing, 90 could be dyslexic and 10 could be autistic. Find out the stats of your website by clicking here.

Tweeting in an #AccessibleWay

Twitter has recently highlighted how accessibility is an ongoing commitment. For a while twitter has enabled users to add alt text to their images. This is text that describes the image which ensures individuals using a screen reader or speech-to-text programs can get the full context of your tweet. However, twitter has recently took this feature a step further by adding an ‘ALT’ badge in the corner of images that contain alt text. Prior to this, if you retweeted someone else’s tweets, you would not know if that content was accessible or not. Having the ‘ALT’ badge clearly on display also prompts users to find out more about the feature and hopefully make their tweets more accessible.  


Accessibility away from the computer

Although it’s believed that the UK spends on average 6.4 hours a day in front of a screen, when it comes to accessibility, it’s important not to forget the offline world. The recent ‘Accessibility in Hospitality’ survey found that 71% of customers want more to be done to address the lack of accessibility in the hospitality industry. The survey was completed by a large database of people with and without a disability aged 18 to 66+. The results showed, while 58% felt hotels adhered to disabled people’s needs, only 16% felt leisure facilities were accessible with restaurants scoring 14%, pubs 7% and quick services just 5%. So what can be done to improve these stats over the next 12 months?


Communicating important changes

Last year London Euston train station became the first train station in the UK to provide the latest passenger information using British Sign Language (BSL). Anyone who’s travelled by train will know things don’t always go to plan. That’s why London Euston has a team of BSL interpreters on call ready to create content during periods of unexpected disruptions, reducing stress and anxiety for the 87,000 people in the UK who have BSL as their preferred language.


You may have seen Learning Labs posting a monthly BSL word on our social media to encourage more people to learn the language. Already this year I’ve learnt how to sign ‘I love you’ and ‘pancake’. Below is a really useful travel related BSL video to help increase your vocabulary further.  


Improving accessibility with three little words

Visiting a new location can be a daunting experience. You are faced with many unknowns. What’s the best route to take? Will the building be easy to find? How will I know which entrance to use? Even if you do extensive research via Google maps you’re not guaranteed to find the answers to all your questions due to street addresses not always taking you to the correct location and many rural places and parks not having an address at all. That’s where navigation app what3words can help. What3words has split the entire world into three metre squares and given each square a unique combination of three words, making it easier to find and share exact locations. This in turn can help remove these feelings of anxiety you may get from visiting a new location as well as improving a locations accessibility. For example if you wanted to navigate to the gates of Buckingham Palace you navigate go to worked.view.broke. To get to the Sydney Opera House you’d navigate to


Our head office in Hebburn has two entrances. One which leads to the main office and one which takes you directly to our warehouse. To find our main office entrance you would need to navigate to rust.status.fists. To visit our warehouse you would need to navigate to answers.elsewhere.rotations. We have clear signage at our head office but what if you have a visual impairment or you don’t read English? I’ve certainly seen what3words increase in popularity over the last 12 months. Just the other day I received a flyer through the post advertising my local Go Outdoors store. On the flyer next to the store address and map was the what3words address. What3words is making the world more accessible three metres squared at a time. 


A cartoon birds eye view of the industrial estate the Learning Labs offices is on. The building in the centre of the top line has the Learning Labs logo on the roof and an arrow pointing to the words rust.status.fists

Over to you

I’d love to hear from you about any accessibility initiatives or processes you have seen. Through sharing knowledge and using accessibility initiatives all year round I believe we can build on the foundations GAAD gives us, ensuring accessibility is for life not just for Global Accessibility Day.

How aware are students of the Access to Work programme?

An office. There's a lady in a wheelchair sat behind a desk, a man carrying folders, 2 people sat having a meeting, a lady carrying a tablet, a man with a cane walking towards a lady behind a desk.

How aware are students of the Access to Work programme?

Learning Labs’ Strategic Relationship Manager, Michelle Brown, recently wrote a guest blog for assistive technology, training and support provider, Dyslexia Box. 

Back in 1994 the Access to Work programme was set up with the aim of helping individuals with a physical or mental health condition or disability get or stay in work. During the 2020 to 2021 financial year 37,170 people were in receipt of Access to Work payments. However, of those 37,170 only 10% were aged 25-29 and just under 10% were aged 18-24, the age groups that are most likely to be transitioning from education to work. Could the numbers within these age groups have the potential to be higher? Are there people entitled to Access to Work who are missing out and therefore encountering unnecessary barriers within the world of work? That is what e-learning portal Learning Labs and the All-Parliamentary Party Group for Assistive Technology (APPGAT) recently set out to answer.

What is student’s understanding of Access to Work?

Earlier this year Learning Labs and APPGAT teamed up to learn what student’s understanding and experience of Access to Work was. Learning Labs sent a 25-question survey to its students that had claimed Disability Student’s Allowance during their time at university and were now in their final year of study and therefore likely to be applying for Access to Work in the near future. The survey was completed by 371 students. The most notable finding from the survey was that 80% of students had never heard of Access to Work. As a reminder, these are students that are in their final year of studies and will therefore be entering the world of work very soon.

Have you heard of the Access to Work scheme? 80.24% no 19.76% yes

When asked if their university provided them with any information about disability support in the workplace (for your post-graduation career) 66% of respondents said no. This explains why, out of the 19% of students who had heard of Access to Work, 33% of them had discovered it by conducting their own research.

A cartoon of a man pointing to a whiteboard which has the following written on it and a pie chart showing the following percentages. Has your university provided you with any information about disability support in the workplace (for your post-graduation career)? No 66.31% yes 11.32% Unsure 22.37%.

It is therefore important that conversations about Access to Work take place before, during and after a job search to ensure as many individuals as possible benefit from the programme. To enable this joined up process to take place everyone from university Careers Advisors to DSA Needs Assessors to employers need to be aware of, and championing Access to Work.

