Friday, 19 September 2014

accessibility : not just about ramps and wheelchairs

I think that there is something of a misperception to do with accessibility.  Focus tends to be on physical access - is there a ramp or only steps; can the person at the information desk see if there is someone in a wheelchair waiting to ask a question; is there a lift; can those doors be opened by a wheelchair user.  Important as these aspects are, they are not the entirety of the issue.  Even taking into account sensory impairments, there are a lot of other disabilities out there that need to be considered, which is why my word of the week is 

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ac·ces·si·ble   (k-ss-bl)
1. Easily approached or entered.
2. Easily obtained: accessible money.
3. Easy to talk to or get along with: an accessible manager.
4. Easily swayed or influenced: accessible to flattery

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Physical accessibility is only part of the picture, but having spent Smiler's life trying to find places to visit that are suitable for our family I know many venues find it difficult either to recognise this, or to know what to do about it.  After all, we're all quick to grumble when the lift isn't working or our wheelchair doesn't fit through the door, but how many of us talk to shop managers about whether their announcements actually need to be that loud, or to zoo staff to point out that the information presented in an exhibit seems unnecessarily complex?  Even if it crosses your mind, having the time to feed this back, as well as the opportunity to talk to the right person, the confidence to present it to them even if you think it's a small thing, and a realistic enough perspective to suggest a reasonable solution which would improve the situation, even though what you really wish they would do is drastic and expensive.

Smiler has severe learning difficulties, complex health needs, and uses a wheelchair.  Over the last few years we've been surprised to find how tricky it was to find the sort of information we needed about local (and not so local) attractions.  Not just slopes and distances, but how spaced out are the tables in the restaurant, how easy to understand is the information presented in the exhibits, even how loud are the announcements.  But having spent all of Smiler's life learning to spot these things, it has become second nature to us, checking the level of sensory input, physical space and limits, clocking the places and situations which might be difficult, or measures which might help everything run more smoothly.  

The task now is to try and find effective ways to assess this, and to pass this information on to the people that can actually do something about it.  It's a difficult offer to frame - "how would you like us to come and check out your place?" seems a little flippant, but a couple of local venues have taken us up on it.  One in particular is very enthused about taking the opportunity to tap into our expertise, and I hope to be able to tell you more about it soon, but in the meantime, feel free to keep us in mind or recommend us to anywhere you think might be interested!

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The Reading Residence

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  1. It sounds like you could be making a huge and very real difference here, so I do hope plenty more places do take you up on your offer and then take on board your feedback. Best of luck with it, and lovely to have you sharing with #WotW

  2. This is a great post. It is hard enough with a specialised pram (which is so heavy) that I am dreading access with a wheelchair. Good luck with your quest xx

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