The Captcha Conundrum & Accessible Alternatives

Bridging the Gap: Accessible Captcha and the Quest for Inclusion

For developers of accessible websites, discerning legitimate users from automated systems presents a constant challenge. Balancing security with inclusivity can be a tightrope walk, especially when considering traditional Captcha methods. While we at Visits Unlimited employ invisible systems to minimize accessibility barriers, even these solutions aren’t foolproof.
Raghavendra Satish Peri’s insightful article on digitala11y.com dives deep into this dilemma, exploring various Captcha methods, their pros and cons, and the accessibility pitfalls encountered by massive platforms like Wikipedia.

This brings us to the story of an accessibility advocate attempting to contribute to Wikipedia. Faced with a mandatory Captcha during registration, their frustration echoes the plight of many visually impaired users who encounter accessibility roadblocks even on the most widely visited websites. The lack of readily available alternatives, like audio verification or one-time mobile codes, further underscores the need for robust yet inclusive Captcha solutions.

The quest for truly accessible Captcha goes beyond mere convenience. It’s about ensuring equal access to online platforms for everyone, regardless of their abilities. This demands a shift in approach, with a focus on developing innovative methods that not only deter bots but also empower users with diverse needs.

One promising avenue lies in leveraging advanced user behavior analysis algorithms. These can track interactions, mouse movements, and other subtle user signals to distinguish humans from automated scripts. Such solutions hold the potential to be both invisible and highly accurate, creating a seamless experience for all users.

Ultimately, inclusive web design cannot afford to compromise on security. However, by embracing innovative technologies and prioritizing user-centric solutions, we can bridge the gap between accessibility and security, paving the way for a truly inclusive online experience for everyone.

You can read the full article on Digital A11Y’s accessibility blog here.

The high cost of living in a disabling world

Many disability advocates, including Jan Gru in his excellent Guardian piece (Read the article  here ), paint a stark picture of living with a disability and accessibility today. While progress towards inclusivity has been made, challenges remain. One major hurdle? The invisible burden is placed on disabled individuals every day. From wrestling with inaccessible doors to navigating unfriendly buildings and enduring discriminatory attitudes, these obstacles chip away at the very fabric of daily life.

A screenshot of the article showing a person in a wheelchair at the bottom of some stairs. Accessibility
A screenshot of the article showing a person in a wheelchair at the bottom of some stairs

The Pandemic’s Impact:

The pandemic exacerbated these struggles for many. Not only were disabled individuals more susceptible to the virus itself, but their rights were sometimes sacrificed in the name of public safety. Denied access to essential services or even facing forced institutionalization, they bore the brunt of misguided policies.

Accessibility: Beyond Ramps and Elevators:

Accessibility demands more than just ramps and elevators; it’s about equal opportunities. Disabled individuals deserve the same access to education, employment, and housing as anyone else. Creating this level playing field requires a multi-pronged approach:

1. Education: Dispelling misconceptions about disability is crucial. Only through understanding can we dismantle barriers and foster a more empathetic society.

2. Enforce Existing Laws: We already have legal frameworks protecting the rights of disabled individuals. But they’re only as effective as their enforcement. Holding perpetrators of discrimination accountable is essential.

3. Invest in Accessible Infrastructure: Building ramps, installing elevators, and ensuring transportation accessibility are foundational steps towards inclusivity.

4. Support Disabled-Led Organizations: These groups championing change deserve our full support. We can empower them by providing resources and amplifying their voices.

Conclusion:

Living with a disability shouldn’t be an impediment to fulfillment. By collaborating and amplifying the voices of those navigating these barriers, we can build a world where accessibility is not an aspiration, but a reality.

Read the article  here

Working with Hardcastle Crags

Accessibility. Our first meeting by Les Allan – member of the Accessible Calderdale Disability Access Forum

I was picked up by Community Transport for Calderdale and taken to Hardcastle Crags for our initial meeting with Chris Bryerley.

Challenges and Solutions for Visitors with Disabilities

My recent visit to Hardcastle Crags with the Accessible Calderdale Disability Access Forum highlighted some accessibility concerns. Let’s explore these issues and potential solutions to make this beautiful site inclusive for everyone.