40% of survey respondents said they would consider turning down a job offer/leaving a job if they did not receive the appropriate support for their needs. It’s therefore important that any support continues throughout their career.

With a Learning Labs account employees receive access to over 4,000 Labs. Each Lab guides them through how to use a particular Assistive Technology software from SuperNova Magnifier and Screen Reader to Spellex Write-Assist. With remote working increasing in popularity there are also Labs on useful software such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom. As everyone has a different learning style all Labs are available as a Do, Watch or Read Lab with Quiz Labs providing a fun way to challenge yourself once you’ve completed all the Labs for that particular software.

The good news is initiatives have already been announced to try and bridge the gap between education and the workplace for people with a disability. At the beginning of December, as part of their National Disability Strategy, the government announced a new pilot ‘passport’ scheme to complement the existing Access to Work grant scheme.

The passport will contain all the necessary medical information, adjustments and benefits a graduate already receives. This will prevent them from having to undergo repeated health assessments and repetitive disclosures that are part of the job and grant application process. The passport also aims to empower the graduates and grow their confidence around having the conversations about their disabilities with potential employers.

With any effective conversation though it should not be one-sided. It’s important that everyone the student encounters along their journey to employment, from DSA Needs Assessors to Career Advisors and even employers are aware of and having open discussions about Access to Work.

Hopefully with these conversations taking place, and these new initiatives from the government, when Learning Labs and APPGAT repeat the survey over the coming years we will see the statistics flip and 80%, if not 100%, of students will HAVE heard of Access to Work.

Three innovative pieces of assistive technology that can help you fulfil your New Year’s resolution

A large 2022 in the background. In foreground 5 people. A person is running on running blades, 1 is riding a bike, 1 is doing yoga, 1 is walking with a cane and 1 is playing playing wheelchair tennis

Three innovative pieces of assistive technology that can help you fulfil your New Year’s resolution

New year, new you?

A recent survey found that 40% of UK adults planned to make a New Year’s resolution. Were you one of the 40%? Have you already broken your New Year’s resolution or did you not bother making one? After recently speaking with a meditation partitioner my resolution is to make sure I take time out for myself and to try meditation. I also want to try new things and get out of my comfort zone. That’s why, even as someone who absolutely hates heights, I have signed up for an indoor climbing class.

Year on year one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions is related to physical wellbeing such as exercising more, joining a gym or just getting out more, for example a daily walk. The benefits of exercise and getting outside are well documented. Recent research has found that low-intensity aerobic exercise for 30-35 minutes three to five times a week for 10-12 weeks is an effective way of increasing positive moods, for example enthusiasm and alertness. At Learning Labs we feel so strongly about the benefits of physical activity on your mental health that one of our Six Domains of Mental WellnessTM is literally called the Physical domain. Within this domain users can assess their own physical mental wellness as well as learn how physical activity helps their mental wellness and discover tools to develop their physical mental wellness.

An image of the Six Domains for Mental Wellness wheel with the word physical in the centre. To the left is a wheelchair basketball player and to the right is someone running on running blades.

However, if you have a disability there can be barriers in place that prevent you from exercising when and/or as often as you like.  A recent study found 78% of disabled people would like to be more active. That’s why, for this month’s blog, I would like to highlight three new pieces of assistive technology that could provide independence and help individuals enjoy the physical and mental benefits that come with exercising.

Socially distanced guiding

I first learnt about the companion cane during our CPD Rev TV series last year when our keynote address was by celebrity adventurer, entrepreneur and TV presenter, Amar Latif. Inspired by the challenges people with a visual impairment had encountered during the pandemic, Amar wanted to create a cane that enabled users to be guided whilst also social distancing. The companion cane is a horizontal cane design, with handles on each end, that extends from 1-metre to 1.5-metres. Users can safely walk either by the side of their guide or, if there is limited room, behind them without having to have physical contact.

Once social distancing is a thing of the past the companion cane will still be useful. By having horizontal extendable arms, the cane provides independence for the user as they can be assisted without a guide being by their side. As Amar says in the promotional video for the companion cane, which is available in full below, “sometimes you just need a bit of space”.

Nod and go

The recently developed munevo DRIVE is empowering wheelchair users who cannot use their hands to experience the great outdoors independently, without the reliance of someone having to help them manoeuvre their wheelchair. 

The user wears a pair of smart glasses, which look near enough like any other pair of glasses. The glasses use built in sensors to translate head movements into control signals. The signals are then received, via Bluetooth, by an adapter attached to the electric wheelchair. The munevo DRIVE doesn’t just control wheelchairs. The smart glasses can also control smart home systems, smartphones and computers.

The developers of the munevo DRIVE are aware that not only are we all individual but our abilities and requirements will change over time. That’s why the munevo DRIVE includes a 20 second function which enables users to readjust the system depending on their sitting position, daily form or even the weather. You can check out the munevo DRIVE in action via the video below.

Hands-free footwear

A recent study asked people to rate their mood immediately after periods of physical activity (e.g. going for a walk or doing housework), and periods of inactivity (e.g. reading a book or watching television). The study found that participants felt more content, awake and calmer after being physically active compared to after periods of inactivity. Nike has recently enabled more people the option to exercise independently with the release of their Nike Go FlyEase trainer.

The Nike Go FlyEase trainer has an innovative design which enables it to be worn without the use of hands or laces. The trainer has a tension band that snaps into place when a foot is placed inside. To take the trainer off all you need to do is step on the heel to release the tension.

Nike were inspired to design the trainer after 16-year-old Matthew Walzer, who has cerebral palsy, emailed them explaining how he, and millions of people across the world, struggle to put on footwear. In his email Matthew wrote ‘At 16 years old, I am able to completely dress myself, but my parents still have to tie my shoes. As a teenager who is striving to become totally self-sufficient, I find this extremely frustrating, and at times, embarrassing.’ When the hands-free trainer was released Nike stated ‘this translates to serving the broadest range of active lifestyles possible — whether the wearer is champion fencer Bebe Vio, a student racing to class or a parent with their hands full.’

