Businesses in Mid and East Antrim are teaming up with Council to help make the borough accessible and inclusive for all.
Special autism awareness training sessions are initially to be offered in Ballymena, which will shine a light on issues such as mobility, rehabilitation and sensory issues impacting children with more specialised needs, and their families.
Those who complete the training will receive material to promote that their staff have received training and are going the extra mile to assist those with more complex needs.
Deputy Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Councillor Matthew Armstrong, who has been driving the work, explained: “We want to continue to work to ensure Mid and East Antrim is an accessible, safe, welcoming and inclusive place for every single person living in or visiting our borough.
“As a Council, we are partnering with community groups, charities and representative bodies to deliver important training to our elected members and officers – enabling us to better understand the challenges faced by people with physical and mental disabilities, and how we can help overcome them.”
Councillor Armstrong, whose son Caleb lives with autism, added: “We also continue to implement a wide range of adjustments to improve the accessibility of our venues and attractions across the borough, and to help our local retailers and businesses do the same.
“From a trip to the park, to arranging a swim, theatre visit or guided tour, we are committed to doing everything we can to ensure that people of all ages with additional needs, their families and carers, benefit from a welcoming, inclusive and enjoyable experience in Mid and East Antrim.”
The Deputy Mayor has contacted businesses throughout Ballymena inviting them to declare an interest in receiving autism training.
Among those to already pledge their co-operation are the Tullyglass Hotel, Sainsbury’s and McKillens.
Thomas McKillen said: “McKillens of Church Street, Ballymena, are delighted to be offered the opportunity to help with this great initiative. Well done to the Council and all the team. We have always sought to give every family the best possible service to suit their own individual needs. Many families who live with autism come to us for footwear and we will be proud to offer them an even better shopping experience based on the awareness this campaign provides to us.”
Tullyglass proprietor Gus McConville said: “We are delighted to be involved in this vital project and commend Matthew and the Council for their foresight in offering this initiative to local businesses.
“At Tullyglass, it is always our priority that all our guests and visitors have an excellent, enjoyable experience, so we will always do everything we can to ensure that is the case. We look forward to receiving our training in the weeks ahead.”
Previous efforts have seen Mid and East Antrim Borough Council recognised by a number of bodies, including Autism NI – which commended its steps to make Mid and East Antrim an Autism Friendly Borough.
The prestigious ‘Autism Impact Award’ was awarded to Council in 2021 in recognition of its “going above and beyond” to create accessible and ‘autism-friendly’ environments at its venues – including Carrickfergus Amphitheatre, Larne Leisure Centre, Seven Towers Leisure Centre, Carnfunnock Country Park, The Gobbins and The People’s Park.
The Council has also published a series of useful guides to help visitors get ready for their trip to these venues – with details on how to get to and enter the sites, introductions to dedicated and friendly staff available to provide assistance at each location, and a wealth of other practical information.
For more information, visit www.mideandeastantrim.gov.uk/resident/community-planning/