Transportation Barriers: Limited Options and Narrow Roads

Reaching Hardcastle Crags itself presented the first hurdle. Limited public transport options, particularly outside peak season, and a narrow access road pose challenges for larger vehicles. We propose exploring solutions like using community transport minibuses, not just for disabled visitors but anyone facing transportation difficulties.

Sensory Overload at Gibson Mill: Seeking a Quieter Meeting Space

The initial meeting location at Gibson Mill proved disruptive due to noise from barking dogs, deliveries, and cafe patrons. This raises the importance of offering alternative meeting spaces with quieter environments, considering both sun exposure and shade preferences to ensure visitor comfort.

Accessibility Beyond the Main Path: Reaching the River for All

The river experience is central to enjoying Hardcastle Crags. We discussed ways to enhance accessibility along the riverside for visitors with mobility limitations, without significant financial outlays. These might include levelling uneven paths, smoothing out surfaces, and creating accessible connections from the main path to the riverside.

Working Together for a More Inclusive Hardcastle Crags

I’m optimistic that by collaborating with the National Trust, we can implement these improvements and make Hardcastle Crags a truly accessible destination for everyone.

By Les Allan

My visit to Shibden Park on 10th June 2021

Shibden Park Accessibility Review: A Day with Calderdale Community Transport

Aisha Mir explores Shibden Park accessibility with Calderdale Community Transport

A trip to Shibden Park with Calderdale Community Transport turned into a valuable discussion about accessibility for wheelchair users, parents with buggies, and visitors with visual impairments.

Meeting the Park Managers

Chris Hancox and Steve Mitchel from Calderdale Community Transport provided a smooth pick-up and drop-off for Aisha and her 2-year-old son. While a slight delay due to car seat safety checks meant missing a full introduction with park manager Mark Spencer, the other park managers were incredibly welcoming.

Accessibility Concerns Raised

The group discussed accessibility challenges faced by wheelchair users, blind people, elderly visitors, and those with prams. Issues included:

  • Pot holes and uneven surfaces throughout the park
  • A dangerous bus stop and uneven road leading to the lower car park
  • Lack of accessible alternative routes around historical areas
  • Difficulty navigating the park with a pram due to steep inclines and loose surfaces like sand (used for filming purposes)

Positive Aspects and Requests for Improvement

Aisha acknowledges the park’s beauty and appreciates the improvements made, particularly the accessible path around the upper park. However, she emphasizes the need for further accessibility measures, such as:

  • An accessible path alongside the park train route for safe pedestrian movement
  • Improved signage throughout the park for better navigation, especially for first-time visitors
  • Inclusion of a changing place facility within the park toilets

A Day Filled with Connection and Hope

Despite the accessibility concerns, Aisha highlights the positive aspects of the visit:

  • Enjoying the beautiful weather
  • Reconnecting with friends after the COVID-19 lockdown
  • Indulging in a delicious mocha at the cafe

The group’s valuable discussions and suggestions for improvement leave Aisha hopeful for positive changes at Shibden Park.

Find out more from the Shibden Park Website Click Here

Chris has been busy working with the team developing plans for the projected Station to be built at Elland

Improving Accessibility Through Collaboration

As you know, I’ve always been passionate about influencing local planning decisions. Whether it’s improving the roads, opening a new building, or changing land use, I always have an opinion – I’m a Yorkshireman after all! I believe my knowledge and lived experience with disability are valuable contributions, but is simply voicing complaints from the sidelines truly effective?

Anyone can shout, “That will never work!” or “You can’t be serious!” It might feel satisfying in the moment, but does it really make a difference? So, what happens when someone actually says, “Alright, put your money where your mouth is. Work with us and tell us where we’re going wrong”?

Believe me, it’s incredibly satisfying.

Accessibility A train comes into the station at Elland
A train comes into the station at Elland

From Outsider to Insider

I was recently invited to work with the team developing plans for a new station in Elland, alongside accessibility improvements in the surrounding area. It was a truly positive experience. I was listened to, included in every decision, and made to feel like a valued member of the team.

This experience opened my eyes to the immense amount of research that goes into such planning, and the delicate balancing act required for many decisions. From my perspective, I might propose a specific solution based on my extensive knowledge of my disability and the needs of others. The team, while familiar with some accessibility concerns, also has to consider costs, complex engineering requirements, underlying building constraints shaped by the landscape, and local pressures from residents, businesses, hospitals, schools, and so on.

