Understanding visitor needs. An experience shared.

Understanding Visitor needs.

Understanding visitor needs is an area that requires constant attention, constant nurturing, measuring and reviewing.  Whether you work within a tourist attraction, high street shop or own an online business, understanding your visitor’s or customer’s needs is what will create a solid foundation of a business approach.

This is a common sense approach that is proudly taken by many businesses, marketing teams and customer service teams.  It isn’t however, an approach modelled across the board.  I would like to share with you an experience that my son had recently, although he is unable to explain it to you I would like to translate the experience as i’ve come to learn from him over these last 15 years.

The story as it was

We’d gone out on a family day trip, one we were all looking forward to and had planned the best time of day and best day of the week for reduced sensory overload for our oldest son who has learning disabilities.

The attraction was busy, crowded but manageable with movement albeit navigating around crowds was common. By lunch time it was busier and noisier and my son was trying to focus on me whilst asking me a question.  Having a speech impediment making himself clear takes some effort.

As my son was walking away from a particular place a gentleman walked towards him whilst looking in the wrong direction and knocked into him.  My son’s first reaction is to say ‘Ouch’ this isn’t shouted but it will be loud enough for people close to him to hear.  The response from the gentleman was ‘For god’s sake,’ as he walked off. My son heard this and I saw his head lower and his eyes go to the floor. As I walked forward to reach him and support him (I will explain), a member of the attraction staff supported the gentleman’s behaviour by smiling with him, raising his eyebrows and pursing his lips at my sons behaviour.

This is what my son’s experience was.

The build up to the day was really exciting, we had the full itinerary planned for my son’s comfort and sense of control. Google earth had prevailed with routes, maps and the birds eye view so it was all familiar driving there.  But the level of excitement and expectation, anxiety and nerves stretches him and we soon have to start using our now well rehearsed management strategies.  All is going well. Eventually the sensory richness becomes overload and we recognise this and take a break using the resources we know work.

What is happening is his nervous system is becoming heightened and in order to cope with the rushing of information at super speed that he can’t keep up with processing in his brain, he starts to shut down in order to cope.  We can see this with his body language, through his speech and of course his behaviour.  Rarely now does his overwhelm become a public display, we have worked hard with him over the years to support him to release his pressure cooker feelings in more constructive ways however his brain is still trying to make sense of things that only a few moments ago he could make sense of.

Suddenly there’s a different language all around him – or that’s what it feels and sounds like.  Then there’s his nervous system; it’s feeling unorganised and sparky and his nerve endings hurt, his cranium is feeling tight and the loud noises are trapping him. It’s a bit like an assault on his system. So when someone knocks into him it hurts him. It isn’t his fault and he doesn’t know how to suppress his response for the sale of not offending someone who has hurt him so he says it.

Understanding visitor needs

My son wasn’t being rude, he wasn’t being offensive he was feeling overwhelmed.  We know our son and we know how to deactivate him in minutes and bring him back to a more balanced and centred sense of coping where suddenly the language he hears around him again is the one he speaks. Where things have come into order again and he is feeling more in control. Where he has his safe family around him that directs him and gives him the time and patience he needs.

I wanted to write this because if you notice a situation where someone is feeling slightly overwhelmed and responds in a way that you feel is in someway different, uncharacteristic or is clearly a behaviour due to overwhelm or anxiety.  Don’t roll your eyes, purse your lips or shake your head.  I’m not saying dive in an go for the rescue, chances are the parents or carers will create the immediate environment necessary to manage the situation. Just go on with your day, give them the space and respect, show solidarity if you feel there is something practical you can do such as ask if they would like you to go for help. Look after their bags for them whilst they manage the situation or help them find an area where they can go and find the space to support who they need to support.

Just take a second to think what would be the action that shows compassion, wisdom and yes courage because it takes all of those 3 to be any type of parent let alone a parent of a child with disability.

Thank you in advance because when someone comes over and gives us a minute of their time to offer their compassion, it makes a world of difference to us.

 

Harry Potter World

Harry Potter and the magical 4 hours.

Harry Potter is celebrating 17 years and the magic is still flowing. I remember picking up the first Harry Potter book, The Philosopher’s stone and being unable to put it down. I’m not sure how that looked sitting in the nursing staff room we shared with the doctors as I sat and flipped through a book about a 12 year old boy in the wizarding world – 3 consultants borrowed my book after me and so the book swapping frantic behaviour began.

No matter how old I got or get I still enjoy a bit of Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley’s great adventures and so with great pride and shear joy, I was thrilled when (with a little persuasion) both my boys jumped on board.

Harry Potter and the Amazing Accessibility.

Okay so it was game on, my boys wanted to go and visit Harry Potter world (and of course I did) so it was planning time. My oldest has learning disabilities and over stimulation of his nervous system can actually cause him discomfort if he is touched, Harry Potter World knocked or feels overwhelmed.  For me the planning has to start early so I called their helpline to see if the planning could be supported by the customer service team.

What a great experience I had. Warm and friendly, completely understanding and couldn’t have offered me more support if I tried. We worked out what day of the week was the quietest, the best time within that day, the best place to have lunch which had the least crowd and where that was within the attraction so we knew the general time we’d get there.

All this information is the golden goose for James because if he has a time line he feels in control and that is a huge resource for him to enjoy his Harry Potter experience.

I got in for free as his parent which was a generous gift (or it is for us when the extras we need to book to support these experiences add up). I was offered disability parking bays even though I don’t need one and had to keep refusing it (in a fully grateful way) and the welcome we got when we arrived was perfect, signs were easy to follow so there was no complex navigation to work out.

The Magic Continued.

