Acknowledgment – This blog post is an opinion piece formed from personal experience, and reading on the subject over a number of years. Its aim is to stimulate thought and respectful debate. Throughout this blog I use the term disabled/ disability, by this I mean but not exclusive too – Anyone with lived experiences of disability, learning needs/disability, mental ill health and chronic illness, whist also acknowledging that for some this term does not reflect their experiences. This communication has been written by a dyslexic person. If you have any trouble with the meaning of any of the sentences or words, please do not be afraid to ask for clarification. I’m #MadeByDyslexia – expect creative thinking & creative spelling.
By law (Disability Discrimination Act) 1995 businesses and organisations need to make their facilities accessible, and following the 2018 Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations Accessibility regulations mean public sector organisations have a legal duty to make sure their websites and mobile applications meet accessibility requirements. Public sector websites and mobile apps must now also be accessible and have an accessibility statement published.
Its in business owners (however small) own interest to ensure their buildings are accessible, not just by installing an access ramp but also ensuring they comply with all the stipulations that have been drawn up under law.
The confusion I found with the introduction of accessible statements, was that they only apply to making the website/app space accessible. Missing the element I was looking for when visiting these sites. Information about how accessible physical spaces are with clear information available, on websites/apps.
Often I would look up a place I wanted to visit, to see how accessible it was, to find the accessible statement only refers to the webpage, which is really important. However the information I wanted was lacking. I might come across ‘accessible toilet ‘available or contact us with your access needs. By law I know what the minimum standards are but what does ‘accessible’ really mean?
What is accessible to one person may not be to another. Meaning the information provided is key to individuals making an informed decision about how accessible that facility is to them.
Before being a wheelchair user, the information I wanted to know was, what the furniture was like, it might sound odd to you, but comfort is important. How high are the seats and tables, could I stand independently from them without drawing attention to myself? Is there good back support? What’s the parking like? How far will I need to walk? Is there an accessible toilet because other toilets are often low and accessible ones are higher and have rails I can use to help stand up, if there is stairs how deep are they? Is there a rail on both sides to hold? Now I am using a wheelchair, an ‘accessible toilet’ meant nothing to me, I had questions, How is it accessible? Will it meet my needs? Often having to email or ring for further information. Imagine every time you wanted to leave the house having to think about every element of your day. Will there be steps, will I be able to use the toilet, reach what I need, have space to get round?
There are many great apps and websites out there trying to provide and improve information about how accessible a place is, but this relies on you knowing about these apps and websites. For me I became increasingly frustrated by the lack of information on websites and social media accounts of individual businesses and organisations, I wanted to visit. Why should the person with the access needs do all the research? Wouldn’t it be great to lookup the information you need quickly, and without the fuss or having to make a phone call/email for more information?
Not everywhere is going to be accessible for everyone, but by not providing clear and detailed information, you are potentially missing out on business and not being inclusive, in 2022 we all want to be inclusive right?
I began to challenge businesses and public places about the access information that was available. Asking for pictures of their ‘Accessible toilets’, descriptions of other areas and photo’s. Challenging the lack of detail in the information I found. Also challenging some of the ableist way things were described. In March I am going away for the first time without my husband since being a wheelchair users with friends for a hen do, the place looked great, its set up for groups and has rooms with multiple beds, ideal for hen dos. The website had some access information but it wasn’t clear, a few emails later and I felt ok I can do this and I know my friends will also help if I need it.
But one statement in the email correspondence struck me right in the face. They explained that the ground floor was fully accessible to a wheelchairs user and clarified my questions about rugs and positioning of furniture. When describing the accessible bedroom which also had multiple beds, but enough turning space. It was explained there was a fully accessible bathroom and provided a picture, then went on to say it also had an other shower room which was not accessible for a carer. In all the other rooms people are expected to share the bathroom but in the accessible space there are separate bathrooms for the able and disabled?
Just think for a moment what that statement might suggest to a person with a disablilty?
I realise this is a complex topic and often there is need for spaces that are separate to meet peoples individual needs, but there is something to be said for segregation being acceptable even seen as progress when it comes to the accommodation of disability in modern times.