Aerial artists impression of the proposed station at Elland. Trees are in the background with bridges over two rivers in the foreground
Aerial artists’ impression of the proposed station at Elland. Trees are in the background with bridges over two rivers in the foreground

The Complexity of Seemingly Simple Solutions

Luckily, my background in maths allows me to understand the detailed architects’ and engineers’ plans. Even seemingly simple constructions like a public shelter on a platform or a ramp up to a bridge involve immense complexity.

Learning and Earning Respect

Through this collaboration, I’m gaining valuable insight into the planning process. While my core principles of improving accessibility remain unchanged, I’ve gained immense respect for the designers, architects, and engineers who strive to follow guidelines and regulations while providing what the public wants, all within budget constraints.

Aerial artists impression of the West Vale Bridge at Elland. Trees are in the background with bridges over a river on the left
Aerial artists impression of the West Vale Bridge at Elland. Trees are in the background with bridges over a river on the left

Accessibility Building Bridges, Not Walls

Hopefully, I’m also making a positive impact on the team. By working together, we can break down barriers, create new connections and priorities, and even change long-held perspectives on accessibility.

Ultimately, as in every aspect of life, even the most straightforward-looking situations involve compromise. But through collaboration, we can achieve the best possible outcome for everyone.

Until next time, keep safe,

Chris

Up-to-date information about the Elland Train Station Click Here

Information about joining ACDAF Here

Extreme Auditing (working through the Pandemic)

Access Audits. Extreme auditing, working through the pandemic. Chris is out and about even through the difficult times…

Well, I certainly can’t remember a year anything like this one – it seemed to come to a grinding halt in March, and it’s certainly not back on the rails yet.

For the team at Visits Unlimited you might think that would be the end of things for the foreseeable future, no one going anywhere, no one meeting up with anyone, not a bit of it.

We’re far more resourceful and resilient to accept that!

True – work did drop off a cliff for a few weeks, audit dates in the diary were cancelled, people didn’t know what could or should happen, but that didn’t last for long at our Accessible Calderdale Project.  After a few weeks of hiding away, people started peeping over the parapet and gingerly climbing over.

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Fully Accessible, The Space @ Field Lane is a new community Space in Calderdale

Building Opportunity for All: Accessibility at the Heart of The Space @ Field Lane

The concept of a community space thrives on inclusivity. It’s a place where everyone feels welcome, valued, and empowered to participate. Accessibility, therefore, becomes an essential cornerstone in building a thriving community hub.

This is precisely the philosophy behind The Space @ Field Lane, a resident-owned and operated community centre in Calderdale. Their mission statement, “building opportunity in our community,” takes on a special meaning when considering their commitment to accessibility.

The Space @ Field Lane image of dining area

Prioritising Accessibility from the Start

The Space isn’t your average community building. Unlike many pre-existing structures, accessibility wasn’t an afterthought; it was woven into the very fabric of the project from the beginning. This commitment is evident in the inclusion of a dedicated Changing Places facility – a vital amenity often missing in public buildings, which can significantly limit accessibility for disabled people.

The Space @ Field Lane group understood this challenge. While incorporating the Changing Places facility added delays and funding hurdles, they persevered, recognising the significant impact it would have on inclusivity.

Accessibility in Action

Accessibility extends beyond designated facilities. The Space actively seeks to remove barriers and ensure a smooth experience for all. Their collaboration with accessibility auditors demonstrates their dedication to identifying and rectifying even minor obstacles, like the initial double door issue. These seemingly small details can make a big difference in ensuring a truly accessible environment.

The Space @ Field Lane image of toilet 1

Fostering a Welcoming Space

The Space isn’t just about physical accessibility; it fosters a welcoming atmosphere for all. Partnerships with organisations like the Wheelchair Enabling Society and the Disability Partnership create opportunities for social interaction and community engagement. This focus on inclusivity extends even to events – The Space aspires to become a go-to venue for celebrations, specifically catering to those who require Changing Places amenities.

The Space @ Field Lane image of toilet 2

During the Accessibility audit some other small points were highlighted – things which able-bodied people just don’t think about – like the position of soap dispensers over the sink.  All in all though the Accessibility Auditor commended The Space on its accessibility and forward thinking.