The logic in our planning paid off and we had space and time to enjoy our movement around the place, the toilets accessible and clean and a set of them near the entrance, the ramps wide so when wheelchair users came passed there was comfortable and respectful room. What I mean by that it, it didn’t feel like an after thought, wheelchair users could move around the massive Hogwarts structure without being rushed.  The tour was on one level, I can’t personally remember any steps other than the ones near the Hogwarts castle structure, these were only a few (the large spacious gentle sloping ramp ran adjacent) and the steps illuminated for those with visual impairment.  The support around was subtle and easy to access and it made the day utterly enjoyable.

All these little things add up to big deals for parents and carers, we are no different in the fact that we know if our children are enjoying themselves then we get to relax a little and enjoy the day as well.  In this case it was pretty awesome for us all and bar a few little moments of overwhelm for James, who did very well to bring himself back from them I’ll give it thumbs up.

Top bits to see…

Diagon Alley, Gringots bank, the special effects, the famous bridge, the chamber of Secrets snake door, the Basilisk’s skeleton, riding on broom sticks over London, Professor Snape’s potions room, Harry Potter’s dorm, Hagrid’s famous robotic head (that you really can’t tell it isn’t him). Oh the list is endless so go and see it all!Harry Potter

Just one bit of feedback that I think is important which is the close design of the shop. This isn’t wheelchair friendly on a busy day with pop up stands in between the more fixed ones. The wands are all down by the from paying desks so as people are queuing to pay, you have people queuing to work our which wand they’d like to by. This wasn’t something we could do with James as the space was too tight and doesn’t advocate time taking and decision making. The shop (as it always is) is quite expensive but there’s no need to prepare you for that as that’s a given really. I tried the Butter bear but even with a sweet tooth that was way too sweet even for me but if you have one you can cross it off your bucket list so to speak.

I’m so glad I got to take the boys and that they saw the magic behind the magic because there’s something about seeing how it’s done that doesn’t erase the magic of what you see on screen, it just seems to make it so much more amazing.

Harry Potter World a great website awaits you. It’s all there but I also recommend speaking to the customer team.

Clothes shopping, how hard can that be?

Let’s go clothes shopping

That’s what her text read; ‘Clothes shopping on Friday?’

Great! A girlie day in town where I get to hang out with a friend who I know will like a sneaky glass of wine and cake to celebrate our purchases. We’ll  have long chats about this and that and the stuff in between whilst we put the worlds to rights discussing work, politics, the economy and how to make the perfect parkin and carrot cake.  Clothes shopping with my friend is always an pleasure but is also fringed with frustration.

 

I met Lucy a while ago now, she’s a loyal friend who is brilliant at bouncing ideas off, she’s grounded, intelligent, well educated, earns well from her profession and she lives abroad with her husband enjoying life.  My frustration isn’t with her, it’s how people treat her.  Most people don’t see what we see because my friend is a wheel chair user and that’s what people usually see.  Was this day going to be a different day?

 

The journey for our clothes shopping began…

The original idea was to get a bus into town so that we could enjoy a glass of wine with lunch whilst strategically planning the shop route for maximum benefit. But after letting 2 buses go because they couldn’t accommodate the wheelchair we had to think again. The train in as a direct mode of transport was out because you had to use stairs to cross the platform and the lift had been out of order for as long as anyone can remember.

The car it was then and the wine idea crossed off with most of the days transport plans. Wine for coffee, still lots to look forward too.

It wasn’t too busy in town but a lot of people would display signs of impatience at my friend’s presence in her chair. She took up extra room on the pavement or couldn’t get out of people’s way fast enough when they were texting and not looking where they were going. It took a little longer for her to get through the door of a shop or she had to use the lift. Looks of inconvenience, huffs and puffs and one person even tutted!  I’m a body language expert but I didn’t need to look hard to recognize it and I find it infuriating. Clothes shopping

 

Taking a break.

3 out of 5 shops before our coffee and cake break were accessible and we did the dressing room fittings, got the giggles and had a ball, we were finally on an easy stretch.  The second to last shop had 3 concrete steps leading up to the entrance and asked a member of staff if we could use their ramp.

The blank expression gave away the answer. Maybe you could ask your shift manager where it is or if you have one (I shrugged – I couldn’t help it).

“No, I don’t want to bother them. I’ll have a look at the back.” Came the reply as she walked off leaving me standing there wondering if she was aware of how offended I was? I figured not and did the initiative thing and asked the next member of staff If I could speak to the manager.

 

When you see things from a different angle.

The manager came within moments and was very lovely, polite and professional but no, a ramp wasn’t available because they didn’t have one apparently they’ve never really needed one?  “You’ve never has a wheelchair user come in your shop before?”  I didn’t wait for an answer before I gave them Visits Unlimited’s number and explained about the huge impact that accessibility will make on their business and reputation.

The 5th shop we got in but the inner design was chaotic, the isles were narrow because the racks of clothing created the thin isle boundaries. I admit, it’s only when we’re out together that I experience life through my friend’s eyes.

Turning her wheels slowly and carefully because if she knocked clothes off the hanger it was hard for her to put them back. Maneuvering around the maze was chaotic, there was no room for people to pass us and therefore the huffs and puffs or uncomfortable looks would be continued. These types of shops are unpleasant to go around but not only for wheelchair uses but also for people like me who don’t like chaos and sensory over load. I like space to browse, choose and wonder – but I digress.  The point is we can’t plan for any of this, we find ourselves in situations we’d like to avoid but by then it’s too late and we waste time and energy trying to navigate out of them.

By the end of the day we’d had our usual great time together which is invaluable but the reviews from us were mixed.  We would have liked to have spent more time in the main clothes shops but like most things when they are more challenging, they are tiring.  Lucy’s attitude is more than positive and reflective and she’s far removed from someone who will make a scene but in those moments when she faces constructed obstacles such as steps, steep ramps, dirty disability accessible toilets that she can’t manoeuvre her chair around easily in or people that see her and her chair as an obstruction, well that’s just hard to stomach.

