Do you have to plan to be spontaneous? working together to improve access

Do you have to plan to be spontaneous? working together to improve access

Surely this question is incorrect, how can people plan to be spontaneous? When the word itself means ‘Performed or occurring as a result of a sudden impulse’ – but this is something often considered by Ann Johnson, Director of Wave-length, when she speaks of the way she has to plan a holiday or simply a family day out.

Surely this question is incorrect, how can people plan to be spontaneous? When the word itself means ‘Performed or occurring as a result of a sudden impulse’ – but this is something often considered by Ann Johnson, Director of Wave-length, when she speaks of the way she has to plan a holiday or simply a family day out.  Ann says ‘I cannot simply turn up at a place, or pull in off the road to a restaurant or bar that looks nice or just plan to go where someone says that place will be great to visit, as a wheelchair unless I know the place already, I have to research it, perhaps ring or send someone on a recce, it was so easy before I came to rely on a chair just to simply turn up knowing that everything would be available to the average able bodied person.  Whilst it is fair to say that much has been achieved since the Disability Discrimination Act and then the Equality Act 2010 there are many organizations who either fail to do anything, do it properly or perhaps at worse do not wish to do anything.  Overall I think where there is hope is that some are starting to see the benefits of the spending power of people with disabilities, their families and friends and others who have already done something are seeing the need to do more and for those that have something to offer are seeing the advantage of marketing it’

It is not of course just Ann that faces challenges doing what many take for granted when going out for a day with the family.  A national report carried out by Vitalise and shared via the BBC stated:

Vitalise surveyed the venues that were recorded as the 100 most popular tourist attractions in the UK during 2013 by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions and 52 responded.

The survey said:

  • 63% of attractions said they were not fully wheelchair accessible
  • Of the 27 venues that charged for entry, 44% offered no discount at all for disabled people
  • Hoists were available in 19% of places, a facility which Vitalise describe as “an indispensable item for some disabled guests”
  • 25% did not have fully accessible approaches to their doors, including from parking areas
  • 13% of Britain’s most popular tourist attractions said all their staff had disability awareness training
  • 26% of attractions did not have accessibility information available on their websites

Since the Vitalise report Wave-length has taken steps to influence or make changes in the local area of Shropshire and the wider UK.  We have contacted Visit England to ask what they plan for 2015 and have received the following direct feedback from Ross Calladine Head of Business Support at Visit England

‘VisitEngland does indeed take a leadership role in the development of accessible tourism in England.  England is a leading destination in accessible tourism and there are many attractions in England that provide excellent facilities and services for visitors with access needs.  Tremendous progress has been made in recent years and this is an on-going process of improvement. However, there is still more work to be done to ensure all visitors receive a warm welcome, wherever they go on holiday in England.

As you quite rightly say, even small and often very affordable changes like providing an Access Statement can go a long way in helping people to enjoy their visit. This remains a priority for VisitEngland as we know eight out of ten people who have read an access statement felt that the information was useful. VisitEngland launched a national Access for All marketing campaign in March this year to champion accessible tourism and is taking a leading role in supporting tourism businesses to make the most of the Accessible Tourism market, a sector where overnight travel is now worth around £3billion a year to England’s tourism industry.’

We have also presented local findings around access to the Shropshire Destination Partnership. We took to a very responsive audience our wider findings from people with various disabilities accessing tourism sites but interestingly we did some research on local Telford and Shropshire tourism sites, taking a look at how they presented their access facilities to visitors on their website as often information as to whether there is value in visiting a site starts at this point.  We therefore took the top 30 visitor sites for Shropshire and Telford according to TripAdvisor and looked at the information these sites shared with the reader, some failed to have a website (often parkland or open space) others had sites with no information or inadequate information and in the minority came those with very detailed information and perhaps our personal Wave-length award would go to the Odeon In Telford who not only explained much about the experience in the building but also much about how to get there including how near public transport stops were to the building – fantastic and no need to ring them.

It is likely that many of these sites reviewed do have access facilities but they are simply falling short of sharing them with potential visitors.  This of course comes at a risk as some visitors might think they are accessible and just turn up therefore having a lesser experience than others, expectation shattered and the rest of the family feeling more than a little awkward about the whole situation.  So better to share that access might be limited or brilliant than risk frustration/complaints afterwards of at worse litigation.

It is fair to say that VisitEngland and Shropshire Destination Partnership certainly realize that much can be done to improve the situation and not all come with large bills attached, much is about the approach and the little things that make a difference.  Of course the businesses will realize as the population ages that even the bigger costs might have big payback.

Wave-length will be keen now to influence change in 2015 and have assurances from VisitEngland that their next 18 month tourism plan will have access objectives built in (they will be sharing this with us) and we now have a date in the diary for early New Year to work to build real change in Shropshire for 2015.  Which shows the value of working together to make a difference, we will now seek to developments on track and share with you the results.

If you have any comments on Shropshire’s or the UK’s tourism accessibility we would love to hear your thoughts. Contact Lauren at lauren@wave-length.org.uk

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