All that the Space group now needs is for the building to re-open and lots of people to use it.

The Wheelchair Enabling Society has run chair exercises at The Space and the Disability Partnership set up a series of lunches which are now run by The Space management committee.

The Space @ Field Lane image meeting space

The clean, modern and bright nature of the building make it very popular for children’s birthday parties. The trustees hope that it will not be long before those children and adults who need Changing Space facilities. For whom therefore the bulk of public buildings are not suitable for celebrations, will see The Space as their venue of choice.

The mission of The Space group is ‘building opportunity in our community’ and it seems that really does mean opportunity for all, and that includes those who need a Changing Space

Building a Stronger Community

The Space @ Field Lane serves as a shining example of how accessibility can be a driving force in building a stronger community. By prioritising accessibility from the outset, The Space ensures everyone has the opportunity to participate, connect, and contribute. This commitment to inclusivity paves the way for a more vibrant and equitable community for all.

For more information, telephone 01484 5560924, see the website: www.thespaceatfieldlane.org.uk or the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/thespacefieldlane/

What’s in a name?…….and the name is “accessible”……..

Accessible, Well, we all know what that means now, don’t we? Read on…..

Accessible? A few weeks ago my partner and I were feeling a little stir crazy and thought we deserved a weekend away, so that’s what we planned.
(Ironically this was the weekend just prior to hearing Government advice not to travel unless totally necessary. So, we had a lovely three days of gorgeous villages, artisan markets, great weather, excellent meals and too much to drink, to return to a different world. If we thought we were stir crazy then….?)

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Centre Vale Park Todmorden looks like a great place to visit after lockdown.

Recently I was made aware of Centre Vale Park in Todmorden . I’ve not had the pleasure of a visit yet but looking at the little I’ve seen online it looks very enticing &  seems very accessible .

There are 33 hectares so it covers a fairly large area & seems to have areas to suit everybody . I look forward to visiting when lockdown is behind us all to see what it has to offer . Situated on Burnley Road , half a mile from Todmorden town centre it boasts woodland walks , open parkland , play areas & even an under 12s roadway , to name but a few . Definitely one to look forward to .

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So, the first year of the brilliant Accessible Calderdale project is already over! Bring on the second!

It’s been consistently absorbing and incredibly varied. Massive plans, big ideas, selfless individuals – it’s all there.

I’ve met many, many interesting, committed, hard-working people – all determined to make their particular voluntary project work. Hopefully my advice, followed by money from Community Foundation for Calderdale will help them all to realise their dreams.

People always want to hear a summary at this time of the year – high spots, interesting people, fascinating twists, unexpected turns – so here goes!

After roughly forty audits I’ve accumulated plenty of stories……

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To the Mayor of London from Nadia Clarke

To the Mayor of London:

I would like to say something regarding the 2019 New Year’s Eve Fireworks event. I am a wheelchair user, as I have cerebral palsy, so I booked for the accessible area for the event. It has been my dream for years to go, and I travelled all the way down from Halifax. I had to pay for a Hotel and also transport for not just me, but my 2 PAs, so this was at great expense. A few weeks ago I got my letter with the information for the event and it was not very detailed at all. When me and my PAs were heading to the event the map was useless, as it did not show much of the  surrounding area or the streets. On the tickets it said “From Waterloo” at the top, but did not explain what this meant. I am guessing this means that is where we could get to the area,  however, as the tube is at times inaccessible for wheelchairs and also would be crowded on New Year’s Eve, this was not the best option for me.
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How accessible is your business/venue?

Are you meeting your legislative requirements?

Did you know that being accessible can help your business grow?

Visits Unlimited is a Halifax based organisation working with attractions and businesses both locally, regionally and nationally.  We work with colleagues in the tourism industry to help reduce the physical and non-physical barriers often experienced by disabled people.

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Accessible Calderdale Project Free Access Audits and Training to the Voluntary Sector

Visits Unlimited trainers have many years of experience of delivering training to a wide range of organisations, tourist venues, businesses, statutory services and the voluntary section.  We train management, front of house staff and volunteers across the country.

Visits Unlimited is part of the England Inclusive Tourism Action Group alongside Visit England and other partners in the tourism industry.

