Business owners are starting to see the provision of accessible facilities as an “opportunity” rather than an “obligation”, according to the sponsor of an event that will encourage disabled people to test out new venues.
The second Disabled Access Day takes place on Saturday 12 March 2016, with more than 50 venues across the UK already signed up, including Westminster Abbey, Tate Modern, and the Scottish parliament.
It follows the success of the first Disabled Access Day (DAD), on 17 January 2015, which saw 261 venues across 11 countries take part – including Portugal, Turkey and Bulgaria – a figure organisers are confident they will improve on next year.
The idea for DAD came from powerchair-user Paul Ralph, who had been inspired by an event held by his local bus company, which gave wheelchair-users the opportunity to explore the layout of a bus and learn how to get on and off safely.
As a result of that event, he became a regular bus-user.
Ralph said: “Chatting with friends, I thought how great it would be if there were similar initiatives, including some more informal events, happening across the country on one specific day.
“The idea of encouraging disabled people to also try something new that day appeared and out of it came the idea of Disabled Access Day.”
Ralph is a supporter of DAD’s main sponsor, Euan’s Guide, a listings and review website and mobile phone app that helps disabled people find accessible venues such as visitor attractions, cinemas, sports grounds and hotels, and facilities such as hospitals, banks and post offices.
Euan MacDonald, co-founder of Euan’s Guide and also a powerchair-user, said the first DAD was designed to be “a really positive day that aims to empower people and highlight good access, something which isn’t celebrated or acknowledged enough”.
He said: “The day gave venues an opportunity to highlight all the facilities and services they have available and gave disabled people confidence to try out new places with the knowledge that people would be on hand to answer questions if required.”
He added: “People used the day as a reason to visit somewhere new or to go out or do something they hadn’t done before.
“We loved hearing about what everyone got up to on the day, from people exploring new coffee shops, to family outings to new venues, to a couple who visited the cinema for the first time in eight years.”
One of those who took part last year was disabled broadcaster, journalist and access expert Mik Scarlet, who visited St Paul’s Cathedral.
He said: “Our visit to St Paul’s was amazing. The staff were so helpful and friendly and our guide was super informative and engaging.
“A real day to remember and I can’t wait until the next Disabled Access Day, as it allows you to visit places and know that the access will be spot on!”
MacDonald said he hoped next year’s event would see more people leaving reviews of the venues they visit on the Euan’s Guide website.
He said he had noticed major improvements in the last year, with more venues installing Changing Places toilets and major festivals pledging to improve access.
He said: “We are seeing signs of the beginning of a shift in business owners’ thinking, away from the idea that the provision of accessible facilities is an ‘obligation’ and instead viewing it as an opportunity to engage more people and reach new markets and audiences.
“It is clear there is a demand for information on how to make venues more accessible, both in terms of physical infrastructure and facilities, and staff training.”
And he said there had already been improvements introduced as a result of the first DAD, with some venues updating their staff training and others deciding to make one-off events a permanent feature, such as Borough market in London, which held its first cooking demonstration with a British Sign Language interpreter on DAD, an event which is now held regularly.
MacDonald said: “For us, it’s really about increasing conversations between disabled people and venues.
“Disabled Access Day provides a great opportunity for these conversations to start or continue, whether that’s people trying something or somewhere new, or for venues to receive acknowledgement that they’re doing a good job, or suggestions on how things could be improved in the future.”