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Accessibility training in London with the Events team

Our Events team recently spent a full day out of their comfort zone, immersed in a tailor-made experiential workshop dealing with the issues of inclusivity and accessibility in all facets of live events.

Testing different types of public transport for disabled travellers

The Events team were split into three groups to plan and implement their journey between Milton Keynes and London. The challenge was to arrive at One Great George Street, an impressive Grade II listed building located in the heart of Westminster, by 10:00, using only public transport.  Team One selected train then bus; Team Two used train then taxi and Team Three, train and tube. Each team was allocated a wheelchair, glasses to simulate visual impairment and ear plugs, simulating audio impairment. By stepping into the metaphoric shoes of disabled travellers, the teams were given a rare opportunity to get first-hand experience with the challenges they encountered along the way.

The realisation of challenges that the disabled experience

Aside from the realisation of how frustratingly long these additional challenges can make a ‘simple’ journey, the three teams discovered enlightening truths about how ill-equipped the general public transport infrastructure is. They also learnt how ill-equipped the majority of the general public were in their interactions with disabled people – from being afraid to speak or give eye contact, to being widely inappropriate and overbearing. The challenges of the journey to central London were many! Poor lighting and unmarked steps, reverberating sound, stairs and escalators, no wheelchair access at certain underground stations, people pushing in front to jump into taxis and people simply not looking.

Disabled access in the event itself

But gold was waiting at the end of the rainbow - One Great George Street opened its doors to the team, showcasing a masterpiece in inclusivity and accessibility to all. On arrival, there was momentary panic, as those in wheelchairs were alarmed to see steps at the entrance. However, these quickly and smoothly folded back to reveal a hidden lift, enabling wheelchair users to enter the building by the same entrance as ambulant guests, rather than be pushed round to the back door. The team was incredibly impressed with the venue’s inclusivity features: a brilliantly designed hidden lift, permanent and portable induction loops, a lowered reception desk, strobe fire alarms, a two-way opening disabled toilet and shower room, purpose built accessible theatres, specifically widened areas to accommodate seating areas in the café…and the list goes on! Not to forget, this was all in perfect keeping with the heritage of this historic building. Project Executive Caroline Phillips, was blown away by the facilities: “It’s just amazing how much difference a small change will make to the suitability of a room for an impaired guest or delegate. It’s the incredibly thoughtful design that makes such a huge difference.”

Amy-Jo Brown, Project Manager, was surprised at how “A Grade II listed building transformed itself into an award winning accessible venue. The investment has paid for itself threefold or more – there are no excuses for new builds.”

A Grade II listed building transformed itself into an award winning accessible venue. The investment has paid for itself threefold or more – there are no excuses for new builds.

  • Amy-Jo Brown
  • Project Manager

Journeying around London

After the morning session at One Great George Street, the group journeyed to Victoria Park Plaza, again making use of the impairment simulations and quickly having to adjust to cobbled pavements, lack of dropped curbs, traffic noise, busy streets, inconsiderate drivers and pedestrian traffic. Even in the warm autumnal sunshine, this turned what would be a 15 minute walk into a tense 30 minute battle. Brook Jones, Project Executive remarked, “I found it fascinating that people moved out of the way for blind pedestrians but not so much for the wheelchair pedestrians. I assumed it was a ‘line of sight’ issue.”

At Victoria Park Plaza the emphasis was placed on reviewing the entire guest experience. Operations Director Rachel Belliere-Wilson organised the training: “The purpose of this exercise was to open people’s eyes to ‘inclusivity’ and to challenge the team’s thought process through the whole journey, from registration to check-out the website, travel, accommodation, social programme, etc. After all, in this day and age, you would not consider that someone with a special dietary need might not be served a meal at the same time and to the same standard as other guests, just because that was too tricky for the chef would you? So why should it be ok for a wheelchair user to have to wheel past the kitchen bins, in through a back door and through the staff quarters in order to access the building? Is it ok for a visually impaired guest trying to register on a website to have to call to register because the website is not able to show text in a bigger font? As with most things in life, successful stories only happen because of the ‘can do’ attitude of people. We were grateful to have the thoughts and views of some of the driving forces behind the buildings – Phil Ackers at One Great George Street, and Charlotte Culley and Rebecca Payne from Park Plaza. Charlotte has recently joined the team at The Victoria Park Plaza from the very successful inclusive environment of Westminster Park Plaza. She and Becky are intent on building on the good start that the property has made.”

Expert help was at hand

To facilitate the day’s workshop, the team were very lucky to have two of the leading subject matter experts on inclusivity and accessibility, Brian Seaman and Christopher Bray. Brian has been providing access advice to businesses who contact Tourism for All for 20 years. His work for Tourism for All has taken him right across the UK, to Ireland, France, Belgium, Holland, Italy, Majorca and the USA. Brian has worked on Destination Access Audits for towns and cities across England, and has also been working with many organisations and businesses over the years to help improve accessibility.

Chris, Head of Marketing and Income Generation at Eden Valley Hospice and Jigsaw, Cumbria's Children's Hospice - has a wealth of experience in the third sector having held the position of Head of Events at the MS Society for 10 years.  He has delivered a plethora of imaginative, inclusive and engaging live events catering for and to massive audiences with a huge range of diverse requirements. 

Some closing comments from our team:

Teresa Allen, Project Executive in the Events team said: “The practical side of the accessibility task made it very clear that simple everyday tasks are made so much harder when you are not able bodied. There are no shortcuts, everything takes much longer. Allowing additional time and planning ahead is so important.”

Hazel Ward, Project Director in the Events team said: “I now have a much better understanding of what inclusivity means”.

To underpin the thoughts and feelings of people with disability, some powerful video clips were featured:

Will Pike Video

Will Pike Interview

Ending the Awkward

If you would like to know more about running the perfect, and most accessible event, get in touch!

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