Our offer to the voluntary sector and community groups in Calderdale:

Free Training to all those organisations who have put in an Expression of Interest Form for our Free Access Audits.

Recent feedback from our local training session

 “ Thanks Chris and Katie for sharing your personal experiences to help us understand more about disability”

“I can use what I learned in everyday aspects of my life – professional/parish and volunteering”

“Very informing and eye-opening.  Thank you”.

Free Access Audits

  • Would you like to develop your community group venue to become more accessible to people with disabilities?
  • Are you considering re-locating your group and would like to ensure the proposed venue is inclusive and accessible?

Chris Cammiss is our skilled and professional auditor, trainer and disability advisor. Chris works is an auditor for a variety of venues including large tourist attractions, stately homes and castles, health settings, large businesses, transport, shops, hotels, outdoor venues and small organisations.

Chris provides a full access survey with a report a recommendation. Groups will have the opportunity to apply for funding through the Community Foundation for Calderdale to support recommendations for access and inclusion.

Feedback from recent audits
“So helpful”, “fabulous audit”, “looking promising with the funding from Community Foundation”, “invaluable”.

Contact Lorraine@visitsunlimited.org.uk 07596 707795 

The Accessible Calderdale Access Audit Expresssion Of Interest Form is downloadable by clicking this link.

Email the completed form to lorraine@visitsunlimited.org.uk or post to: 15 Savile Park Gardens, HALIFAX, Yorkshire, HX1 2XL.

Chris, collaboration, great folk & the lion’s den.

Longleat, where change is welcomed.

I went back down to Longleat on Tuesday to see Simon Townsend and his team from Cheddar Gorge and Longleat to discuss my two earlier Access Reports.

After enjoying a lovely journey there I was quickly deflated when I found the main Entrance completely blocked off! Proper electronic barriers, clear signage, the venue was clearly closed! Luckily I could see a distant Land Rover parked amongst the trees so I knew some sort of access must be possible but how, where? Being the consummate professional I am I had arrived without Simon’s number or indeed the contact details of anyone relevant to the venue!

Eventually I started to think more clearly, looked around more carefully and found “the button”. Quick press and I was through to Security and the barriers soon began to move aside.

After parking, one more random question and I was directed to the Estate Office. Jump forward a few minutes and now I’m back in the real business world. Simon collected his team, a suitable room was located, coffee was brewed and off we went.

What a positive meeting! Everyone was on the same page and very keen to progress. Lovely to encounter so much enthusiasm. It’s always a good sign when everyone is discussing issues without mentioning costs. Of course costs will be relevant later but it never blocked or influenced a discussion here.

I was particularly relieved to find how much common ground there was. I had indicated several areas in my reports where I wanted to see immediate improvement. You never know how well negative comments will be received in these situations, but all was well, we all agreed, they had the same reservations as me and indeed some changes were already on track.

Hopefully this will be a long-term connection, yearly reviews, training updates and so on. I want to continue working with such lovely venues and enthusiastic staff.

After a very productive meeting, feeling very pleased with the situation we eventually dispersed into the night.

Now, I had been there before, but in the pitch black you can easily lose your bearings. Signs are missed, floodlights don’t quite illuminate the places you want. Paths which are obvious in the daytime become inexplicably invisible in the dark. After a few wrong turns (including a near miss with the lion enclosure) I spotted red rear lights in the distance and set off in pursuit. I was able to locate some paths and negotiate the winding route to eventually catch the line of departing staff just as if I knew exactly what I was doing!

A great day and a very positive conclusion to my work which had started back in November. Katie’s training is yet to come and then we’ll know more about how to carry this great collaboration forward. Watch this space!

Chris

ACCESSIBLE CALDERDALE PROJECT

Calderdale Gets Major Accessibility Boost!

Visits Unlimited, a Halifax-based user-led organization, has secured 3 years of funding from the Community Foundation for Calderdale. This exciting development allows them to build upon their successful work. With disabled people, local voluntary groups, and various stakeholders like the local authority, visitor attractions, transport companies, businesses, and Visit Calderdale.

Their ultimate goal is clear: to transform Calderdale into a fully accessible and welcoming environment. In essence, they want everyone, including people with disabilities and their families, to fully enjoy the area and create lasting memories that will make them want to return.

But who exactly are Visits Unlimited?

