'I've found my niche reading number plates for the Tyne Tunnel'

Harris Roxborough has found her niche working as an image review agent for TT2, the company which operates the Tyne Tunnel. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

An autistic woman has found her niche reviewing number plates for the Tyne Tunnel - and is loving it.

Eagle-eyed Harris Roxborough, an image review agent for TT2, the company which runs the tunnel, can get through up to 12,000 images a month.

It is a job that needs precision and attention to detail. And Harris is perfect for the role.

The 33-year-old told ITV Tyne Tees she feels like she has found the perfect role after working with Diversity North East and the North East Autistic Society, which has launched a campaign to try and help people with autism find work.

"I knew I'd be good at this job," she said. "We pushed for it and eventually they picked me. I got a phone call and they said the job is yours if you want it."

"There are patterns to it," she said. "I like things being just so and accurate which is what this job is about.

"Making sure I'm not misreading the number plates because we don't want to be sending out fines to people who didn't earn them. It's that sense of accomplishment when I get it right and do it well."

Harris was given the job after undertaking a work trial rather than a formal interview - something that many autistic people find difficult.

She has also been able to adapt her working environment to make it easier for her to be productive.

She has a different chair which is more comfortable for her, a foot rest and she can use headphones if the office becomes too loud.

"I can do up to 10-12,000 images in a month," she added. "When you find the niche that an autistic person can do, you give them that opportunity and they will fly in that situation.

"They can give you 130% because if you show them compassion they will show it back.

"You just need to let them find the thing. This role is pivotal in this company and so many of my colleagues wouldn't last a week in it. I've done it for 18 months and I'm still loving it."

Harris says she is able to excel at her job thanks to adjustments, including having a different chair and being able to wear earphones. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Other adjustments which have helped Harris flourish was changing her working hours so her 15 hour contract is made up of three five-hour days instead of two 7.5-hour days - something she says helps prevent autistic burnout.

This has been one of the most important changes.

"It takes up more energy than you would expect just being around people, which is unfortunate but we are neurodiverse living in a neurotypical world," she explained. "If you can do a small change it can be a large change for us."

On what employers can do to make life easier for autistic workers, she said: "It's the little things. The fact they are willing to give you a chance is one thing.

"You've got to listen. If the autistic person says this is what I need, don't say 'well so-and-so doesn't need that, so why do you?' Well they're not autistic. And just because this autistic person needs something doesn't mean I do. Just an open mind is one of the greatest assets for an employer because you can't know what they need.

"It's a spectrum, everyone is different and unique anyway. Why should an autistic person be excluded because of their difference, especially when they can bring so much that a neurotypicals can't bring, like in the job I do?"

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The company says it has seen its performance soar since hiring autistic customer experience agents to work on the automatic number plate recognition scheme in 2022. It is now looking to expand its diversity scheme.

Adrian Wallace, who is chief executive of TT2 and has two autistic children, said: "It's very much about taking the normal working environment, just recognising that there are some needs that are slightly different.

"So people might want to take time out, they might want to have more time to make decisions around things.I'd like to say that support has come a long way, but it's still very traditional.

"It's lagging behind and I think industry is lagging behind hugely. Employers have got very good at responding to disabilities that are visible. We need to put an equal amount in to meeting the needs for people with the hidden disabilities as well."

The North East Autism Society has launched a campaign to create 1,000 job opportunities for autistic people in the region.

Only three in 10 autistic people are in work - the lowest rate of any disability group - even though three quarters of unemployed autistic people want a job.

Ashley Jones, from the charity said: "We have many good relationships with businesses in the North East region and it's about bringing those businesses together with others that maybe needed a bit more support and then building a network from there.

"It's understandable that if you're a business, you're going to have lots of questions about how do I actually go about supporting this person and how do I do it in a way that is meaningful for them and also helps us as a business grow. And that's what we're here for."

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