A business which works to overcome the obstacles facing disabled people has acted to make its own services more accessible by addressing the limitations of lockdown.
About Access, which operates internationally from its base in Anlaby, devised an online alternative for delivering its training programmes when restrictions prevented Managing Director Ian Streets from travelling to Northern Ireland to deliver a series of presentations.
Ian’s clients in Belfast have welcomed his innovative solution and he’s now looking at adapting it further to suit a wider range of organisations and help them build a more diverse customer base.
Locally, Ian is a key member of Hull Access Improvement Group (HAIG), which reviews planning applications and provides advice and access audits for charities and other small organisations. Further afield he is a founder member of Network Rail’s Built Environment Access Panel and he set up the in-house access group at the O2 Arena.
Ian’s work has taken him to examine accessibility at a university in Saudi Arabia and a wine cellar in the caves of Gibraltar. The assignment which he was preparing to complete in Northern Ireland involved delivering training to 100 delegates from 11 local authorities on how to carry out an access audit.
He said: “I won the tender just before coronavirus took hold and suddenly everything was shelved. As time passed and it became clear the disruption would be widespread and long-term, we discussed creating a web-based solution.”
Ian researched online training techniques in a range of business sectors and came up with a format which enables him to address all the elements of his access audit presentation including understanding the current legal requirements and identifying the features which can impede access in and around buildings.
Scenarios range from shops and offices to pubs, restaurants, galleries, museums, theatres, historic houses, leisure centres and the transport infrastructure which people use to get there.
Feedback from his public sector client in Northern Ireland is positive and indicates that delegates have been able to make good progress with the online tuition and prepare themselves to tackle the practical elements of touring buildings to study real-life situations when circumstances permit.
Ian is now reviewing his other programmes which include Equality Act insight, guidance on disability awareness and disability confidence training with a view to extending the online options for the public and private sectors.
He said: “There is much more to accessibility than many people realise, particularly in the current climate. Disability is not just about wheelchair users. It also includes people with poor manual dexterity, cognitive impairments along with sight and hearing impairments to name a few, and it is important to understand what different impairment groups do and do not want from the built environment.
“There are specific issues which have arisen from the adjustments made by many businesses to take account of Covid-19. The changes may be temporary but are likely to be in place for some time and it is important that they do not put disabled people at a disadvantage. For example supermarkets which use accessible parking bays as the queuing area for people waiting to enter their store are likely to be creating difficulties for disabled shoppers. And how do blind people know that there is a queue for the cash desk?
“We help organisations see the bigger picture. Yes it’s important to meet the requirements of the Equality Act by not discriminating against disabled people, but it’s also vital for business to make their premises, services and products accessible to as many people as possible.
“That includes staff. Rather than thinking about what people can’t do, focus on what they can do. Making your premises accessible means you can recruit from a wider pool of talent, and you can also make sure you retain the skills and experience of an employee who acquires a disability.”