North East woman working to improve autism acceptance

Katie Toner from Northumberland is a neurodivergent business owner and advocate working to help North East businesses and organisations become more inclusive.
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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 acceptance month, so Katie is working with a number of North East businesses to enhance their approach to inclusivity.

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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.

Katie Toner working with videographer Alan Noble at Lumo HQ in NewcastleKatie Toner working with videographer Alan Noble at Lumo HQ in Newcastle
Katie Toner working with videographer Alan Noble at Lumo HQ in Newcastle

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 life 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.

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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.”

Katie sharing her story with staff from Lumo in NewcastleKatie sharing her story with staff from Lumo in Newcastle
Katie sharing her story with staff from Lumo in Newcastle

This week the North East Autism Society (NEAS) 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 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 in South Shields on 6 April 2024 can be found here.