Accessible Spaces - Exploring access to public, leisure and event spaces

A headshot of Simon Wissink, a white man with ginger hair and a ginger beard.

Business Development Consultant

3 minute read

To many, accessibility is often thought of as a way of solving immediate issues, whether they be in person or with respect to online channels. Yet, in reality, it is so much more than this; it encompasses a person's whole experience of using a product or service. Booking a flight online is just one step in the journey or visiting a live music venue can be a multi-layered process.

Our latest report, Accessible Spaces: Inclusion Beyond Screens, takes a look at access to public, leisure and event spaces. How do these organisations manage and respond to accessibility needs? How well informed are staff, in these spaces, of the diversity of access needs? For those with access needs, how easy is it to understand the system in place, so they can feel confident that they will enjoy the experience?

Alongside our report, we interviewed people with differing experiences and invited them to share their stories. This included Gavin Neate, who has developed a range of inclusive products and services, including the Welcome app, to help people feel welcome and confident when they're out and about. We also spoke to Euan MacDonald about the excellent Euan's Guide, which lists reviews of places to visit and venues submitted by over two-thousand disabled people, all over the UK and beyond.

I needed to know whether there would be an accessible loo, or a step-free entrance among other things before visiting everyday places such as cafes or the cinema.

Euan MacDonald

We also asked people for their video diaries, covering specific experiences of things like commuting, travelling in taxis or visiting restaurants. Claire Harvey M.B.E. is CEO of Diversity Role Models. She is a wheelchair user and captained the GB Sitting Volleyball Team in the London 2012 Paralympic Games before turning her attention to athletics. Here, she tells the story of her daily commute, including using the London buses, how the system works and how you really need to know the rules.

Hi, I'm Claire and I'm going to tell you about my travel journey today
It's a pretty normal day for me commuting to and from London, from home
involves driving to the train station a train station journey from Ashford, in Kent,
to London and then a bus, from St Pancras station
to where I work in the centre of London a bus takes a long time
and actually, the Tube would be a lot quicker but none of the tube stations around me are
accessible and I'm a wheelchair user
so I have to use a bus I do this journey a lot
most of the time, it happens without any fault whatsoever
public transport for me, as a wheelchair user, is a bit like marmite
when it goes well, it's brilliant when it's just not working, it's an absolute nightmare
to get on the Tube, I have to get to a station
that's completely accessible if you look at a Tube map and you see those
little wheelchair signs you have to know how to read them
often you'll see them on one side of the station or the other
on one line or the other and the amount of times when I first got into London
that I would get to a Tube station
get off as a wheelchair accessible station to find that you can't cross lines
and be stuck somewhere on a Tube so I get on the train
I need to book my trains as much as I can you're meant to book them 24 hours in advance
I do this journey every day so they kind of know the times I come
but that in itself can be some problems because often
my journeys aren't predictable I don't know 24 hours in advance where I'm going
so it's hard to book transport sometimes
but when you get to the train station they put a ramp up, they get you onto the train
and then you can just chill out
I never have to stand, because I always bring my own seat
that's amazing and then getting on the buses, once you know
the system it works really well but often there's no
way of knowing the system and I feel really sorry for tourists who come to London
because they won't know what happens with the buses
you stop at the station, you tag down a bus
and as long as it hasn't got another wheelchair user on it
and sometimes I get stopped and I wonder how on earth how many people
must be on the buses and four or five buses will go past
and they say, "No, no, you can't come" but when you do get on the bus
you press the button and then, the ramp comes out from underneath the middle of the bus
so you have to wait for those doors to shut the ramp come out and the doors open again
once you get on, it's easy, to get off you have to press a button and it sends an alarm
only on some buses, you can't hear the alarm
so I'm never wholly sure whether it's actually gone off or not
but once it's gone off, you go to the middle of the bus
the doors shut, which always sends people into a panic
and it always makes me laugh that able bodied people
panic for me and start shouting at the bus driver
even though I know, it's ok and then the ramp comes out and you can go in
often though, the ramps don't work in rain
and I've never quite understood that but that's my daily commute using public transport
and I wouldn't have it any other way

Molly Watt is an accessibility and usability consultant and inclusive technology evangelist. Living with a genetic condition called Usher syndrome, causing deafblindness, Molly is reliant on and benefits from, the use of mainstream assistive technology. In this video, Molly shares her experiences of visiting a restaurant with her guide dog and why she has less trust in using taxis.

>> Molly Watt: So I will just talk a little bit about two experiences
that come to mind in terms of being a guide dog owner and being refused into places
or refused a service. One that comes to mind is when visiting my
grandad up north and we wanted to visit this restaurant that he'd recommended
I'd never been there before, so me, my guide dog and Grandad,
we walk into this restaurant and the person at the door sees Grandad first
then he sees me, then he sort of says, "No, no dogs, no dogs are allowed"
and that's when I got a bit defensive and I was like,
"No, you can't say no to a guide dog, this is a working dog"
and he said, "Oh, oh yes, I know but
my boss doesn't like dogs so you're not allowed in"
>> Molly Watt: So yeah, he acknowledged that you're not allowed to have dogs
You're not allowed to say no dogs but then he continued to refuse me
and insisted that would be what his boss wanted
not to mention the boss was not there
So he was just making this decision and also, there was no one else in the restaurant
because he also tried to say that other people in the restaurant
wouldn't like it and this has happened to me a couple of times
where they use the customers - other customers - as an excuse they say,
"Oh they won't like that, they don't want the dog around food"
Obviously, guide dogs are meant to be groomed, four to five times a week
so they are actually the cleanest animals, as they can be
And then the other thing that really comes to mind
that kind of stings quite a bit as it happens you know a lot is when
coming home from say London and I'm about 40 minutes outside of London,
if I come home and it's dark, I don't always feel like I want to walk home
But I don't feel that I can just jump in a taxi because of the amount of times I have tried
to get into a taxi and they've refused me. So that often happens, I get to, it has
happened, I haven't tried for a long time because I don't like being refused
You know, sort of saying, "Yeah can I get a taxi?" and "No, no dogs" and so even when I try
to pursue and I say "Well I actually you're not allowed to", it seems very
much that they would rather get the fine, than allow me in their car
DELETE So, I hope those two stories are right for you Lurie for this project let me know if
there's anything else that I can do or talk about I would like to also think
about a positive experience as well as a negative experience and so you want to
be a complete downer but I'll have a think about that and send that to me
later

As soon as you say, ‘Yes, I would like assistance’, they assume you would like a person to come with a wheelchair

Molly Watt

To understand further how well venues are catering for the 11 million people, living in the UK, with ranging abilities, our report details a mystery shopper exercise. We contacted over 130 venues with the two separate email enquiries, regarding requirements for a wheelchair user and a person with autism, respectively.

We were both heartened and disappointed by the responses we received. Whilst some venues were despondent about their offerings regarding accessibility needs, others were helpful, understanding and very amenable. Nevertheless, we believe there is more work to be done to offer truly inclusive customer service, and give reassurance to those who just want to go about their day, like everybody else.

We'd love to hear your feedback and share more stories, if you'd like to be part of our #AccessibleSpaces campaign. We'd also be happy to talk if you think you need help with your own inclusive product or service design.

Download the Accessible Spaces - Inclusion Beyond Screens report (PDF) or get in touch if you'd like to know more.