 

It’s a consumers market out there yet businesses are leaving out a huge segment of the market. It doesn’t have to take thousands of pounds for people to make adaptions that make a difference and that difference is massive. Not only does it serve your business but the bottom line is that it makes a huge difference to people who experience a disability.  People like Lucy who wanted to buy a new top for her friend’s wedding, who wanted to browse the shoe isle for a new pair of heals.  Millions of pounds extra can be invested into the high street – this isn’t just about clothes shopping – this is about looking at how else we can support the high street and visitor attractions to exist.

Otherwise it’s online shopping which does little for people with disabilities to break state and get out. To experience the sensory richness of being out and about experiencing.  Let’s invest in the awareness and then invest in our businesses and attractions so that our friends and family who experience a disability can enjoy investing in themselves.

 

On a last note, check out this link from the BBC news and help us.

Days out and the magic that makes a difference.

Days out, whats important to you?

Days out make memories for a family. What is the one thing that makes a trip worthwhile? How did the day out make you feel? What do you remember most when you go home?

I know that for me it is the small things that make a difference and it is usually to do with feeling welcomed. The smile at the reception when I go in after having had a tricky journey and not being able to park near the entrance as the places were all full. Or after getting lost and the sat nav told me that “you have arrived at your destination.”  I know only too well that the country lane with a couple of houses on either side was not where I had hoped to end up.

 

That little effort goes a long way

A smile really makes a difference. To be greeted by a friendly and confident member of staff who is not put off by 6 children plus an electric wheelchair makes all the difference.

A few words like “is there anything I can do to help?” is like music to the ears. What hits me is that this does not happen enough. In fact as it is quite rare it is actually not just music to my ears but a symphony playing at the Royal Albert Hall.   Sometimes the shock of someone asking me takes me aback and I need a few minutes to compose myself to answer. I could say “oh no I am fine thanks” as that is rather British but actually instead I say “oh thank you, that is great. Not at the moment but I will get back to you if I do!” In return I give the person a big smile.  They smile back and although the whole interaction only took less than 30 seconds it has given me a spark, some zest, a new lease of life that helps makes the trip now worthwhile and sets me in the right frame of mind for a memorable day out.

 

Supporting people to have memorable days out.

It takes confidence to approach an individual who has a disability, especially if there is a sensory loss involved. Our approach, our facial expressions, tones of voice and words we use are important in supporting someone to feel respected, welcomed and heard.

Our body language specialist Karen Hickton has listed below some useful techniques to use which are easy to learn and very easy to apply. Remember that days out for some people take extra effort, extra planning, extra skills, extra management so if you go that extra mile you can diffuse some of that stress very quickly.

Our non verbal language is speaking all the time. It is conveying in actions our thoughts at that time. Sometimes these messages can be confusing, we can be unclear with our intentions and our actions can be misinterpreted.

Below I have written ten easy to use but key actions that can help you approach with open professionalism. Be warm and friendly from the moment you approach to closing the conversation down. If your intention is to create and leave a great lasting impression then you will achieve this, and make a huge difference.

 

Make those days out welcoming…

  • When approaching a person who is disabled or their family, friends or carers; approach them with a warm, soft and friendly face. A smile helps them feel safer and more relaxed and this takes only a second of your time. This may sound like an obvious one but I have recently experienced a number of occasions where this hasn’t happened and I have personally felt un welcomed. Research shows that we remember someone more if they smile at us because of how it makes us feel.
  • Eye contact is very important even if the individual doesn’t or can not return this connecting gesture. Eye contact with the family or those with them, is also important and very valuable in building a brief but helpful relationship.                      *Please be aware of cultural sensitivities here.
  • Keep your voice tone mid range if possible, speak to the individual with the disability in a friendly and calm tone not a high pitched one. Be clear with your words and be direct to the person you are talking too. “Hi, is there anything I can do to help?” Keep the warmth in your words and your eye contact gentle, don’t talk and scan the environment at the same time. This action can be an unconscious one if we become uncomfortable with a situation and we don’t want to be in it. We can disengage from the other person without thinking, this is something they will pick up on so be aware of avoiding this.
  •  Don’t talk over the person who has the disability. A disability does not necessarily mean they are unable to make informed choices and speak for themselves. Number one rule…don’t make assumptions.
  • Keep your body language open and facing the people you are talking to, if your feet are going one way and your upper body another, this looks like you’re only half present and you want to be gone.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask (appropriate) questions where the answers will help you assist someone. Ask them confidently and if you come across a question you don’t know how to answer, take it to a colleague.
  • Have at hand knowledge of your policies or extra support / facilities that your company or visitor centre / attraction has.   Do you provide facilities that makes things easier then please do share them with clear instruction or directions.
  • If you don’t understand something that is being said by an individual confidently ask them to repeat it, write it down or point it out. Is the  environment very noisy and overcrowded? Is communication difficult? Consider inviting them to a quieter place where you can communicate clearer.
  • End on a positive note such as; “enjoy the rest of your day” or “If there’s anything else we can help you with just find one of us.”

There’s nothing in that list you probably didn’t already know because this is baseline customer service but many people who live with a disability or families and carers rarely take for granted someone taking the initiative to come over and offer their support.

 

Be genuine, be respectful, be yourself.

 

Do Something Different in Yorkshire

Do Something Different Survey Results

Time flies when the sun is out!  Back in June we launched the ‘Do Something Different’ project which is setting up a web based resource aimed at families with children and young people with a wide range of disabilities, plus disabled people and their carers/Personal Assistants.   The resource will feature a selection of venues, attractions, parks, walks, short breaks and will be for anyone who is looking for suggestions on interesting and varied days out in the Yorkshire and Humber area.

To do this we asked you to fill in our survey or comment on our face book groups ‘Visits Unlimited’ and ‘Visits Unlimited Days out in Yorkshire’.