A gif of someone putting on the hands free trainers

What do you think?

I’d love to hear from you if there are any other examples of newly released AT that you think should have made it on to my list. You can let me know via the comments below. I’m also interested to hear if you have set yourself a particular challenge as a New Year’s resolution? Maybe you plan to run a marathon for the first time in 2022.

Feel free to message me also if you would like to know more about our mental wellness portal and our Physical domain of mental wellness or any of our Six Domains of Mental WellnessTM.

Initiatives that are making online and in-person marketplaces more accessible for the Purple Pound

Initiatives that are making online and in-person marketplaces more accessible for the Purple Pound

With a new Christmas advert launching almost every day recently it is safe to say the festive period has well and truly begun. Whether you have Christmas shopping down to a fine art purchasing presents throughout the year or, like me, do your Christmas shopping online in bed with a cuppa, chances are you’ll find yourself purchasing some gifts on the high street or online in the coming weeks.

After a subdued festive period, last year, advertisers are expected to spend almost £1bn more marketing their products this year. That budget will cover an array of things from filming adverts to promoting those adverts online and even targeting specific groups of shoppers. There’s an array of terms allocated to different groups of shoppers and their purchasing powers. The pink pound refers to the purchasing power of the LGBTQA community and the purchasing power of elderly consumers is referred to as the grey pound. As someone who works within the DSA sector I have a particular interest in what initiatives are available, all year round not just at Christmas, to make shopping more accessible for the purple pound, the purchasing power of people with a disability.

Learning a new language

Earlier this month the fourth annual Purple Tuesday took place. Through their six commitments Purple Tuesday aims to engage with organisations across all industries and of all sizes to promote understanding, put in place the right solutions, and equip staff to provide a quality customer experience 365 days a year.

One of Purple Tuesday’s commitments is ‘learning British Sign Language’ which encourages organisations to train their staff on key words and phrases in British Sign Language to enable basic conversations with customers who use this as their main form of communication. It was while I was researching for this blog that I found out British Sign Language (BSL) is the preferred language of over 87,000 Deaf people in the UK yet only 10% of people in the UK know more than two words in BSL. To help increase this number, starting from next month, Learning Labs will be regularly posting a BSL phrase on our social media channels and encouraging staff and our followers to learn the phrase. With just one phrase we’ll have learnt more words in BSL than what 90% of the UK population know. To kick things off below is how you can say ‘hello, how are you?’ in BSL. 

Quiet hours

Quiet hours in supermarkets are becoming more commonplace. During these times lights are dimmed and checkout noises are lowered to prevent shoppers with autism feeling overwhelmed. Tesco stores in Scotland recently announced it is making its quiet hours, which take place every Wednesday and Saturday between 9am and 10am, a permanent fixture across all its larger stores. Earlier this year the high street toy shop, The Entertainer, announced its quiet hour will be extended to run every day for the first hour of opening in all of its 171 stores. These are great initiatives and definitely a step in the right direction. However, for initiatives like this to be effective, it’s important that all staff get appropriate training so they know why the initiative is taking place and what else they can do to help the people the initiative is aimed at. This is highlighted further by Purple Tuesday’s commitment of ‘provide customer training’. Through face-to-face, online or blended forms of training staff can feel empowered to confidently communicate with a person with a disability without fear of unintentionally offending them.

I saw a great example of this joined up working a few weeks ago on twitter. An Arsenal fan tweeted about their experience of taking their son who has autism to a football match. His son found the atmosphere overwhelming and wanted to leave. As they were leaving a steward made them aware of a sensory room where they could watch the rest of the match from. Rightly so, the tweet went viral gaining over 80,000 likes and 12,000 retweets.

I touched on this topic in my previous blog where I spoke about the app WelcomeMe. The app enables users to set up a unique profile where they can list factors such as their access needs and support they may require. When the user selects a business that is also using the app the business receives the information from the user’s profile as well as advice linked to the information the user has inputted e.g. how to interact with a guide dog.

Whether your business is customer facing or not it is still important that all your staff feel confident and aware when discussing disability in the workplace and everyday life. That’s why we ensure all our staff complete our disability confidence course during their induction period. We also offer this course to external businesses. Please drop me a message if you’d like to talk more about our disability confidence course and the possibility of offering it to your workforce.

Online marketplaces

It’s important that digital marketplaces are just as, if not more, accessible to the purple pound. It’s not surprising with the various lockdowns that took place, last year saw online retail sales increase by 36% which amounted to approximately £243 billion. If a physical shop has their front door locked during trading hours you’ll simply shop elsewhere. But what if you visit several shops and all of them have no way of purchasing what they are selling or even seeing what they are selling? This unfortunately is the scenario many people with a disability find themselves in every day when they try to shop online. Research from the Click Away Pound Report, which covers the accessibility of online shopping, found that nearly 70% of shoppers with accessibility issues leave an e-commerce site due to poor accessibility. So how can we make online shopping more accessible?

According to WebAIM’s latest Screen Reader survey which was completed by over 1,000 users who regularly use screen readers, 60% feel the accessibility of web content has either not changed or actually got worse over the past year. Over 70% believe this is due to a lack of awareness or skills around web accessibility. This highlights the importance of everyone, customer facing or not, being confident and aware when discussing disabilities. Earlier this year National Rail and Network Rail websites switched their design to black and white as a mark of respect following the death of Prince Phillip. This was a touching tribute but, due to the lack of contrast between the colours used, meant the site was unusable for many users who had a visual impairment. 

National Days are a great way to highlight a particular issue. Every year Global Accessibility Awareness Day takes place with the aim of getting everyone talking, thinking and learning about digital access and inclusion. However, it’s important that we think about digital access and inclusion all year round.

So how can you ensure your website is accessible? One word. Testing. There are numerous companies out there that will look through your website and highlight the accessible issues you have. Some will be a quick fix whereas others may take longer to implement. This is a process that we have been through ourselves at Learning Labs.

