Our Political Correspondent, David Allkins, has worked as a UR Consultant since September 2013.

During our Every Vote Counts campaign, David interviewed politicians, attended hustings and political meetings and created a series of video blogs that aimed to make politics more accessible to people with learning disabilities. In the first of two blogs, David discusses what it is like to live with Asperger’s syndrome and how taking on the role of political correspondent helped boost his confidence and build his skills.

When you are aware that you have a disability, it changes how you think about yourself. I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome when I was a teenager. On one hand, this did explain a lot of things about myself; on the other, I think it made me feel more like an outsider from the rest of the world.

I did manage to make it through university. While I was academically successful (BA Hons), I unfortunately struggleed with bouts of stress and depression. 

Getting my first job as a graduate

One of the things that helped me stabilise myself after university was getting a job in the stock room of a bookshop for several years. Then, that department was closed down and I found myself unemployed.

I thought that I should keep trying for retail jobs but I had two disadvantages: the first was that I had no experience working on a till and the second was that I felt like I had to disclose that I had Asperger’s on the equality and diversity pages of my job application forms.  

This led to long stretches of unemployment with occasional seasonal jobs at clothing retailers that did not lead to anything permanent. Eventually I came to work for United Response, first helping with the job clubs and then with the administration. 

It was then that I became aware of the job of Political Correspondent, which had become available at United Response.

Preparing for the role of Political Correspondent

I’d always grown up with BBC Radio 4 as the default listening station in our house and this helped me to be aware of politics. However, a history of being unsuccessful with job interviews had led to low self-esteem and I was convinced that I wouldn’t get the position. Once I learned that I had the job, the euphoria was balanced by the concerns about how I would actually fill the role.

The thing that helped me to get through all the filming without panicking was to research the people that I was going to interview, the journey routes, and the locations and events that I was going to be visiting.  

In my experience, people with Asperger’s can feel less at risk in new situations if we can be talked through them or learn about them in advance. With the advent of the internet, it has become a lot easier to read up on subjects beforehand. This is something that I feel a lot of people forget with regard to people with autism or Asperger’s.

Building my confidence in my new role

I will not deny that I was nervous about meeting politicians. My first major trip involved having to speak on a panel at the All Party Parliamentary Group meeting on disability in a room at the House of Commons. The prospect of this was very intimidating, but through my own planning and preparation, and with the help of other people, I was able to get though the first round of video filming.

As the amount of filming I took part in increased, I become more confident with the process of talking to people and being filmed. This is another thing about having Asperger’s - the ability to cope with and to do the task will increase with repetition. Once a procedure is established, the fear that goes with doing a new task falls away with time. 

Gemma Taylor, media assistant.

Later this week, David is meeting MPs to discuss the outcome of the Every Vote Counts campaign - look out for more details of how being Political Correspondent has taken him across the country to share the message of the importance of accessible information. Watch David's series of reports on YouTube.