BA BETTER WORLD • September 2023

One thing I wish people knew about autism? It’s not contagious!

Rebecca Taylor
Rebecca Taylor

Learning Rose

After leaving her life in the skies behind, former cabin crew Rebecca Taylor went on to found Learning Rose to raise awareness of autism and offer practical support. Now, she’s back at British Airways to help us further our commitment to accessibility and help customers travelling with autism

I wanted to be cabin crew from the age of seven and, although it took some time to achieve my dream, nobody was happier than I was when I started to fly for British Airways. I have always loved travelling and particularly flying as I’m fascinated by different countries, cultures and traditions.

We once flew out the ParalympicsGB team to the USA. Despite everyone’s best efforts, I remember there was a considerable wait for all the necessary people and equipment that were needed on that flight. Some customers who did not require additional assistance were getting restless and, though I realise now that a lot of this was down to tiredness, it really showed me just how important communication is at all levels. Understanding that everyone has different experiences of moving through this world is a vital part of the role of cabin crew.

special assistance and colleague

Our dedicated Accessibility Team will help you every step of the journey

I left British Airways for one reason, and that was my son. It was a very difficult decision, but I chose to have a child and, as I don’t have a large family network to fall back on, I had to focus on him. I worked for British Airways for nearly eight very happy years. Since leaving in 2005, my life has changed a great deal. I trained and qualified as a teaching assistant and then my son was diagnosed with autism the day after his third birthday, in 2008. I soon started my own parent-carer support group and, during this time, saw first-hand just how little information was available to help and support the autism community. I decided to do something positive, and Learning Rose was founded in 2017.

If I could go back to the start of founding Learning Rose, I would tell myself three things. Do as much research as possible and make detailed notes along the whole journey; believe in yourself that the work can help many people and make a difference; and, perhaps most importantly, don’t take no for an answer.

My son Josh is the real reason I am doing all of this. He means the absolute world to me. As a single parent, I’m even more determined to succeed. I accepted his diagnosis many years ago and fully understand that he needs extra support. My son is a very visual learner, and I will do whatever it takes to help him achieve his goals and aspirations. 

Rebecca Taylor portrait

Rebecca Taylor and her son, Josh

British Airways was the natural first choice when it came to working with a company to help make life easier for those with autism – after all, I’d put nearly a decade into the airline already! I had been part of the promotions team and still had a couple of contacts, so it made sense to show my work to them first. As former cabin crew, I knew that there was more we could do to help customers with autism. A great number of autistic people are visual learners, so I wanted to help first and foremost by designing a visual guide. If it could help my son, the chances are it could help others, too.

Thanks to our work together, British Airways now has a series of guides that can be used by customers with autism. They’re clear and concise, without too much language. The guides are a series of two or three short, sharp sentences, along with one or two pictures that are sombre in colour and address each section of the journey. In this way, they’ve been designed with a full understanding of how autism can differ from person to person. The guides are available – either as one complete PDF or as a PDF for each part of your journey – for you to view online either on the ground or in the air via Wi-Fi. They can also be printed at home.

My advice to parents with autistic children who might be nervous to travel is to do your research about the airport, car park and facilities available. Contact the dedicated British Airways Accessibility Team, as their support can make a huge difference to the entire process. If you’ve not been to the airport for some time or it’s a new airport, even do a dummy run, see how long it takes to get there and work out timings in advance.

visual guide

A series of guides can now be used by customers with autism

If I could create one government law that everyone had to follow, it would be for all people with a disability to be accepted without excuses. If they are given the time, support and knowledge to do a job, the results can be outstanding. We are pushed away to the sidelines due to lack of knowledge, and that’s not a fair way for society to operate. Yet many businesses, including those in the travel industry such as airlines, are embracing accessibility and changing their mindsets. While there is so much more to do, it’s encouraging to see some progress.

Quick-fire questions

Aisle or window seat?

Cabin bag or hold baggage?
Hold baggage.

Bucket-list destination?
Boston and New York.

Favourite holiday with your son?
Crete, Greece. 

One thing you always have in your baggage?
Hair straighteners!

Top tip for aspiring business owners?
Believe in yourself. Do your research thoroughly. Don’t back down if you feel in your gut that you can make a difference.

Favourite memory as cabin crew?
Wearing the uniform with pride and achieving my dream to fly for a living.

One thing you wish people knew about autism?
It’s not contagious.

To learn more about our autistic guide in partnership with Learning Rose, click here

This article has been tagged BA, Wellbeing