Do Something Different Survey Summary

The results were really encouraging, over 60 people entered the survey and over 40 different places were suggested.  It was lovely to see the wide range of venues and activities that people visit, and we hope that this will help encourage others to try and do something different!

The places listed in the survey were numerous here are some you know and hopefully a few new ideas:  Eureka; Flamingo Land; The Yorkshire Wild Life Park; Castle Howard; The Yorkshire Sculpture Park; The seaside; The South Yorkshire Aircraft Museum; The Cow and Calf; Ponderosa Farm.

We asked for diverse ideas and that is what we got!  Most people said they chose their favourite place because of the accessible activities and venue (85%) and the friendly/ helpful staff and volunteers, (64%).

Here are some of the reasons people recommended their favourite place:

  • Diggerland: The staff have a real can do attitude and help kids with disabilities push their own boundaries.
  • Flamigo Land:  My son being allowed to be lifted on rides as most parks insist you have to be able to stand and get on and off rides.  If your child is daredevil like mine then this great as they can actually enjoy the rides
  • Yorkshire Sculpture Park:  Cheap day out if you have a Max card. Food’s nice but you can take a picnic to save money.
  • Wentworth Gardens: The farm is accessible to disabled people, the staff are lovely, it’s not expensive and it’s not too big. Even the shop has reasonable priced toys
  • Yorkshire Wildlife Park:   Staff are very friendly and empathetic to the needs of families with children with additional needs and its easy to get around with or without a wheelchair. There is also plenty of seating in case they get tired partway round.
  • Scarborough:  Accessible with buses and lift to main town in Scarborough.

We asked how these venues could be improved and the most frequent answer was better/ more accessible toilets, some felt the staff could be more aware and more friendly.  Parking and recognition of need for parking close to the venues was also a problem.

These points are invaluable to others as it is first hand experience.  It is this information that will make the Do Something Different Resource of real value.

The project doesn’t end here.  We are now looking at the information available on the website and will then be approaching all of the places mentioned in the survey to see how, using your feed back we can make them more accessible.  We want to offer training and support to enable them to implement the ideas and changes recommended by you.

Its not too late to get involved.  We will be updating you on the face book pages and asking for more information on some of the places mentioned, this resource needs to be current and reliable so in turn we will be relying on you!

Finally a huge thank you to everyone who completed the survey and gave us feedback.  We look forward to continuing this dialogue until we have ‘Visits Unlimited’ across the country.

Also a special thanks to Samantha, Sara and Leanne for the lovely photos.

Making Hebden Bridge into an Accessible Destination

Creating an accessible destination.

When you have a beautiful and sensory rich town like Hebden Bridge we want people to come and experience it. We know that when people enjoy it they then share it.  It isn’t easy for everyone and Visits Unlimited have been invited to support the local community and business to make Hebden Bridge a more accessible destination. We want to make Hebden Bridge an even greater experience for everyone because we know Hebden Bridge cares.

Improving accessibility improves the economy.

Saturday 3rd September was the launch of our new project #AccessibleHebden at the Hebden Bridge Town Hall.  We are truly delighted to be working in close partnership with the ‘Hebden Bridge Partnership’ and Calderdale Community Foundation. We will be working together over the next 6 months to help make Hebden Bridge an attraction for everyone to enjoy.

As a national Community Interest Company we have delivered both disability awareness and customer service training across the country for a number of years to many small businesses, venues, attractions, museums and heritage sites within the tourism sector.

We know that supporting a venue to become accessible to a wide range of impairments is much more than doorways and ramps.  It is about a positive can-do attitude; finding solutions to participation and inclusion; and imbedding a warm welcome approach throughout the organisation, its staff and volunteers.

 

What are the benefits of becoming a more Accessible Destination

More than one in six people in England and Wales having an ‘activity limiting’ health problem or disability. British and international visitors from this market segment currently spend over £3 billion on overnight tourism trips in England each year and UK disabled people spend up to £12bn on trips out this is especially relevant for businesses. In short, improving your accessibility could improve your business. Being an Accessible Destination will raise the profile of Hebden Bridge through social media and will really put you on the map of places that are going that are going that extra mile and are welcoming to people with a range of impairments.

Long term vision

It also goes beyond being good for business. It supports your own members of staff/volunteers who may themselves have a disability or one of their friends or family. The Hebden Bridge and Calder Valley community will hugely benefit, as will the elderly and families with buggies chance we have placed a community focus on this project.

What will businesses gain?

There are three aspects all businesses need to address to provide access for all:

  • Customer service and training – being disability aware with the right attitude and confidence to serve all customers
  • Information and marketing – providing detailed information on the accessibility of your facilities and services and making this information easy to find
  • Physical facilities – making reasonable adjustments to buildings and facilities so they are easy for everyone to enter and move around

 

The cost of becoming an Accessible Destination

It may be surprising to know that some of challenges can be resolved in a low cost and creative way and this we have great experience with.

Each organisation will be able to apply for a grant of around £2000 to help with some of their challenges around meeting the needs of not only disabled tourists but also their families, their friends and of course local disabled people.  The results of creating these changes will affect the whole community and the results can only be beneficial.

Do you want your local business to support your town to be an Accessible Destination?

If the answer is yes then please contact myself; Katie Clarke by email; Katie@visitsunlimited.org.uk for a copy of the expression of interest for the FREE Access Audit.

Or you can pick up a hard copy at the Watermark or the Town Hall in Hebden Bridge and return it there or post it to:

Katie Clarke

Visits Unlimited

15 Savile Park Gardens

Halifax

HX1 2XL

Our auditor Chris Cammiss will be meeting many people on his travels whilst doing our Access Audits. He will become a familiar face in the community.         Chris is a very experienced auditor and will offer practical and reasonable recommendations for you.

