The Autism Friendly Waterford initiative was launched on Sunday in the Tower Hotel with over 200 in attendance.
Addressing the gathering, Mayor of Waterford City & County, Cllr John O’Leary said this initiative “will help overcome barriers and bring great benefits to the city”. Waterford has already been voted the best place to live in Ireland. This, he added, would be another feather in our cap if we became the first Autism Friendly City in Ireland with Waterford leading the way in creating a truly inclusive society.
Dick White from AsIAm, gave a brief overview of the programme. David Galvin, a teacher from the ASD unit in St. Paul’s Secondary School, spoke of the gaps in the education system that need to be addressed. He also outlined the wonderful work that is being done in St. Paul’s, not only to cater for autistic students, but also to create a culture of tolerance and acceptance of diversity amongst the school population. Amanda Fox from the Cara Autism Support Service in the National Learning Network, spoke of her own late diagnosis and how she organised a party to celebrate it and to help her son come to terms with his diagnosis.
Maolíosa Ní Chléírigh, Tish Holton, Deborah Gray and Frances Jacob explained their vision of a three year programme, with businesses and public services being asked to take measures to become autism friendly by undergoing staff training, providing sensory accommodations and giving employment, where appropriate to autistic people. 80% of autistic people are underemployed because the system does not cater for them.
The event was sponsored by Healthy Ireland and Waterford Lions Club, with the support of WLR and the initiative is being rolled out in partnership with Waterford City & County Council and Waterford Chamber.