What do you think?

A recent survey found that less than 10% of organisations have a targeted plan to access the disability market. With the purple pound spending power estimated to rise 14% per year this feels like a missed opportunity for consumers who have a disability and businesses that should be serving them, especially when something as easy as a website audit or learning some useful British Sign Language phrases could make a significant impact almost straight away. Imagine what we could achieve if our new year’s resolution was to make our website/store more accessible.  

As always, I’d love to hear from you. Have you seen any other initiatives that are making shopping more accessible? Maybe you know of some websites that are doing accessibility really well. 

How the 2021 summer of sport showed the Six Domains of Mental WellnessTM in action

How the 2021 summer of sport showed the Six Domains of Mental WellnessTM in action

After the false start to 2020’s sporting calendar one thing I’ve enjoyed this summer is the return of sporting events such as Wimbledon, the Euros and, of course, the Summer Olympic and Paralympic games. Athletes had to learn to navigate disrupted training due to the pandemic with swimming pools, gyms and cycle tracks closing for unknown amounts of time, it was fantastic to see the athletes doing what they do best, often in front of a global audience.

The most important take-away that we gained from the 2021 summer of sport has to be the open discussion around mental health amongst the athletes and how this is just as important as their physical health. US gymnast, Simone Biles, pulled out of the Olympic all-round final to prioritise her mental health, Japanese tennis player, Naomi Osaka, withdrew from the French Open earlier in the year and decided not to compete in Wimbledon to preserve her mental health. In July England cricketer, Ben Stokes, decided to take an indefinite break from all cricket with immediate effect to prioritise his mental wellbeing.

At Learning Labs we are lucky enough to have access to a mental wellness portal which enables us to learn about mental wellness then assess and develop our own mental wellness. The portal is based on our very own unique concept called the Six Domain of Mental WellnessTM. It was while I was seeing the coverage of athletes opening up about their mental wellness that I realised I was seeing real-life examples of, at least, two of our six domains in action.

Your Social Wellness Domain in action

One of the drivers behind the social mental wellness domain is community. Having a community available to support you when you need it can have a positive impact on your mental wellbeing. During the pandemic, when many people were experiencing difficulties maintaining their mental wellness, communities came together to help each other whether that be checking on people living alone to prevent feeling lonely or shopping for elderly or shielding neighbours. When she was unable to train due to gym closures, Canadian Paralympic wheelchair basketballer, Arinn Young’s, local community worked together to find weight room equipment and space for her to practice.  However, a community is not limited to your immediate geographical community. It can be a community of people who share the same interest e.g. football fans, an online community such as a forum or Facebook group or people who share the same profession.  During the pandemic many people’s perception of community would has changed. Due to lockdowns many people turned to the online world to find their community.

When Simone Biles announced her break to concentrate on her mental wellbeing she received an outpouring of support. Simone tweeted “the outpouring love & support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before.” Via twitter, Simone was receiving support from her online community. People from all corners of the globe were helping her maintain her Social Wellness. She also received support from a different community, other professional athletes – people who shared her profession. Her fellow team USA gymnasts offered support as well as former Olympic figure skater, Adam Rippon, British gymnast Max Whitlock and Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba, just to name a few.

Your Motivational Wellness domain in action

Autonomy is one of the drivers for the Motivational Wellness. This is the ability to act on personal values and interests and therefore feel in control of your behaviour and decision making. When Naomi Osaka made the decision to withdraw from the French Open she was doing just this. She was aware that press conferences were affecting her mental wellness so she acted on her personal values and interests and decided to remove herself, temporarily, from the situation. Over the last few months any interviews she has conducted with journalists have been via email. Earlier this year British Paralympic swimmer, Hannah Russel MBE, talked openly about her break in 2019 after she was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. She said “For me, taking out a little bit of time was really, really important for me and my mental health. I realised how much I missed my swimming”.

Within the Motivational Domain you can learn about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. It goes into a lot more detail than this but in a nutshell extrinsic motivation focuses on behaviours driven by external rewards such as money or praise and intrinsic motivation focuses on behaviours driven by personal values and interests. It is safe to say that when Naomi decided to withdraw from the French Open she was acting on her intrinsic motivation as not only was her decision met by many unjust negative comments but she also got fined $15,000 by the heads of the French Open.

Naomi’s decision was driven by her intrinsic motivation, which in this instance outweighed the external motivation to compete. Occasionally we need to weight up the pros and cons of each motivator and follow the motivation that leads to the most positive outcome for our mental health.

What do you think?

A survey found that 40% of men won’t talk about their mental health so, the fact that male athletes like Ben Stokes, who has 964,200 followers on twitter, are putting conversations around their mental health into the mainstream is certainly a step forward. But where do we go next? Now that mental health conversations are taking place it’s important we act on these conversations and ensure mental wellness support is available from school through further and higher education and into the workplace and beyond. Only then will we see the topic of mental health truly normalised. 

As always, I’d love to hear from you. Are there any other notable individuals you’ve seen recently speak out about their mental wellness – they don’t have to be a professional athlete. Also, do not hesitate to contact me if you’d like a demo of the new Learning Labs mental wellness portal to see how it could benefit your students, employees or future Olympians.

Initiatives that are providing inspiration on accessible approaches

Initiatives that are providing inspiration on accessible approaches

Technology is frequently providing new and innovative solutions which make the world more accessible. However, it can feel like every day there is a new app, piece of software or website revealed. Working within the DSA sector I am aware that when it comes to widening accessibility in education and workplace universities are leading the way in inclusive learning strategy. It’s important to not get tunnel vision though and only concentrate on the sector you are working in. It’s important to look at what other accessible approaches are available from other sectors. That’s why for this month’s blog I’m discussing accessible approaches that may have passed you by due to them not being associated with the DSA and education sectors.    

