The first series of blog posts Bits and Bobs Crafts will be sharing with you are based around organising events that are accessible to all.
Why The Need for This Series of Posts?
Recently I’ve been struggling to attend events in a business networking capacity. And if I’m having problems, so are others with mobility impairments. Having emailed a few organisers of these new events, I’ve become aware that there seems to be confusion about accessibility and the Single Equalities Legislation. I don’t want to go down the “legal route” of trying to enforce the law, I’d rather work towards educating groups and organisations in a gentle way and provide them with the information they need to avoid excluding people – after all the more people who come to events, the greater potential for gaining new business contacts, or if a paid event, getting pennies into the coffers!
What Qualifies Me to Write Them?
I have difficulty walking, I can totter around indoors with the odd argument with the carpet, door frames and fridge freezer – no idea why that particular appliance takes exception to me but still….. I can do short distances outdoors with a pair of crutches or walking frame, longer distances or bad days require a wheelchair. I became disabled 5 years ago following a severe flare up of a spinal condition that causes pain, fatigue and problems with muscle co-ordination, balance and my nervous system in general.
Part One – If I Want to go to an Event How Do I Get There?
Is it on an accessible bus route? Yes I know wheelchair users are meant to have priority for the spaces on the bus, but in reality some buses still aren’t accessible, those that are often have the space jam packed with buggies. I know carrying Mums and babies add to their revenue but many drivers go on by and don’t like to ask them to move, often because of the abuse they get in return. So even if the answer is yes, I then have to think – what time of day? If its during school runs or shopping times its probably easier to drive than be sat on a pavement for over an hour waiting for a bus that might have room – and yes it happens sadly!
And when I need to take the car….can I park nearby? Are there dedicated disabled bays so that I can open the door wide enough to get my frame out. If I’m using on street parking, can I park so that other disabled drivers don’t park so close to my back end that I can’t reload the wheelchair? I use a hoist and have a sticker in the back asking people not to park within 6ft but! Is the parking on a flat surface if I need to use the hoist? Trying to use it on a hill is precarious and often involve weird contortions to sit in the boot to lower it and operate the controls at the same time!
What obstacles are between me and the building? Are there dropped kerbs? If there are, are they in a good state of repair so I don’t jolt my spine using them? If I’m walking, am I likely to hitch my toe and trip? And if in Southampton, if I go down a dropped kerb, can I get up the one or is there one on the otherside of the road? Is the car park surface uneven? This is even more important for the visually impaired as they have no opportunity to see and hence avoid potholes, cracked and uneven kerbing etc. Is the entrance clearly marked so I’m not wandering around outside wondering how to get in, tiring out the stroppy nerves and muscles and starting to walk like I’ve had a few….. if only 🙂 Is the area well lit at night? Again also a consideration for the hearing and visually impaired. Can I see to reload my wheelchair at the end of the evening? Do I feel safe in the car park taking my time?
Can I get into the building? Is the access flat or ramped? Is there a lift? Do I need to call ahead and let someone know I’m coming so I can come in via a side entrance? Is the ramp shallow enough to get up easily? Are there automatic or button operated doors? If not, can I push the doors open or access help easily? Are the doors wide enough? Is there an accessible fire exit? If there’s a chairlift, is there someone free to carry my crutches up whilst I operate it? Is there a reception area? Is there someone from the workshop there to greet people and point them in the right direction?
These are just some examples of situations I’ve experienced in accessing event:
Barrier 1 – an event for disabled people to talk to the local authority and health services at a very nice hotel in the City: The main door was so heavy it couldn’t be opened independently, there was no one there to assist and the main doors – automatic – were turned off. So I waited 15 mins for a lady to come along and her carer opened the door for both of us
Barrier 2 – going to a hospital appointment on the bus: After an hour of drivers not letting me on due to the number of pushchairs, many of which were empty or had older toddlers who could have sat in a seat, I had to cancel the appointment as I was unable to get there
Barrier 3 – a meeting in a hotel – the access was interesting through side doors across a gravel path – the fun began when myself and another gent tried to access the loo – more of the loo stories on another post – and they were amazed that we asked if they would mind fixing the door please so that we could close it whilst we did what we needed to do! Would they have expected anyone using the ladies or gents to do so with the door propped open in full view of reception?
Promoting Accessible Venues
So as an organiser of an event, you’re probably wondering how all the info above can be turned into something useful you can do to widen access. Here’s a simple list of things to consider when thinking about “getting there”:
1. Walk round the local area, think about health and safety, consider how you’d manage if you were on crutches or had a temporary eye problem.
2. If you know someone who has an impairment, ask their advice
3. When advertising your event, let people know about the accessibility, invite people to ring you for advice
4. Try to avoid booking venues where access is an issue for public events.If the inaccessible venues receive fewer bookings, it might lead them to consider what’s putting people off. I’m not advocating putting people out of business or avoiding listed buildings etc, but as the organiser the buck does stop with you when it comes to accessibility and the law.
5. If your chosen venue does have access issues and you are tied to using it, perhaps due to funding restrictions, talk to the owners, ask if they can help with the cost of hiring portable ramps etc. Alternatively offer to see the person who cannot access the venue privately and run through the workshop with them then.
6. If you own or rent a building with access issues, make this clear on your website and literature and explain what you are able to do to overcome the problems e.g. using ground floor space where possible or setting up a PA system so that people can hear what is going on at an upstairs event even if they are sitting downstairs. Remember the law asks for reasonable adjustment, so won’t expect you to knock down and rebuild!
7. New community groups and public event organisers however do have a duty of care to consider the needs of anyone who might wish to join and provide access unless this would change the nature of the event e.g. providing fruit juice at a wine tasting. For more advice please visit EHRC website.