Warwickshire vets one of first in UK to sign up to Hidden Disabilities scheme

Warwickshire-based Avonvale Veterinary Centre has become one of the first practices in the UK to sign up to a global scheme which encourages businesses to increase support for its customers with hidden disabilities.

To coincide with National Autism Week (March 30 – April 3), Avonvale Veterinary Centres is giving its backing to the Hidden Disabilities sunflower lanyard scheme, which supports people with non-visible disabilities.

People taking part in the scheme wear a sunflower lanyard, which acts as a discreet sign they have a hidden disability and would like extra support.

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The initiative is being led by veterinary surgeon, Penny Clarke, who is running staff training sessions across Avonvale’s seven practices across the country. 

Clarke said:“According to the government, there are around 14 million people living with some form of disability in the UK and around 80% of these are invisible. These include autism, chronic pain, heart disease, hearing loss and mental illness.

“We’re already used to making adjustments for our clients with physical disabilities and this is an opportunity to broaden that to anyone whose needs are less visible.”

Clarke said the scheme is particularly relevant to veterinary practices, as many neurodivergent people have difficulties around social interaction and a visit to the vets comes with an immediate expectation to participate in social interactions.”

She added: “In the waiting room, receptionists ask questions and other clients might start conversations. For those with sensory sensitivities it can feel quite overwhelming with barking dogs, soiled cat carriers, bright lights and loud phones. 

“The challenges continue in the consult room as there’s a time pressure to answer questions and process all the information given. There might be strong odours to contend with and it can be confusing when complex conditions and medications are discussed in a very short amount of time.”

She concluded: “Changes can be very simple but can make a huge difference. For example, offering an alternative waiting area, drawing diagrams to explain planned treatment, or avoiding non-verbal communication and figurative speech.

“We hope these small changes will make a big difference to our clients and it would be great to see other practices following suit.” 

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