Calderdale Community Foundation will administer the grants and their aim is to make this as easy as possible. What this means is there are no long-winded forms to fill consequently this making it an easy process.  Businesses and organisations can give a phone call to the Foundation and someone will help with the process.

 

Thank you

We are pleased to give something back to the Hebden Bridge community. Each member of our team were involved in supporting friends and the community during the boxing day floods 2015.

We love the motto of the community and the Watermark Fund. We are very proud to be working with so many good people including the new Disability Access Reference Group, Hebden Royd Town Council’s Mayor Tony Hodgins, the Neighbourhood Planning Committee, and businesses, organisations, venues and local people.

Accessible venues to visit and places to stay. The VisitEngland Access for All Award Winners.

We love this downloadable resource hot off the press from Visit England https://www.visitengland.com/sites/default/files/downloads/accessawards2016_brochure.pdf

It makes things so much easier to have accessible venues to visit and places to stay in one place rather than having to trawl through the internet and spend hours planning a trip.   I can honestly say that it takes us many hours and sometimes weeks to organise a trip away with our family when we have to take into consideration our daughter’s complex access needs.   Things have definitely improved in recent years and there are some really excellent websites now that we are able to go to that include:

https://www.euansguide.com/

https://accomable.com/

www.disabledgo.com/

http://www.attitudeiseverything.org.uk/

https://www.tourismforall.org.uk/

http://www.accessiblederbyshire.org/

http://www.accessiblecountryside.org.uk/

plus of course some excellent specialist travel companies.

If you have any good links and contacts that you use please do let us know as we are working on a list for families to download from our website.

After the floods in Hebden Bridge we are really pleased to be working on a new project in the Calder Valley.

We will be working with the Hebden Bridge Partnership and Calderdale Community Foundation over the next few months and helping increase tourism to this beautiful town whilst at the same time improving accessibility.

Chris our access auditor describes the project: “Much of my regular work involves intensive study of a specific site. The prospect here of working with many people at a multitude of different locations is very exciting. I’m keen to help local businesses improve their accessibility in all sorts of ways, and to focus their energy so Hebden Bridge becomes a beacon of best practice in accessibility.

I’m hoping to work with as many local disabled people as possible so we can set in motion permanent changes in attitude which will mean Hebden will continue to progress long after the project has ended.

As a long-term permanent wheelchair-user, I’ve gained lots of personal experience of access issues as a very active tourist both by myself and with my large family, so this will be an excellent opportunity to pass on much of what I’ve learned.

Disabled people form a large percentage of the population – around 15%. With this population ageing the figure will rise. News spreads faster than ever these days so successful outings to welcoming, accessible venues will soon attract more and more visitors. I really want to see Hebden Bridge benefit here, rewarding their positive attitude in approaching Visits Unlimited.”

How to Plan an Accessible Day Out

There are some great travel writers around inspiring us with their tales of exploring different places across the globe and getting us to believe that anything is really and truly possible.

I recently came across Emma’s blogs and thought we would share one of her excellent posts on planning an accessible day out.  I am sure many of you will relate to her post.

Emma is a lifestyle, travel and disability blogger who shares her experiences living with Muscular Dystrophy on www.simplyemma.co.uk. While travelling to faraway places can be exciting, travel can also be local and just as thrilling. The key to a great accessible day out is all about information, planning and having well trained staff with disability awareness. Emma shares her top tips on how to plan an accessible day out from a wheelchair user’s perspective.

http://www.simplyemma.co.uk/how-to-plan-an-accessible-day-out/

Big thanks to Emma for giving us permission to use her blog.

News from the Accessible Tourism Field

News and updates from our colleagues in the Accessible Tourism field:

 We would like to thank our friends at ADiAccess for their article and an update on the Purple Pound:

At ADi Access we have a bit of a bee in our bonnet about changing the perception that providing proper ‘Access’ for millions of people in the UK will somehow be costly and a waste of time for the businesses involved.

Although we are focused primarily on those with a sight impairment we are regularly reminded that most people just don’t think about the obvious when it comes to adequately catering for all.

In fact, it’s that common that we have a Pinterest board dedicated to ‘You only had one job’ which shows an ever increasing number of images that show some, frankly, idiotic choices made by people when designing buildings and facilities for disabled access.

 

But why does it happen?

Is it just carelessness?

Maybe a ‘not my job’ attitude?

We can’t answer that question but we think we can answer this one.

 

When you think of access to public facilities you might be forgiven for thinking “Well who would benefit from this?”

 

We get this a lot and the answer is simple, “Everyone who provides publicly accessible facilities”, the list is probably longer than we can imagine, needless to say you could probably think of a few…

Our company is based in Cornwall so with tourism such a large part of our economy we thought we’d do a bit of research and see what, if anything, Cornish tourist businesses might be missing by only ticking the ‘disabled access’ box.

That’s when we unearthed these amazing facts and decided to put them all together into one post about the ‘Purple Pound’.   See it and believe it!

Author: Spencer Hassell – Operations Director – ADi Access

Accessible Communication

How accessible communication can make a huge difference.

When we were last at The Deep in Hull the staff put together their advice on Do’s and Don’ts.  The energy behind making this list was brilliant because we saw first hand the influence of our training.

This blog post is dedicated the their work so here it is.

Do’s and Don’ts – Our Top Tips in communicating with visitors with a range of needs.

