Wheelchairs and mud – not a marriage made in heaven!

Using a manual chair means the wheels are narrow so they sink easily. Having absorbed that fact early on I don’t usually make mistakes nowadays.

On outdoor audits I try for dry days; I’ll look for ruts and footprints in the dry mud and work out how bad it would be on a wet day. Sounds like I know what I’m doing but I can still be caught out.

I once arrived for an official conference during my early days working in Calderdale – it was very wet, but I thought the car park would be tarmaced. Wrong!

I thought there would be empty designated parking spaces at the entrance. Wrong!

I ended up parking in the mud at the back of the car park, getting out in the mud, pushing through the mud to the entrance, and looking and feeling like a dirty drowned rat when I eventually got inside.

Not the best start to the afternoon!

My worst mud experiences by far came as a parent, taking my rugby fanatic son to junior rugby matches and training. From Under 9’s to Under16’s, (that’s eight seasons – yes, eight) winter Sundays had to include a trip to our local club or to a match elsewhere.

Yes, there was excitement! Yes, there was banter! Yes, there were bacon sandwiches! And yes, there was mud, glorious mud!

Being a junior team meant we were usually sent to the furthest pitch, away from the clubhouse – the one through the underpass, beyond the motorway, past all hope of rescue (don’t ask where the toilet is). I always had pushers, however, “come on Dad, take your hands off the wheels, trust me”.

I never crashed but the chair would be covered in mud over the footplates.

The final insult was my son – immaculate out of the showers in white shirt and smart tie on match days. However, he’d walk into the shower fully clothed in his kit, get undressed in the shower, stuff the sopping kit into a bag, and pass the whole dripping mess to me to wash for next week! Adding insult to injury.

I ruined so many clothes during those days, not to mention the frequent mess in my car.

Thankfully those days are behind me now, or so I thought.

As you know I like a good rock festival in the summer, and we have a great one at Jodrell Bank called Bluedot (Earth from space – geddit?) Mid-summer, always bone dry, until the last event when there was a record-breaking downpour the night before. Parking in a very muddy field should have warned me off, having to be carried through the entrance gates to a little patch of grass should have set off the alarm bells, but no! I was on a mission! I’ve never been so completely covered in mud during my whole life. The worst part was crossing the sea of mud to the accessible viewing platform, way over there…. I set off and got nowhere, then a friendly voice – can I help? broke my leg years ago, wheelchair for six months, know how crap it is…and off we went. Perfect result, brilliant music but then had to leave my chair and outside clothes on the patio when I got home while I transferred to another chair to go into my house! Hosed it all down next morning.

But my favourite mud story doesn’t involve me directly – a few months ago I was auditing a potential communal garden which was bordered by an open wire fence. Whilst writing some notes I noticed pre-school children playing on the other side of the fence. They’d found an interesting puddle, and were absorbed with buckets and spades. The boys started conversation – why are you in that chair? do your legs work? my Grans got one of them. How fast will it go? The usual. Whilst answering as well as I could I noticed a little girl sitting

in the puddle and using a spade to pour the (very) muddy water down her outstretched arms and onto her (very) white dress! Whilst driving home I couldn’t rid my mind of the image of the loving parents coming to pick up their beloved child in her (once) white dress!

Until next time,

Cheers,

Chris the mudlark

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 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.