Guest Blog: 6 Ways That We Can Help Improve Route Access for Disabled Users

Today’s guest blogger is Dr Paul Symonds who is sharing the ways businesses can make their venues and attractions accessible to disabled visitors and customers.

About Dr Paul Symonds

Dr Paul Symonds is the founder of travelwayfinding.com, which gives information, advice and training into wayfinding – the study of how we get from A to B.

Paul has more than 20 years travel experience, having travelled to over 40 countries and lived in the UK, USA, Spain, Italy, Ireland and Australia.

He has completed a PhD with Cardiff Metropolitan University, studying Wayfinding in the School of Health Sciences & Sport.

As part of his research, he has interviewed several case studies with disabilities to find out and understand the challenges they have accessing places and the reasonable changes businesses should be providing.

On his website, Paul offers DDA training and also writes about disability access for travellers.

In this guest blog post Paul gives six tips on how to make venues, attractions, routes and public transport accessible for all disabled people:

6 Ways That We Can Help Improve Route Access for Disabled Users

Whether you are organising an event such as a conference or exhibition, manage a tourist attraction, museum, pub, university campus, or any other location, there is a legal requirement in the U.K. (and in many other countries including the United States) to make the experience accessible for all users.
In the UK, the DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) has merged into the Equality Act, an act that now states that ALL users must have reasonable access. So an elderly person, a mother with pram and kids in tow, and everyone is included.

So there is a legal duty to make “reasonable changes” to make a place usable for all. 
In this post I want to focus on disabled users though, particularly those in wheelchairs. So let’s look at six ways in which we can help.

1. Understanding How Simple Changes Can Make a Big Difference

To make a difference for disabled users, it can often be very simple and inexpensive and yet create a powerful impact! Let’s look at an example and also answer the question of what is understood and meant by “reasonable changes” to be compliant with the Equality Act 2010.

Imagine if you are working in a pub or a church and that there is a step at the entrance. Often just placing a cheap inexpensive wooden ramp is enough to help wheelchair users be able to access that same entrance as everyone else, without any undue inconvenience. Spending a minimal amount of money to make a step accessible would be considered a reasonable change to be expected to make.

Changes that make your location more accessible, but that are easily within the budget of your business or company, can be reasonably expected.
 If you are in control of any space, be it a bay trail, a hospital, a sports centre etc, what simple changes could you make, that would make a big impact of making your location more accessible?

2. Providing Clear Accessibility and Special Assistance Information On Travel Sites 

A recent academic study showed that disabled travellers who are looked after by travel companies and by hotels, transport providers etc, are extra-loyal to these companies. In other words, find ways to accommodate disabled travellers needs and, not only will you be doing the right thing legally and morally, but it can also be highly profitable as a business.

One of the easiest ways to greatly assist disabled travellers better than they often are, is to make the provision of necessary information very easy to find, clear and up-to-date.

In a study I did in the past, it was quite surprising how many airport sites, for example, fail to provide sufficient ‘special assistance’ information online and when it is, it’s very often out-of-date. I have heard from numerous users of one major airport whose special assistance telephone number listed on their website never works and users find it frustrating trying to organise the help they need.

Providing clear information that is kept up-to-date is hardly a time-consuming or complex process – so there is little excuse.

3. Providing Better Training for Staff

The route experience specifically for disabled travellers is very often impacted upon by the lack of training. Let me give you an example from interviews I did as part of a wayfinding study.

A commonly mentioned issue was the lack of experience of airline staff in knowing how to fold and unfold wheelchairs and to protect these chairs during the flight from damage.

On arriving in a new destination, such as Rome in Italy, getting off the plane to start the next part of your route (from airport to hotel) is certainly difficult when an airline representative has inadvertently broken a wheel on the chair and left it unusable.

Staff are often left untrained and yet one days training in simply techniques connected to aiding disabled travellers can make a significant difference.

4. Considering Disabled Travellers During Route Design

Disabled travellers should not be unduly inconvenienced. Their disability should not mean that they are further affected because of poor design.

Consider the example of an airport and when the location is first designed. An escalator should provide a similar route experience to the route that a wheelchair user will be forced to use. In this case, the lift should be situated close to the bottom and top of the escalator to minimize the inconvenience for a disabled user.

5. Be Aware of Temporary Barriers

Temporary obstructions along a route might not be that burdensome for those of us who can easily walk around the obstruction but those who are accessibly challenged, it can create unfair problems that really do not need to exist. Why do those sets of boxes need to be dumped out in the hallways such that they block a wheelchair user from passing by? Is it really necessary?

The simple solution to aiding all users to have fair and reasonable access to all routes and paths is to have someone trained within your company and location, who is taught the basics of DDA and accessibility. Most companies have a first aid representative (or a few people) but how many have someone trained in disability access and doing regular checks to ensure that enough is being done to aid all users in having reasonable access through buildings and locations both indoors and outdoors.

6. Make Seeking Assistance Easy

It can be surprisingly hard for some disabled users also to find special assistance and help points in many locations. Whilst some transport hubs, for example, have special assistance phone to call for assistance, finding these phones in the first place can sometimes be really hard!

Whilst disabled and accessibly challenged passengers and users might be the minority, this should never ban excuse for failing to provide sufficient support and assistance to all users.

Final Thoughts

Whatever type of venue you manage, it costs very little to make some very simple changes to improve the accessibility of most locations. Why not hire someone to be in charge of walking around your location and assessing accessibility, such as anything that blocks any route. Why not also provide staff in some basic understanding of how to aid all user types.

To find out more about Dr Paul Symonds, follow him on Twitter and visit his website travelwayfinding.com.

You can also check out my guest blog: 5 Inaccessible Dilemmas for Wheelchair Users on Train Journeys

If you would like me to be a guest blogger and/or you would like to feature as a guest blogger on my blog, please contact me.

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