Do’s

  • Talk to the person not the carer
  • Be approachable
  • Let the visitor know you are there if they need anything (but without being condescending)
  • Be aware but not imposing
  • We aware of your wording – sensitive phrasing
  • Be polite and friendly
  • Re-phrase the information if the visitor does not fully understand rather than repeat several times
  • Be patient as some people may take longer than others to respond/understand/interact/take in information
  • Use discretion and best judgement when issuing carers tickets
  • Explain things clearly but not patronising
  • Use a soft tone especially if things are escalating
  • Ask people if they need help – at an appropriate time
  • Look at the individual not the carer
  • Body language is important – open hands, eye contact, facing forward
  • Be respectful
  • Be open minded
  • Listen
  • Be nice!
  • Be human
  • Be compassionate
  • Find someone who can help if you feel in an uncomfortable position or don’t know the answer
  • If someone rings and they are getting frustrated say you will ring them back
  • Say clearly “this is what is happening and this is what I a going to do”
  • If you are feeling uncomfortable breathe through your nose to relax
  • Lower your shoulders and have a good posture when speaking to people
  • Active listening and three nods to show you are there for the person
  • Build relationships
  • Be aware that sometimes if needs are not met anxiety will rise
  • On the phone ask for their contact details – phone number and email incase you need to contact them again for any reason
  • Ask on the phone “can I call you back” if you need to gather more information rather than keep them hanging on
  • Ask “what can I do”.
  • If a child is becoming challenging ask if parent if they would like a quiet place
  • Speak to the mum if there is a challenging situation and ask if she needs any support or is there anything you can do
  • Ask if they are ok.

 

Don’ts

  • Just talk to the carer
  • Patronise
  • Invade personal space/touch their mobility aids etc
  • Rush them or show impatience
  • Presume they need your assistance without asking
  • Single them out in a crowd
  • Shout/raise tone/speak slowly
  • Use derogatory phrases
  • Stereotype
  • Patronise
  • Speak to disabled people like children
  • Automatically assue carers ticket is required
  • Treat different disabilities as the same
  • Make assumptions

New resource for venues – working with families with autism

New resource for venues – working with families with autism

We have long been passionate about the work that Kids in Museums do and so are delighted that they have produced a new resource. We have already used it in one of our training sessions and staff have found it really helpful. We hope you do too.

Museums are for everyone and Kids in Museums is an organisation working extremely hard to promote inclusion and accessibility.

We are really impressed by this new resource from Kids in Museums. They have put together this information to to help museums, galleries and other cultural organisations better welcome families and young people with autism. Whether your venue or attraction is just starting to investigate how to be more welcoming to those with the condition, or are looking at ways to improve what your organisation can offer children, young people and families, this new resource can help you on your way.

 

Families with autism support.

This new resource was written in collaboration with Ambitious about Autism and Claire Madge of Tincture of Museum.

First Things First

Sometimes, knowing where to begin is the most difficult step, and working to become more inclusive of autistic visitors can sound like a mammoth task. It doesn’t have to be a complete overhaul of what you do already, it’s OK to start small. The new resource contains advice on where to begin, and inspiration on how to go further.

The Visit

Visiting a museum can be a daunting thought to families with an autistic member, but it needn’t be, museums are treasure troves of specialist knowledge and can be a holy grail for those on the spectrum that have a passionate interest in a subject. There are some very simple things that can easily be put in place which can make things simpler for a family to visit, and they benefit all visitors, not just those with autism.

What is Autism?

Autism can be a challenging subject to tackle, but there are simple ways and means to get to know the condition better. Kids in Museum’s new resource points to organisations that exist to raise awareness and understanding about autism as well as exciting examples of things museums are already offering autistic visitors. As with everything Kids in Museums does, we listen to people, and we are sharing their stories to help museums get to know and better welcome families and young people with autism.

 

Do Something Different, Update

Do something Different Survey closes on 4 September so please let us know about the places you have visitied in Yorkshire or Humberside, and want to recommend to others.

We have had fantastic suggestions from walks in the countryside, parks and pools to short breaks and train journeys. It doesnt matter if you recommend the same place, it just means it must be good so please fill in our survey.

We want to make days out easier and provide people with inspirational ideas that dont need to cost alot, but can be enjoyed by the whole family because thats the important part.

I forgot to mention that we are offering the chance to win one of three family days out if you complete the survey and entre the prize draw. Go on you could be a winner.
Thank you, Audrey

Click Here to go to the survey

Access For All

Access for all is the way forward

Access for all is more than policy when it comes to businesses, visitor attractions and community spaces.  Accessibility is being taken seriously in todays business market and the benefits are quickly mounting.

Read More

Karen Hickton our New Trainer

It’s time to say hello!

Things seem to evolve quickly in the world of visits unlimited so it’s taken me a few weeks to finally get round to introducing myself.

So here I finally am with a big hello, my name is Karen Hickton and I’m the newest member of this amazing and dynamic team.

The team is made up of various professionals bringing something different providing a modernised service, it’s a fantastic team.

What I bring

The speciality I bring is my body language expertise and experience.

I coach in the confidence to communicate with customers regardless of communication difficulties or language barriers.

The confidence to support individuals, families and carers with needs, avoiding conflict or dealing with conflict if it arises.

From managing situations to leading teams focused on accessibility, body language training is hugely influential and powerful. It is the immediate and most effective tool in customer management that creates a customers positive experience.

I have worked in the fields of trauma, therapy and coaching for nearly 2 decades.  Now my main focus is coaching other coaches and therapists to create successful and thriving practices. Find out more here; www.kaizeninsight.com.

Post 5pm and weekends

Spare time? Well when I get that I’m either with the kids or scuttling off up a hill or mountain somewhere in the Lakes.

I love yoga and travelling but nothing beats a good book and some chilled out time in peace and quiet.  I have just bought a paddle board so watch this space, this could prove interesting.

Where is my drive from?

Having a son who is disabled, I know all to well the complex issues that can and commonly arise when we go out.  These issues can make or break the happiness of a family day and considering life can be somewhat of a struggle, this can be a big disappointment.

Although the culture and awareness is changing it is still far behind and lagging in certain areas. More and more people are being registered disabled in the UK every year and the statistics are pretty high anyway.

Businesses have a responsibility to employ inclusive policies and behaviour in work places and our communities.