Making your weekly food shop more accessible

In the UK, there are almost 2 million people living with sight loss. Of these, around 360,000 are registered as blind or partially sighted. New accessible approaches are frequently being offered. Last month Guide Dogs committed to supplying more than 3,500 visually impaired children with free iPads and iPhones after research revealed the damage caused to their personal development by a lack of access to technology. Following a successful trial last year cereal brand, Kellogg’s, has announced they will be adding world-first NaviLens technology to all of their cereal boxes in 2022. NaviLens is a code, similar to a QR code, which can be scanned by a smartphone. The smartphone will then relay to the user the information that is held by the NaviLens code, in this case ingredients and allergy information. Unlike other types of printed codes the new NaviLens technology includes high contrasting-coloured squares on a black background. This means that users do not need to know exactly where the code is located to scan it. In fact, a smartphone can pick up the code from up to 3 metres away. After the initial trial earlier this year the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) conducted an evaluation which found that 97% of the participants agreed that they would like to see more of these accessibility features available on grocery packaging in the future.


Using an app to take away the anxiety of visiting a business for the first time

Research has shown that 75% of disabled people have had to leave a store or website, unable to go through with their purchase because of their disability. Last year, a survey by accessibility review website, Euan’s Guide, found that 93% of respondents try to find disabled access information before they visit somewhere new. WelcoME is an app which has recently launched. The app enables users to set up a unique profile where they can list factors such as their access needs and support they may require. Businesses also register on the app. Current businesses using the app include Scottish Parliament, Salford Leisure and Edinburgh branches of Next. When the user selects a business that is also using the app the business receives the information from the user’s profile as well as advice linked to the information the user has inputted e.g. how to interact with a guide dog. Businesses can ensure that any support such as a sighted guide are readily available enabling the visitor to immediately start their work out or shopping spree.

The app doesn’t just benefit that particular user. It benefits future users as well. By providing accessibility training that the business can then immediately put into practice staff are more confident for the next time that customer, or someone with a similar disability, visits.

Similar to the training offered by WelcoME, at eQS we ensure that all new members of staff complete our Disability Awareness Course which provides knowledge and facts about disability today from legislation to appropriate support. Please drop me a message if you’d like to talk more about our disability confidence course and the possibility of offering it to your workforce.

Helping with metre readings whilst being miles away.

My colleague Richard recently told me about Be My Eyes, an app he has downloaded which connects blind and low-vision people with a sighted volunteer. When a blind or low-vision user requires assistance the app will connect them to a sighted volunteer via a live video call. The sighted volunteer can answer the call or, if it’s not a convenient time, they can choose to ignore it and it will be picked up by another volunteer. As of last week, the app had 5,006,058 volunteers, of which I am now one, was supporting 322,892 blind and low-vision people in over 150 countries using over 180 languages.

A few days after downloading the app Richard received a call from someone needing help with an electricity metre reading. Richard said: “It felt really good to have helped someone and it only took a couple of minutes out of my day.”

What do you think?

Whilst researching this blog I came across the following quote from a user of the WelcoME app, “It’s not the technology doing the job, it’s the technology empowering people.” I think this sums up perfectly the role new apps, pieces of software and websites should play in providing accessible approaches.

I want my blogs to start conversations so please let me know of any other accessible approaches you’ve discovered. Do you think there’s a current issue that could benefit from a new accessible approach? I’d also love to hear of any topics you’d like me to cover in future blogs. 

REPORT: Study that reveals there are six factors of mental wellbeing could hold the key to supporting HE in new era of teaching and learning.

REPORT: Study that reveals there are six factors of mental wellbeing could hold the key to supporting HE in new era of teaching and learning.

As our latest study reveals the factors impacting mental wellbeing and how we can improve them, we spoke to Higher Education students and professionals to hear first-hand about their experiences over the pandemic and share how our findings could support the new learning approach of the future. Read the special report here.


A new era and a new challenge for higher education

For the last two years the world has harked back to life pre-COVID-19 times, however as the dawn of a new era beckons, it’s becoming clearer that world is not going to go backwards. A recent consumer report showed exactly that; people have adapted to a new, digital-first landscape. Therefore in order to be successful, organisations in all sectors and industries, need to prepare for the future instead of trying to recreate the past (Qualtrics XM Institute, May 2021).

In the higher education (HE) sector this new era looks increasingly hybrid: using a mix of both on-site and remote learning. This was borne out of the need for campus closures and digital classrooms, but unfortunately also comes hand-in-hand with one of the biggest challenges that will remain post-pandemic, which is supporting mental health.

Data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) and COVID-19 UK Student survey from Save the Student both showed that student mental health is declining at a worrying rate. More than half of students in the UK reported their wellbeing and mental health has worsened due to the Covid-19 pandemic. There has also been an increase of 450% of students declaring a mental health issue on their UCAS application over the last decade, and UCAS say there is still more to be done in removing the stigma surrounding such a declaration, as they believe this statistic should be higher (Starting the Conversation: UCAS report on student mental health, June 2021).

George, a first-year student at the University of Sunderland, has had to seek support from her university after the pandemic took a toll on her mental health. She said:

“Lockdown left a lot of us feeling lonely and isolated after being put into a situation that was completely alien to us. As I have been living alone, my whole first-year experience has been relatively quiet, and I haven’t made many friends at Uni outside of my course. I have been lucky enough to be able to come home to Cumbria during lockdown, which has been amazing for my mental health as being alone can be quite challenging. I have accessed support from the Disability Services team in relation to my mental health, and they have been amazing throughout the process. I am currently getting a support plan put in place so that my lecturers can support me with my mental health struggles.”


Here at Learning Labs, over the last 18 months, we’ve noticed more and more students like George who are citing mental health conditions as their reason for applying for Disabled Students Allowance (DSA). Recognising this as a symptom of the student mental health pandemic, we worked in partnership with New Economic Foundation (who have previously worked with NHS and Mind) to study the underlying factors responsible for mental wellbeing and improve them.