A leading force in accessibility, Visits Unlimited works collaboratively with tourism industry colleagues, both locally and nationally. Their expertise extends to a comprehensive training and access audit program offered across England. Their impressive roster of clients includes prestigious names like the National Trust, English Heritage, various sports grounds, major tourist attractions, small businesses, theaters, music venues, museums, and hotels.

Locally, Visits Unlimited has already made a significant impact. Funded by a 2015 grant from the Community Foundation for Calderdale, their Accessible Hebden project proved highly successful. Through collaboration with disabled people, they conducted over 40 access audits and surveys on small businesses, empowering them to become more accessible. The positive legacy continues! This project is now an integral part of local strategic work, and the Hebden Bridge Disability Access Forum actively promotes accessibility by influencing new planning and designs.

Accessible Calderdale

Firstly Accessible Calderdale is building on this work and will be working across Calderdale. Together with Disability Partnership Calderdale to ensure that we have the voice of disabled people, their families and carers, organisations working with people with a range of impairments to have a say in how the project runs.

“Visits Unlimited have been a catalyst for us on the Hebden Bridge project.  We had identified access issues with our Access Group but just turning up was not good enough. Visits Unlimited did a report on the train station and to have their report under our arm has given strength to our argument every single time we have met and we were able to go to Network Rail and the highway authorities   – it has made a big difference.  I have learned a lot – things I did not know or what was available.” Hebden Bridge Partnership.

 “Our disability survey was extremely useful as we did not appreciate the things that needed doing.  Chris gave us lots of useful simple ideas including even changing the door knob on the toilet facilities that we never thought about.”  Pennine Heritage.

The project has developed two working groups which convened in December 2018, ‘How to get there’ with a focus on accessible transport and ‘Places to go’ which focuses on accessible tourism. The groups will meet four times a year and are integral to the project in developing Calderdale into an accessible and inclusive place.

Calderdale Disability Access Forum

In essence, Visits Unlimited are establishing a Calderdale Disability Access Forum. So any organisation or individual wishing to get involved can contact the project coordinator, Lorraine Beiley.   The group will meet in March 2019. We are delighted to have already made some good alliances with voluntary and community sector. The local authority and Visit Calderdale, and are holding an event at Square Chapel on February 26th 2019. Guest speakers include Visit England, our own Eureka and Accessible Derbyshire.  

#wewelcomeeveryone.   We will be doing free access audits and there will be opportunity for community organisations. To apply for a small grant from Community Foundation for Calderdale.

Contact details

For more information contact Lorraine@visitsunlimited.org.uk or rob@cffc .co.uk

My day out at Longleat Safari Park

Day one was Chedder Gorge, Day 2 Longleat.

Driving through the grounds for the first time, my first impression was how fabulous the house actually appears. After parking up, I planned my day to include all the major attractions. There’s so much here to do and see, everyone will find something to enjoy.

Staff were incredible again and lots of thought has already gone into improving access.

The House itself was a delight. As often happens the dedicated disabled entrance takes you through several rooms the general public may never see but then joins the public flow along the tourist route through the house. Volunteer guides are in every room and they are friendly, helpful and clearly love what they do, they are all dressed as 20’s flappers and full of great information.

Longleat outside

Outside there are formal grounds – all accessible, endless playgrounds, a fully accessible train taking you around the grounds so you can catch your breath, even an accessible cruise around the huge lake.

There are many eating places and shops – again all very accessible indeed.

Most of the rides are accessible.

The only downside in my opinion was the Adventure Castle children’s playground. Stunning looking space, castle, drawbridge, rope walks from tree to tree, aerial walkways, but all currently inaccessible for many with mobility issues.

But, back to the park and the famous Safari itself. If you have your own transport it all works brilliantly – you just drive through at your own pace. If not, catch the fully accessible bus. Stop off at the African Village, all very accessible, and spend as much time as you wish.

It’s all around you – elephants, giraffes, rhinos, lions, flamingos..

Throw in the fireworks and light show after dark – what’s not to like?

It was a challenging trip but well worth the effort.

Longleat Safari Park and Cheddar Gorge 

Longleat Safari Park and Cheddar Gorge

So, who’s up for some extreme tourism? 

My latest escapade for visits unlimited was to audit Longleat Safari Park and sister attraction Cheddar Gorge.  