People living with disabilities contribute immensely to our families, to our friendships and to our communities there are no reasons to exclude them from these great experiences that enrich and connect us all?

I work with a team focused team who are dissolving obstacles disabled people face.  Because today’s market is so competitive, Visits Unlimited provide especially relevant training in an area close to my heart.

Finally I reach the end of my introduction, feel free to email Visits Unlimited if you have any questions about me.

Karen Hickton

National Trust and Accessible Tourism

The National Trust’s focus

The national trust is one of the UK’s home treasures. With beaches, gardens, pubs, lighthouses and parks, their presence all around the UK has given the public years of great experiences and education.  Like most attraction providers though, the national trust are aware that there are always improvements to their customer service and experiences, so they called us in to help out.

Open minded to accessibility

We joined some of the national trust groups and what a pleasure to work with them. We met up with Sara and her team at North Lincolnshire and South Nottinghamshire National Trust properties and had a fantastic day sharing our strategies and visitor journeys with them.

Katie and myself delivered our ‘Customer Service for All’ one day programme to delegates from The Workhouse, Gunby Estate, Hall and GardensBelton House and Tattershall Castle.  Delegates participated with tremendous enthusiasm and commitment and as always, we came away with so much as well.

What did the national trust take away?

Our learning outcomes included:

  • Building confidence and customer service skills in meeting the needs of visitors with access needs
  • Addressing inclusive operational practice
  • Action planning all aspects relating to accessibility
National trust trianing
Reflective practice

 

Our one day’s training is packed not just with the; what needs to be done, but the understanding of why your changes make a huge difference.  We involve you in the whole journey as much as the structured planning.

 

 

 

Sara offered her feedback.

‘Visits Unlimited were excellent to work with. They came with a can do attitude, shared their knowledge freely and supported the group throughout the day. The staff team felt that this was one of the most positive training sessions that they had experienced and that what they learnt would be easy to use in the workplace. Thanks Matt and Katie for spending a rewarding day and sharing your knowledge and your life experiences with us.’

Sara Blair-Manning – General Manager, North Lincolnshire & South Nottinghamshire.

Accessible Tourism – The Bottom Line

Accessible tourism, is it worth it in a business model?

Is your business part of today’s competitive tourist industry within the UK? Are you achieving your accessible tourism status?

Are you looking at raising your profile, getting a head of the game and being competitive with others?

Good, because accessible tourism is a multi million pound industry.

 

Are you in the market of accessible tourism?

As a business owner myself I understand the main goals of any business and that is growth and sustainability.  As a business owner I work hard to achieve these goals just like you do because I want my business to grow.

There are many ways to grow a business and many ways to make it sustainable. A business coach and they’ll show you the way around the markets and how to focus your attention on attracting the current customers.

Professional Marketers will show you round the latest trends of products, services or technology. Still there’s one section many are still missing out on.

Every year new tourist attractions are opening up, each applying contemporary designs within their buildings and updated customer care experiences.

This runs the risk of leaving current and outdated businesses and tourist venues behind. Either businesses modernise to meet their customer’s needs in today’s market or they risk missing out resulting in lower turnover. .

What I’d like to do is bring your attention to why this section of the market – accessible tourism – is so powerful:
  • 65 million people in the UK (source: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs).
  • There are around 12 million registered disabled people within the UK (that’s about 1 in 5 people), DWP 2014.
  • There are 2 million people with sight problems in the UK (dlf.org.uk). Is your business and visitor attraction able to support people who are visually impaired?
  • 9% of the UK population is a wheelchair user (www.disabled-world.com). Have you made adaptions both on the outside and within your building?
  • There are 770,000 registered disabled children under the age of 16 in the UK. Does your attraction welcome children? dlf.org.uk
  • More than 11 million people within the UK experience some form of hearing loss that equates to 1 in 6 people (actiononhearingloss.org.uk). Have you considered this at your reception, service or support desk as much as supporting your visitors around the attraction to remain orientated, involved and comfortable?

 

Accessible tourism is a big market so how do you get in on it?

  • Does your first point of contact which could be your website or over the telephone information service, give clear information around your accessibility information?
  • Is your car parking and queuing for entry managed well?
  • Are your disabled toilets accessible? Clearly signed? Well managed and a good size?
  • Are your signs clear and are they in brail?
  • Do you have different levels? Do you have lifts and if so are they well maintained? Do you have ramps available? There may only be a couple of steps between one floor and the next but this proves to be a huge obstacle for someone in an electric wheel chair.
  • Are rails provided along the stairs?
  • Are door handles at a height that can be accessed by wheel chair users?
  • Are your reception desks at a height that wheel chair users can write on if needed? If not can an area be provided for this?
  • Are your fire, health and safety policies all up to date?

 

Yes, there’s so much to think about and that is why we at Visits Unlimited provide an excellent service to support you to make the changes to your venue. We are a specialised team brought together to support venue’s and businesses to match their service and environment provisions with visitors disability access needs.

From access audits to training within customer service and the visitor’s journey, our approach is designed to provide you with the complete package.

 

What you focusing on accessible tourism means to people like me.

For me as a parent it goes deeper than a business model, as a parent of a child with learning and physical disabilities; finding a venue or attraction that allowed us to have a fun family day was always our top priority and in the early days, this wasn’t easily achieved. The result of us finding one where we felt respected as a family unit and supported was when we found an attraction that really worked for us we did the obvious, we returned. We went back because we knew it and we knew it worked. Then we did the second obvious thing, we told our friends. We weren’t passing tourists, we went back and we would use that mighty powerful marketing tool called word of mouth.

 

Yes yes yes to accessible tourism

So the question I asked at the beginning was; is the accessible tourism market worth it for a business to invest in?