Speaking of why the pandemic has impacted student mental health, Rosie Maguire, New Economics Foundation Associate, said:

“As we move through the different stages of our lives, we encounter changes and challenges that evidence shows can impact our mental wellbeing.”

“Students starting university often go through these life-change events all at the same time; moving house, navigating independent living, becoming financially (more) independent, starting a new course, making new friends etc. Combine this with doing it all in the face of a global pandemic and the unprecedented challenges that also come along as a result, and it becomes very easy to see how this segment of young people are struggling right now.”

Our study revealed The Six Domains of Mental WellnessTM and how six factors impact our overall mental wellbeing, which includes our emotional, physical, social, motivational, intellectual and spiritual wellness. We wanted to speak to HE students and staff directly, because by applying this Six Domain concept to the current challenges facing HE, each domain has a part to play in supporting the transition into a ‘new normal’ this coming autumn term.

Campus closures, moving home & the digital classroom.

So, what factors have triggered a new way of teaching and learning? Estimates made earlier this year suggested almost half of the country’s students were receiving their tuition online, as universities across the UK took measures to shut down campuses to prevent the spread of the virus.


Eve Howarth, a second-year fashion student at the University of Sunderland said:

“I’ve missed being able to go into Uni and just sitting and getting on with work independently in a space where you feel productive. I really loved them days where I didn’t have things on but would still go to Uni and sit and be productive all day! At home, I don’t have that same motivation.”


Hannah Layford, an Academic Tutor at the University of Sunderland, said:

“Over the pandemic, we’ve tried to ensure that students feel connected, and I know myself and my colleagues have put in a lot of additional work to create useful resources for students to access from home. However, we are noticing that the impact moving home and giving up their space in student accommodation has had a big impact on students mental wellbeing and sense of independence.”


Anna Maria Haida, a Cypriot national currently studying in her final year for BSc (Hons) in Marketing at Newcastle University, remained in the UK as the country went into lockdown and international borders closed.

Speaking of her experience, Anna Maria said:

“I didn’t choose to stay in the UK. I had no other option because the borders were closed. For now, I decided to come back because I knew many of my friends would be at Newcastle so that I wouldn’t feel alone. At first, the idea of studying from home didn’t sound that bad. However, it took only a month to realise the opposite was true. Not interacting with my lecturers, classmates, and people in general, made me feel super lonely. I would say it led to depression after some months. This made me miss my home and family, so I became homesick, and due to restrictions in Cyprus, I had no other option than to stay in the UK.

“The digital classroom felt less insightful and less meaningful for sure. It was as if I was doing recaps, and that was it. Even though we had some seminars, most of my classmates were not responding when we had break-out rooms to discuss. Also, I felt discouraged and intimidated to ask questions etc for some reason. No one had their cameras on, and no one was speaking except the lecturer, so there weren’t really any interactions.”

Six Domains: A strategy for the new HE world

Louisa Rogers, a lecturer at Northumbria University, said

“I didn’t choose to stay in the UK. I had no other option because the borders were closed. For now, I decided to come back because I knew many of my friends would be at Newcastle so that I wouldn’t feel alone. At first, the idea of studying from home didn’t sound that bad. However, it took only a month to realise the opposite was true. Not interacting with my lecturers, classmates, and people in general, made me feel super lonely. I would say it led to depression after some months. This made me miss my home and family, so I became homesick, and due to restrictions in Cyprus, I had no other option than to stay in the UK.

“The digital classroom felt less insightful and less meaningful for sure. It was as if I was doing recaps, and that was it. Even though we had some seminars, most of my classmates were not responding when we had break-out rooms to discuss. Also, I felt discouraged and intimidated to ask questions etc for some reason. No one had their cameras on, and no one was speaking except the lecturer, so there weren’t really any interactions.”

Autumn term: the hybrid learning approach

As the autumn term approaches over the next few months, many UK universities are looking towards this hybrid approach to learning becoming the new normal for many students. While the digital classroom is undoubtedly the safest option for universities to protect students from the risk of infection when they return to campus, this model still poses challenges. As our interviews identified, there are still many issues that need addressing. Namely, how engaged students are and how much this impacts students’ clear desire and need for social interaction with their peers.

Our CEO here at Learning Labs, Andy Gough, hopes the findings of this report can help universities to navigate through these unprecedented times, he said:

“We know that conversations on mental health are becoming more commonplace, but it can still be quite tricky for students to know how to check in with themselves and understand how they’re doing. The crucial resolution here is to empower individuals with the knowledge of how to improve how they’re feeling. Based on the findings of our study into mental wellness, we created a new piece of software called Learning Labs Plus. The tool enables students and staff to learn about mental wellness, check their mental health regularly, and take action with interactive tutorials that maintain and improve mental wellness – and are designed bespoke for a higher education environment.

“For universities, we can provide them with an oversight log in to see an at-a-glance summary of how their total student and staff population are feeling as well as highlight specific wellness domains that may be impacting them the most. For instance, we may see the Social Domain is looking low, then the university may want to reach out by promoting online social clubs, and we could create a bespoke Lab on ‘finding your tribe at uni whilst learning remotely’.”

Jenny Wotherspoon, lecturer and programme leader at the University of Sunderland, said:

“I can definitely see how it could be helpful for students to start to break down those different aspects of their mental health and identify which bits they need to improve. To tackle each part individually makes it more manageable to put processes in place to become more resilient.

“Mental health and mental resilience issues have always been widespread among my students and I’ve seen this increasing over recent years, but this year the pandemic has undoubtedly exacerbated this. For students who have found ways of managing their mental health, this year has been particularly challenging due to the fact they’re not getting that social interaction, so the social wellness domain I think has been the tipping point through the pandemic for students who are already struggling in the other domains identified in this research. Self-motivation is something we constantly battle to instil in students as this has a direct impact on academic success and employability too, but is another area where students have identified that they’re struggling this year. So they’re already showing awareness of some of these domains of mental health themselves.”


