Employment and training opportunities are essential to ensure the full inclusion of all citizens in economic, social and cultural life in Europe. In Finland and the United Kingdom, two autism organisations have developed initiatives to promote employment and training opportunities for people with disabilities, including people with autism, in the arts and culture sector.
‘Puoltaja’ – a magazine made by self-advocates
‘Puoltaja’ (meaning ‘advocate’ in Finnish) is a webzine (online magazine) entirely written and produced by a group of volunteers on the autism spectrum (most of whom have Asperger’s syndrome) and people with other disabilities.
Janne Fredriksson from the Finnish Association for Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome explains that “In Finland, the mainstream media is becoming more interested in portraying people with autism as self-advocates”. When he observed that many people on the autism spectrum in Finland were actively writing in online forums and on social media websites, he came up with the idea to create Puoltaja as a platform where they could develop their own stories for a broader audience.
The main purpose of Puoltaja is to advocate for ‘autism culture’; it takes a rights-oriented approach and gives a voice to the opinions, interests and positions of people with autism. It also aims to raise awareness about autism among the general public and challenge some predominant stereotypes around people with autism.
Puoltaja is published four times a year and currently has around 2,000 readers, including people with autism, their families and professionals. The volunteer staff hold editorial meetings twice a month to discuss the content of the magazine and the distribution of the tasks. Sometimes, they report on events and interview professionals, including special education teachers, psychologists and life coaches, and they encourage people with autism to send them their artworks for publication in the magazine.
For the volunteer staff who works as editors, Puoltaja provides them with the opportunity to develop practical skills for employment such as writing, editing and web design.
In 2014, the group is hoping to expand their activities to create a Puoltaja radio programme, and are already in contact with a local radio station in Helsinki.
More information: www.puoltaja.fi
‘The Gallery on the Corner’ – a social and commercial business
‘The Gallery on the Corner’ is a commercial art gallery and studio located in Edinburgh which offers employment and training opportunities in commercial art and retail for adults with autism.
The gallery and studio were opened in 2010 by ‘Autism Ventures Scotland’, an organisation established by Autism Initiatives to create employment opportunities for people with autism. The gallery aims to provide a platform to exhibit and sell artwork produced by artists who have autism or other physical or mental health conditions and those from disadvantaged backgrounds, in a high-profile location in a major capital city.
Susie Anderson, Manager of The Gallery on the Corner explains that “The gallery is based on a social enterprise model which combines the sustainability of the project with providing real work experience in real work environments for adults with autism as part of a route to employment”.
The gallery runs one-year traineeships for adults with autism in art and retail. The trainees work as part of a studio team, developing skills in producing commercial art for exhibition and sale at the gallery and in other venues. The gallery also helps them to develop transferable skills that could be used in other areas of employment, including customer service and computer skills.
The gallery exhibits artworks by their trainee artists that rotate monthly, and as works are sold. The monthly exhibitions are sometimes held in conjunction with other organisations such as charities, art projects and schools for students with special needs. Each exhibition has an opening event which allows the work of the artists to be celebrated.
As part of its social enterprise approach, the gallery also offers artwork services in which paintings and prints by the gallery’s trainees can be exhibited or hired for long periods of time by companies to decorate their business premises. The gallery and studio can also be hired as a venue for events.
The gallery has enjoyed much success already. The first group of trainees was awarded for their work at the gallery at the National Scottish Consortium for Learning Disability Awards in 2011. In addition, some trainees have become self-employed artists, and found jobs as support workers and trainee proof readers.
More information: www.thegalleryonthecorner.org.uk
Count Me In Project
The Puoltaja magazine and The Gallery on the Corner will soon be featured alongside other good practices in a publication by the European Union-funded ‘Count Me In’, which runs from 2012 to 2014. As part of this project, they are promoted as examples in providing employment and training opportunities for people with disabilities in the arts and culture sector. Autism-Europe is one of a number of partner organisations involved in this project.
More information: www.count-me-in.eu