Businesses are required by law to make fair adjustments to ensure that accessibility for disabled people is provided and fairness must always be at the centre of any business model, however you can’t ignore that accessibility makes good business sense regarding profit.

An attraction is built to provide an experience and the power of word of mouth. Word of mouth through groups, social media and reviews in this current climate is beyond powerful.

It doesn’t take a moment to type into my browser to see poor reviews of attractions written by those who’ve experienced a lack of accessibility.

Going back to the statistics at the beginning of this post, if you don’t make you’re visitor centre accessible you’re potentially excluding around 1 in 5 visitors.

Do Something Different

Visits unlimited are launching a new project ‘Do Something Different’.

Do Something Different will be a web based resource aimed at families with children and young people. There will be a wide range of disabilities, plus disabled people and their carers/Personal Assistants.   The resource will feature a selection of venues, attractions, parks, walks, short breaks and will be for anyone who is looking for suggestions on interesting and varied days out. These will be based in the Yorkshire and Humber area.

Do Something Different will provide information on accessibility and family friendly places to visit each with a welcome rating. The resource will be easy to use and have downloadable information on each venue.

What ‘Do Something Different’ will replace

Currently families end up spending hours trawling the internet, looking for a place to go that is going to meet their needs. Families have told us that websites often do not have the relevant information and their access statements may not be family friendly.  Without the right information it can be off-putting even attempting to go somewhere new.   Families need to trust that when they go to all the effort of planning, getting their and visiting a venue that they have a successful and memorable day out.

Visits Unlimited survey asked families what was important to them when planning a day out or a holiday. Families told us that their priority is a friendly welcome and well trained staff; secondly they felt that good information was important to plan properly and know what to expect on arrival. Another important point is that there is good accessible facilities including Changing Places toilets, parking and helpful cafes make a good experience.

Do Something Different is a great initiative for families who will be able to access reliable information easily and be confident of a successful day out in Yorkshire and Humber. We hope that this will be used not only by Yorkshire families but will also encourage families from across the country to visit this beautiful region. All of our days out will be based on the recommendations of families with children with complex needs. But it doesn’t stop there. Venues will be contacted and staff supported to make sure that they live up to the expectations of our families and offer them a warm friendly welcome.

To get started we are launching the DSD questionnaire to get as many suggestions as possible from across Yorkshire and Humber. People can complete the survey through our facebook group ‘Visits Unlimited’ or on the website visitsunlimited.org.uk

We will be running the survey over the summer to get up to date information about the places you have been and loved visiting with you family.

Service with a smile is key for great service.

What is the one thing that makes a trip worthwhile? How did the day out make you feel? What do you remember most when you go home?

Katie Clark shares her thoughts.

I know that for me it is the small things that make a difference and it is usually to do with feeling welcomed. The smile at the reception when I go in after having had a tricky journey and not being able to park near to the entrance as the places were all full. Or after getting lost and the sat nav told me that “you have arrived at your destination” and I knew only too well that the country lane with a couple of houses on either side was not where I had hoped to end up.

A smile really makes a difference. To be greeted by a friendly and confident member of staff who is not put off by 6 children plus an electric wheelchair makes all the difference.

A few words like “is there anything I can do to help?” is like music to the ears. What hits me is that this does not happen enough. In fact as it is quite rare it is actually not just music to my ears but a symphony playing at the Royal Albert Hall. Sometimes the shock of someone asking me takes me aback and I need a few minutes to compose myself to answer. I could say “oh no I am fine thanks” as that is rather British but actually instead I say “oh thank you, that is great. Not at the moment but I will get back to you if I do!” In return I give the person a big smile. They smile back and although the whole interaction only took less than 30 seconds it has given me a spark, some zest, a new lease of life that helps makes the trip now worthwhile and sets me in the right frame of mind for a memorable day out.

Visits Unlimited making waves at The Deep with groundbreaking customer service training.

 

 

One common learning outcome request we have for the training we run is related to building confidence, skills and awareness in response to the diversity in UK society and in anticipation of increased numbers of international visitors – particularly greater visitor numbers from Asia that’s anticipated.

Typically poor service initiates from a lack of awareness and confidence rather than an employee deliberately being unjust or discriminatory. When we approach diversity from a disability perspective we often find out that most delegates attending have got some connection with disability, whether it is someone they know well, a family member, or an elderly relative with a condition such as Dimentia. A basis for understanding culture and diversity is to reflect on personal experiences.

When we talk of ‘communication confidence’ we understand that non verbal communication is critical to visitors with impairments. So questioning technique is important but so too, tone of voice and body language awareness.

Importance of Body Language

“Since we have the ‘loud’ spoken word, do we need anything else?

It’s very easy to underestimate the importance and influence of body language, yet studies show that only 7% of our communication is verbal which makes a staggering 93% of our communication non-verbal.

We are programmed to respond to and believe in the non-verbal message far more than the verbal and this is hard wired into us through evolution, therefore getting our ‘non-verbal talk’ right is essential for us whether personal, social or professional.

Knowing this, we can clearly see just how vital it is to be aware of the signals that we give out and how easy it can be, to misinterpret or be misinterpreted ourselves.

Learning the non-verbal language will maximize communication and positive influence in all areas of our lives, it is the language that we first learnt, it is the language that crosses over barriers and cultures. The non-verbal language is the most powerful and the most connecting way that we can continually improve the quality of all our relationships.”

Karen Hickton.

Our expert associate Karen Hickton has designed a session specifically addressing this critical knowledge slotted into our ‘Customer Service For All’ course session. Karen’s training received a huge ‘thumbs up’ during our training session to employees of The Deep. Karen’s new module on body language and communication skills got participants thinking hard about themselves and how they come across to both disabled and non-disabled customers from the UK and abroad.

For more information on our ‘customer service for all’ course refer to our face to face training sessions on our site and then get in touch.

The Deep personnel hard at work.