The Six Domains of Mental Wellness™ has been created by e-learning specialist Learning Labs in partnership with the New Economic Foundation. You can access the official research study behind this concept here, including detailed methodology. Interviews with Higher Education professionals and students in the above report have been conducted over email, with both asked for their thoughts regarding university life throughout the pandemic and, having been provided with details of the study’s findings, how they felt this supported their feelings and/or experience of the pandemic.

The future of events is hybrid: how digital tools will merge with the return of face-to-face events

The future of events is hybrid: how digital tools will merge with the return of face-to-face events

Inspiring stories and new ideas from the DSA sector with Michelle Brown

As eQS Strategic Relationship Manager my job is to create and nurture relationships with disability and mental wellbeing professionals. As the newest member of the Learning Labs Customer Success team, we may not have had an opportunity to connect yet, so I decided to start a monthly blog to help you get to know me (and vice versa) and to open up discussions about, and spark inspiration around, disability and mental wellbeing.

In a year where everything went online from schools and places of work to even pub quizzes, I can safely say I’ve attended and hosted more online events than in a normal 12-month period. According to the Post Covid-19 Event Outlook Report 93% of event organisers plan to invest in virtual events moving forward. Virtual events or at least digital aspects of events have become the norm, and with many benefits is clear to see why they are here to stay for the foreseeable future ,whether that be as a stand-alone event or part of a hybrid one.

As much as I’m looking forward to attending live industry events, when it is safe to do so, I’ve also become a bit of a fan of virtual events. Last month Learning Labs exhibited at our first virtual event. Technology meant there was no danger of us getting lost finding the venue and no need to carry heavy roller banners or sales resources. We simply logged into our virtual stand and uploaded all our resources the day before ready for people to download. When people visited our stand, we immediately knew their name, job title and workplace and after the event we could see how many people had downloaded specific resources. This enabled us to instantly see what people found engaging and not so engaging. This got me thinking how technology has helped overcome the challenges industry events have seen in the last 18 months and how this will support the new future of events, which I think will take a more hybrid approach between face-to-face and digital.

Challenge 1: Attendees dealing with screen fatigue

Solution 1: Using apps to create interactive content

During the pandemic people were spending every aspect of their lives online, from attending work meetings on Microsoft Teams to speaking to friends and family via Facetime. On top of that you’re battling with distractions you wouldn’t experience in person, from Amazon deliveries to traffic noise or your neighbours mowing their lawn. Online events have to ensure the content is engaging so that it can cut through these distractions.

One app that I found useful in making my online webinars more interactive is Kahoot. You may have used it when everyone was doing quizzes to pass the time during lockdown. It’s a game-based learning platform which enables you to create your own multi-choice quizzes. The quicker you answer correctly the more points you receive so it unleashes everyone’s competitive side. Not only do quizzes add interaction and fun to online events but research has found they can help embed information in our brain.

I have also used MentiMeter to open up discussions during my online webinars. You can ask a question then attendees simply login there and then and answer it anonymously. Everyone sees the responses in real time via a word cloud with the most popular answers growing in size. It’s a lot more fun and engaging than just posting a question in the chat box for people to answer and with it all being anonymous it is more likely that people’s answers will be authentic, which creates a more valuable discussion.  

As we think of returning to live events, these digital tools can also be used as part of a face-to-face experience, offering a great way to encourage audience participation. Blending the interacting digital elements attendees have come to expect and feel comfortable using on webinars, I think we will see more of these in face-to-face events.

Challenge 2: Restricted attendee numbers due to social distancing

Opportunity 2: The birth of truly hybrid events

Pre-pandemic it was health and safety and fire regulations that determined the amount of people that could attended an event. Now venues are unable to run events at full capacity to ensure social distancing can take place.

By offering a hybrid event; giving the option for people to attend in person or remotely, you’re opening yourself up to a larger audience. This is where the event is not just face-to-face and using elements of digital tools, or distinctly online only but truly merges the two together to cater for the needs of in-person attendees and remote attendees at the same time. With hybrid events businesses no longer have to worry about travel or accommodation costs if an event is taking place at the other end of the country or the other side of the world. Simply login and experience the event at home or in the office and participate with discussions happening live in the room.

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During April and May last year Learning Labs had planned to host the CPD Revolution events from eight locations across the UK. Obviously, these could not take place in person, so we moved the sessions online, changed the content accordingly and decided to reschedule the live events to the end of the year (more on how that turned out in a minute). Overall, we had 462 people attend the online sessions. Before we had to move the events online, we had 323 people booked on the live events.

Sadly, our rescheduled CPD Revolution live events coincided with another national lockdown at the end of 2020. We evolved the series further and created our CPD Rev TV live stream event. In the feedback for our online events several people listed not having to travel as a positive. The pandemic has prompted us to look into the feasibility of our next CPD Revolution series potentially being a hybrid event to ensure as many people as possible can attend. You can view the highlights of our CPD Rev TV live stream events via the video below:

What do you think?

It seems the majority of people are ready to start attending outdoor events such as gigs and festivals, I for one have everything crossed that Glastonbury will take place next year. But do people have this same eagerness to attend industry events? I’m interested to know your thoughts on the future of events. Are you ready to get back to a busy exhibition hall or put your glad rags on to attend an industry event ceremony or are you quite happy to carry on logging in to attend? Let me know your thoughts by filling out this short survey.

It would be great to get to know as many of you as possible so please do introduce yourself via the comments. As well as acting as an introduction I also want these blogs to start conversations so please let me know what you thought of my first blog or feel free to suggest a future topic.

Check out the events page of our Learning Labs website to join me at one of our latest events or webinars.  