Some simple cave exploration in the Gorge and dancing with lions at Longleat – no problem at all for a wheelchair user! 

I have to admit I was intrigued. I couldn’t believe my luck. How romantic, how interesting, but how much of the caves would I see? How would I get around the Safari Park? 

Well, I found the whole experience fascinating and much more accessible than you might have thought. With the help of some very well-motivated staff I had a great time. Both sites were an absolute pleasure to survey. Yes, I saw plenty of features that could be improved but the sites are well worth a visit now.  

Day One – Cheddar Gorge.  

The attraction in essence consists of several caves developed in Victorian times as a tourist venue. With an introductory film show, a modern museum, walks and viewpoints and several shops, there’s a full day out here. 

After purchasing tickets, see the introductory film. This beautifully sets the scene with colourful history, wildlife, flora, what to visit and what can be managed. 

The main cave – Gough’s Cave – after the man who made a public attraction out of it is unfortunately inaccessible to wheelchair users and anyone who can’t negotiate four sloping steps but is very rewarding for anyone else.

Staff helpfully bumped me down (not for the general public) so I did see most of what is on offer. If my recommendations are followed the access will be quickly improved. 

A long tunnel carries you into the rock – Cheddar Man, unique rock formations, twists and turns, audio description points – very special indeed. 

After Gough visit the very accessible Museum of Pre-History. Small enough not to be daunting or boring but large enough to house a huge array of exhibits all displayed with imagination.

The fun never stopped

I was lucky enough to be accompanied by an enthusiastic school party who were greatly entertained by the Stone Age re-enactor who dressed them in animal skins, told them about skinning a rabbit and finally showed them how to start a fire with just a few sticks – hugely impressive!  

My final, and possibly favourite destination was Cox’s Cave. This is a network of several inter-connected chambers. Complex and challenging for some with mobility or visual impairments it rewards those who can manage handsomely.

A brilliant film show showing the development of Early Man in the area is displayed on the raw walls of each chamber, carrying you through his history, changing environment and the animals he hunted. Sound and lights enhance this extremely entertaining  production. Different episodes take you through the cave complex.

Mindful of my mobility issues, staff made sure I saw as much as possible by letting me in the front and back entrances. Nothing was too much trouble. 

A day with Visit County Durham and promoting Access for All

County Durham, a beautiful place.

We left Halifax at 645am heading for the motorway and County Durham on Tuesday 30th October 2018.   We had only been driving for 20 mins when there was a sign on the M62 letting us know that the A1 was closed at Junctions 47 to 49. Ugh. The glorious Sat Nav re-directed us through Leeds and towards Harrogate passing various tourist attractions and venues such as Leeds Direct, the stunning Harewood House, Ripley Castle and on the road to Ripon to pick up the A1 we drove past the sign to Fountains Abbey, Lightwater Valley, Ripon Racecourse and Ripon Cathedral.

This was actually the first day of work for our new co-ordinator Lorraine who got a guided tour of North Yorkshire which she was not expecting. We were definitely going the scenic route and both cheered a sigh of relief when we finally got onto the A1.

Why were we in County Durham?

Visits Unlimited had been asked by Visit County Durham to speak at their annual Autumn Conference and to run a workshop session on Access for All alongside Michelle Gorman, Managing Director of Visit County Durham and Jane Shaw from Durham Creatives.

Lorraine and I arrived in plenty of time at the Redworth Hall Hotel for me to meet the team and the Chair Ivor Stolliday, to check over my powerpoint, enjoyed a coffee and croissant and to do a bit of networking before the event started.

We learn as much as we give.

Watching the excellent film of the City of Culture which showed the range of beautiful countryside and visitor attractions in the area sold County Durham to me! I loved the idea of Star Gazing and taking disabled people out into the open at night.   In 2019 I am booking into one of the many small hotels and BnBs in the region and heading to Durham Cathedral to meet Ivor who has promised me my own guided tour whilst going to one of the many wonderful events planned for the Durham Year of Culture!

