AbilityNet has been featured in an epiosode of Saints and Scroungers, a BBC TV show that highlights the differences between people who are cheating the benefit system and the people who are helping others get the support they need and deserve. The episode was first broadcast in March 2013 and follows Tom Synnott after he is accepted at university, although he fears his Asperger's will hold him back from fulfilling his potential.
It shows how AbilityNet's DSA team worked with the Disability Adviser from De Montfort University to understand Tom's needs so that he can access a government grant and buy software to help him complete his studies. But the advice he receives goes a long way beyond the IT issues.
Elizabeth Hughes, one of AbilityNet's Assessors, expalins how her assessment of Tom's needs looks at the whole picture, not just his technology needs. "I could see that Tom needs a lot of human support," she explains, "There's no problem academically, it's more about living with other people and practical things such as cooking, and integrating socially in a way which ensures Tom will feel comfortable staying at University."
As Tom says, the interview with Elizabeth was an important milestone for him. "She more or less straight away saw what the problem was so I really began to feel much better about my odds of surviving Uni."
Tom's dad says the session with Elizabeth revealed a lot of information he hadn't heard before. "She was great at getting him to explain how he felt and it was good to know someone really understood what he was going through."
Elizabeth delivered a 37-page report, confirming Tom's eligibility for the DSA grant and identified his need for a laptop and specialist software to support his study. Students with Asperger's are particularly vulnerable to giving up their studies in the early stages so a key piece of the support jigsaw was a link to a mentoring service provided by the Autism Society. Back at De Montfort University the Disability Adviser fast-tracked Tom's paperwork and set up the mentoring. That gave Tom the help he needed to get through his first days at Uni - something he was terrified of at first.
As Tom says he's he never thought I'd have any academic prospects but now he's really enjoying himself. "I've found I enjoy University much more than I did at school, where I didn't get this support. The best decision I ever made was to come to Uni."
It's a heart-warming tale and a great way of understanding how AbilityNet's professional assessment team use their specialist skills to select the right technology and help change people's lives.
The episode was available on iPlayer until 11 March 2013.