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S.P.A.R.K's fly in time for Autism Awareness (Acceptance) Day

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Thursday 2 April is World Autism Awareness (Acceptance) Day. We are encouraged to take action to raise awareness about people with autism spectrum disorder and support the research looking for new ways to improve wellness and inclusion.

S.P.A.R.K's fly in time for Autism Awareness (Acceptance) Day

Front cover of the S.P.A.R.K booklet

CFA is committed to being a great place to volunteer and work for all members of our community, including those with disability. To support this, there are a number of projects underway in CFA to increase our capability to become disability inclusive. These include:

  • a review and update of CFA’s Disability Action Plan – including a proposed name change to CFA’s Disability Inclusion and Accessibility Action Plan
  • developing a Disability Inclusion Toolkit to help brigades create a welcoming environment for people with disability and being able to plan inclusive programs initially focusing on Junior brigades.

However, one of the most exciting steps towards supporting people with disability in our  communities is the development of the S.P.A.R.K resource.  

S.P.A.R.K, which means Supporting People with Autism Resource Kit, was designed by four Federation University students in 2015 as part of the Team Enterprise program. 

Hailey Vassallo, Barb Brokenshire, John Dallimore and Terrie White collaborated with CFA (Gordon Fire Brigade Captain Diane Lawson and then Community Safety Program Designer Dawn Hartog) and Amaze, to develop a downloadable resource that teachers can individualise for students with autism, to help them understand what to do during an emergency evacuation at their school.  

The resource features pictorial communication symbols as learning aids for people with autism, that are used worldwide across all disability services, as well as featuring photos of the students themselves, in their own environment.

The resource was planned, consulted, designed, produced and tested all within a ten weeks.  The feedback received at the time, including from Jack who tested the product, was very positive. 

The final step of the process, which has taken a little longer than expected, was to make the resource available to teachers and schools, in a user-friendly format that doesn't need any special software. 

That day is finally here.

With support from CFA’s Inclusion and Fairness team, the S.P.A.R.K resource and supporting instructional guidelines are available to download in Word format from the CFA website, and can be customised by schools or parents for children with autism. The templates are available in three formats based on the child’s level of literacy, and when customised can be printed on a school photocopier.

I am so happy that this is going to be available to schools and that the students who did this amazing work are being recognised. After living with autism for so long and having written many social stories to help my boy understand the world around him, I'm so excited to see CFA come on board! 
Captain Diane Lawson, Gordon Fire Brigade

The amazing work of the project team who developed S.P.A.R.K was recognised in 2015, when they received the Fire Awareness Award in the Access and Inclusion category. It's a great demonstration of community spirit and commitment to ensure CFA is a place where people with disability can participate and thrive.

For questions in relation to S.P.A.R.K or any of the initiatives to support disability inclusion in CFA, contact the Inclusion and Fairness team: inclusionandfairness@cfa.vic.gov.au.

Increase your awareness and understanding of autism

  • Australia recently introduced its first social behaviour change campaign to promote better understanding and inclusion of people with autism. Build your awareness and understanding of autism so you can start to change your reactions – Change Your Reaction, Change Your Action
  • In partnership with Amaze, see how easy it is for us all to make small changes in our behaviour to help create a more inclusive and welcoming world for people with autism - What is Autism?
  • Gain an understanding of what it's like living with autism by checking out 'Love on teh Spectrum' on ABC iView.
Front page of book with SPARK written and a picture of a fire truck

Original sample of S.P.A.R.K page - featuring Jack

A page from a book with PECS symbols

Sample page from original S.P.A.R.K book - featuring universal picture communication symbols

The back page of a booklet with a young person holding a sign

Sample back page of S.P.A.R.K - featuring Jack who tested the booklet

A photo of a group of people behind a display of CFA items

The development team for S.P.A.R.K

A photo of the Fire Awareness Award

2015 Fire Awareness Award in the Access and Inclusion category