The Dover district is soon become an autism-friendly district thanks to a new campaign that could bring tourism benefits to east Kent.
The Mercury has teamed up with the National Autistic Society (Dover and Deal Branch) to launch the free scheme, called Autism Aware.
The campaign will see shop, restaurant and bar owners attend an informal training and networking session at the
Astor Theatre, where a family support officer from Kent Autistic Trust will explain how they can help an autistic person, parent or carer who is having difficulties on their premises.
Certificates showing the Autism Aware logo will be given out afterwards. These can then be placed in windows, acting as a recognisable seal of confidence for residents and tourists.
“Getting as many shops bars or restaurants involved with Autism Aware will make a massive difference and will encourage people to use local businesses" - Katy Jenner National Autistic Society, Dover & Deal Branch
Katy Jenner of NAS Dover & Deal said: “It can be very isolating when you have a child with autism. Even the most normal of things like going for lunch or popping to the shops can turn into a very unsettling experience.
“People with autism often have unusual quirks, which members of the public might not appreciate. Some might even judge the child to be naughty or badly parented which can lead to extra unease or even a meltdown situation.
“We really need shop owners to lead from the front and offer their help when they see someone is struggling.
“Getting as many shops bars or restaurants involved with Autism Aware will make a massive difference and will encourage people to use local businesses."
Ian Dunkerley, owner of Dunkerley’s Hotel and Restaurant, and outgoing chairman of Deal Rotary Club, has strongly endorsed Autism Aware.
He said: “It is a great concept and one we at Dunkerley’s are keen to get behind.
“When someone with a mobility disability comes in, we do as much as we can to help them – why shouldn’t it be the same for people with autism?
“We will be proud to display the Autism Aware sign at the hotel and restaurant so people with the condition know they are welcome.”
James Tillitt, creative director of the Astor Theatre, has offered the use of a room for the scheme’s launch.
Under his direction, the theatre has been a champion of people with disabilities and those who are marginalised in society.
He said: “At the Astor Theatre, we pride ourselves on our tolerance, and we’re proud to be the venue that launches Autism Aware.
“It is a campaign that not only helps people and businesses, it will attract people to our lovely town.”
Any shop, hotel, restaurant, cafe or bar owner is welcome to attend the launch of Autism Aware.
The 90-minute talk and networking event will take place on Tuesday, July 14, from 6pm at the Astor Theatre, Stanhope Road, Deal.
Entry is free and refreshments will be provided. Anyone who attends the launch is entitled to use the Autism Aware logo in their shop windows, online and in their promotional leaflets, showing they are autism tolerant.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to register your interest in attending.