My talk on Access for All included an overview of the numbers of disabled people in the UK, the Purple Pound and some interesting statistics from Visit England as well as some inspiring stories of good practice around the country. The message of the importance of training and good customer service came across strongly.   After a delicious lunch I ran one of three workshops each delivered 3 times to a total of 90 people. I told a story of the ups and downs of living with disability and the benefits of a day out, a short break and a night away. The participants were very proactive and there was some great ideas of how to improve their accessible and inclusive offer. The importance of good customer service and a warm welcome was highlighted again.

The Deep Blue Approach

We only went and did it again at The Deep! Accessible tourist training that really makes a difference.

When we got invited to take our training package to The Deep in Hull for the 4th year running we jumped at the chance because we know that we are about to walk into a full on day with an enthusiastic, motivated, open minded group of individuals who love what they do and are proud of what their organisation stands for.

One thing that has always stood out for me though it that they really do want to make a difference to their visitors experiences, working in teams they were proactive in their discussion, considering different visitor journeys and working through how they can support individual needs in the future.

The content that we delivered was filled with transferable skills that can be taken in on an organisational level and many staff commented in their feedback that there were skills and strategies that we passed on which they knew they could use in other areas of their lives.

Making memories

At Visits Unlimited we work hard on providing the relevant content that brings together individual organisations and the visitors who access them. It is important to us that what we deliver aligns with the values of who we are training because we know how important it is for venues and the staff working within these venues to connect with their visitors and provide the best services and days out. We pride ourselves on our training packages and what we bring to the table.

However why not read for yourself some of the amazing feedback we received from our training day a few days ago. Thank you to everyone who attended and being part of the day being filled with education, care, laughter, respect and equality.

The Deep staff feedback

“Thank you for today. This is my 3rd time doing the session and it is always a great reminder that there are amazing people in this world, doing amazing things. I hope one day we can all adopt these values in everyday life. I always learn something new. Again thank you.”

“Lovely session regarding sensitivity to various issues that may arise at the Deep and helped develop confidence regarding how to best deal with and assist people with disabilities.”

“Really enjoyed hearing about body language from Karen. Also really appreciated hearing different perspectives/discussions. You are both amazing humans!”

“Really informative course, leaving feeling a lot more aware of all disabilities. Also now may come over the awkwardness and barriers on not knowing how to ask. Thank you for your time.”

“In all honesty, I came into the building not expecting to learn anything significant. In reality I believe I have probably learned a handful of skills that will not only assist my work at the Deep but my future professional career. Thank you”

“Great day, very welcoming and open to create a great atmosphere. Very educational and worthwhile.”

“Wonderful! Thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of today’s course. Informative, balanced, and very useful. Many thank yous for sharing your experiences and expertise with us. Feel free to stay in touch.”

“Very informative. I learned so much about behaviour and communication across all abilities and levels. Karen was quite possibly one of the most engaging and interesting people I have met. Katie had such optimism and happiness about her that was infectious.”

“Very informative. Learned many new things. Interaction from both Deep members and instructors was good. Time allowance just right.”

“It’s been great to hear other’s stories about dealing with children/siblings with disabilities as well as learning about other ways to assist individuals with learning impairments and non-visible disabilities. Thank you.”

York racecourse welcomes us in.

York Racecourse this May 2018

So here I find myself driving back to God’s own country steeped in the sunshine that makes this place even more golden. I’m heading for a second spot of Disability Awareness publicity for staff at York Racecourse.

I already had high expectations after a very pleasant and welcoming session two weeks ago and I wasn’t disappointed this time either.

A very warm welcome from Sam Henderson, my presentation was already loaded for me, my coffee delivered (this is one of my essential criteria), the microphone on, all traditional technical hitches sorted and with the introduction made and off we went….

A very swift, twenty minute intro into who we are and what we do and what we could do for them. Short but plenty of connection and plenty of laughter (always a good sign), with lots of happy faces and a satisfying queue of people afterwards all with relevant questions.

Sam was very pleased indeed, said he would keep all our contact details and hoped to see us again. I’m pretty sure we will work there again in some capacity.

Also had a long conversation with another contributor who had listened to my presentation on my previous visit. He’s based at Ascot no less and thought our disability work fitted perfectly with his plans to re-vamp their accessibility provision there! We swapped contact details and made a firm commitment to meet in June after our current work is sorted. What a connection!

I’m thinking Royal Enclosure, Katie in a fancy hat…… no, no, let’s not get carried away, let’s just say the networking is going very well!

Watch this space!