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North East woman working to enhance autism acceptance

North East woman working to enhance autism acceptance

Published 04 Apr 2024

Katie Toner from Northumberland is a neurodivergent business owner and advocate working to help North East businesses and organisations become more inclusive. 

Katie who is 29-years-old and from near Hexham was diagnosed as autistic and ADHD within the past three years and is now becoming an effective and active voice for equal opportunities and inclusion for the neurodivergent and disabled communities in the region.

This week is autism acceptance week and April is autism awareness month, so Katie is working with a number of North East businesses to enhance their approach to inclusivity. 
Katie is currently organising ‘Neurofest’ which will take place on Saturday 6 April 2024 at the Marsden Community Centre in South Shields. The family-friendly event is a celebration of inclusion, is open to all and will be raising money for a number of North East charities, including Kayaks, a charity working with the local Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) community.

Earlier this week, Katie visited the Newcastle-based train company, Lumo, where she met with many of the company’s workforce to share her personal story and experiences of how public transport can be even more accessible and inclusive. 

Katie Toner, said: “It’s refreshing to see people looking at inclusion and accessibility from a neurodivergent and invisible disability perspective as well as being aware of mobility issues. The team were genuinely engaged and enthusiastic about what more can be done to attract people like me to travel with confidence and enjoy the experience when travelling. Anything that makes like less stressful is a positive step.” 

Katie worked with videographer Alan Noble from Newcastle who is also ADHD to produce a video documenting Katie’s day speaking with the Lumo team and trying out their service on a short journey between Newcastle and Morpeth, Northumberland. 

Gillian Morton, Customer Experience Manager at Lumo, said: First hand experiences from Katie for me, is just invaluable. It is absolutely superb to hear everything she has to say and just how we can help and support our customers out there because every customer is different and has different needs.” 

This week the North East Autism Society launched a campaign to create 1,000 employment opportunities for autistic people in the region. Just three in 10 autistic people are in work which is the lowest rate of any disability group. Three-quarters of unemployed autistic people say they want a job, according to the charity based in County Durham.

The North East Autism Society (NEAS) is calling on businesses to open up new routes into work for neurodivergent people and think differently about their hiring practices and in-work support. More details about Katie’s event on Saturday in South Shields can be found at https://allevents.in/south%20shields/neurofest-2024-presented-by-unite-club-and-kayaks/10000860486998777