The people and organisations raising awareness of autism 52 weeks of the year

The people and organisations raising awareness of autism 52 weeks of the year

If you’ve read any of my previous blogs, you’ll probably have noticed I love a national day/week/month. They are a great way to get people talking about a particular issue, for example, from 26th March – 4th April National Autism Awareness Week took place with World Autism Day occurring on Friday 2nd April. It was through researching autism during this period that I learnt it’s estimated there are 25 million autistic people in the world. Until a generation ago autism was frequently misunderstood and misdiagnosed, creating autisms ‘invisible generation’. Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby, who has performed a comedy special for Netflix where she talks about her autism, was diagnosed at the age of 38. Scottish singer Susan Boyle was diagnosed at 51 and Welsh actor Sir Anthony Hopkins was 77 when he was diagnosed.

It’s important the conversations and education that are prompted by a national day/week/month continue throughout the whole year so we can increase our knowledge and understanding. That’s why this month I wanted to talk about the people and schemes that are championing inclusivity of autism all year round.

Discovering an authentic voice

Representation of autistic characters in TV and film have often been perceived as stereotypical geniuses such as Raymond in Rain Man or Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory. Yes, some aspects of these characters are true of autism for some people. However, as with all developmental disabilities, the strengths and challenges each person experiences varies. By ensuring mainstream media includes an authentic, more diverse representation, a greater understanding of what autism is and how it effects the individual can be achieved. This can also empower autistic people who see a more authentic representation of themselves on screen.

English naturalist and TV presenter, Chris Packham, Swedish environmental activist, Greta Thunberg, and Paralympic swimmer, Jessica-Jane Applegate MBE are three autistic people that are challenging these stereotypes. Within their efforts to raise awareness of pressing subjects such as conservationism and climate change, they are also educating the world about autism simply by being themselves.

A powerful voice in global politics

Greta Thunberg first made it into the public eye in 2018 at the age of 15. She had started spending her school days outside the Swedish Parliament to call for stronger action on climate change by holding up a sign that read Skolstrejk för klimatet (School strike for climate).

Greta was diagnosed with autism during childhood, at the age of 12. When Greta first made it into the public eye, she did not disclose her autism diagnosis not because she was ashamed of it but because she knew (in her own words): “many ignorant people still see it as an ‘illness’, or something negative”. This unfortunately still rings true with many trolls targeting her on social media due to her autism. Greta has fought her corner brilliantly often using humour to silence her critics, who sometimes include world leaders. After one trolling experience Greta tweeted: “when haters go after your looks and differences, it means they have nowhere left to go. And then you know you’re winning!” Her autism is now something she freely talks about in interviews describing it as gift that “makes me see things from outside the box. I don’t easily fall for lies, I can see through things.”

At just 18 years old she has already received several honours and awards such as inclusion in Time’s 100 most influential people, being the youngest Time Person of the Year, inclusion in the Forbes list of The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women (2019) and three consecutive nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize (2019–2021). By being vocal about her autism and standing up to trolls Greta is using her platform to help educate people on autism as well as showing autistic people old and young that they don’t need to hide in the shadows. They have a voice and they can use it to create great change.

Representation on National TV

Chris Packham has been a regular on TV for over 30 years. You may know him from his time presenting The Really Wild Show in the mid 80’s to early 90’s. More recently, he has become a staple for BBC nature programmes such as Springwatch and Winterwatch.

Chris was diagnosed with autism at the age of 44. Since then, he has been using his established TV career to help raise awareness of autism. Talking about his autism in a 2018 interview Chris said:

“I’ve been very fortunate to have been given a small voice because of the work I’ve done on television and elsewhere and I think that therefore I have a duty to use that voice to try and make things better for others. It’s very difficult for some members of the autistic community to articulate the way that they feel and the problems that they have […] I hate the idea of loads of people out there not able to have fulfilled lives, play a role simply because there isn’t a wider understanding of the condition and a degree of tolerance in society. I had a duty to stand up for all of those people that didn’t have that voice.”

In October 2017 he became an ambassador for the National Autistic Society. That year he also presented a BBC documentary about his experience of autism. You can watch the documentary in full here. During the documentary Chris is walking his dog in a forest, a setting that is associated with calm and relaxation. Chris explains the sensory overload he is experiencing. Not only is there traffic in the distance and a jet flying overhead but there are also several birds, all of which he can name, singing to each other.

To have a better understanding of autism it’s important to be aware of experiences such as sensory overloads. The National Autistic Society has produced an insightful video (below) which tries to convey the sensory overload an autistic person may experience when in a busy shopping centre.

Inclusion in sport

During her career as a Paralympic swimmer, Jessica-Jane Applegate MBE has set more than 70 British records. At the age of 15 she was the first British S14 swimmer to win gold in this category. When she was four years old she was diagnosed with autism. Similar to Chris Packham and Greta Thunberg, Jessica-Jane uses her voice to educate and raise awareness around autism, particularly autism in sport.

In the summer of 2019 Jessica-Jane was a guest speaker at the very first Sport You Can conference. The conference took place in parliament and showcased the best examples of inclusion within sport for people with learning disabilities such as autism. Speaking at the event Jessica-Jane said “Sport must become accessible to everyone whether you want to take part yourself, coach, volunteer, spectate or socialise. It’s fantastic for physical and mental health and actually changes lives.” Unfortunately, the event did not take place last year due to the pandemic but hopefully it will become an annual event.

Jessica-Jane has also helped open up discussions around autism in sport through her work with Sport and Autism (UK) CIC, or Spautism for short. Spautism was formed last year and aims to improve the quality of the experience for autistic people competing, spectating or working within sport. From interviews with successful autistic sports people to sharing positive autism in sport news stories, Spautism is opening up the conversation around inclusion within sport whilst empowering autistic people that may have some concerns about joining a sporting community.

Over to you

As always, I’d love to hear your views. Let me know in the comments of people/organisations/schemes you know of that are championing autism awareness during all 52 weeks of the year. The above are examples of work being done by a few individuals. Imagine the acceptance and inclusivity that could be achieved and the stereotypes that could be banished if the conversations that were created around National Autism Awareness Week took place every week.