Archive for April 25th, 2012

Disability & Birmingham Christmas Market 2012

This morning I met with Steve Hollingworth to talk about access issues surrounding the annual Frankfurt Christmas Market in Birmingham City Centre.

There are millions of disabled people in the UK, 1 in 5 Brits are covered by the Disability Disrcimination Act. Trying to keep in mind that I wasn’t the only person affected by these issues I got started. We talked a lot but in the end I would say we covered the following areas;

  1. Alternative routes around the market for people with disabilities which make the routes with stairs etc…  difficult.
  2. Internal routes in the market and challenges/ barriers to access.
  3. Issues of abuse stemming from the bars.
  4. Training of the security staff.

Alternative Routes

I was shown the plans for allowing step free access between Broad Street & New Street which avoids much of the Christmas Market. This involved using the underpass leading to Fletcher walk, then following the pavement along besides the Town Hall along Hill Street to New Street. I explained the issues with this route as I saw them;

  • Two steep ramps connect Broad St to Fletchers Walk (possibly more than 1:12) are very hard to navigate if you have mobility impairments, especially when the weather is icy. Manual wheelchairs slip backwards, attendants struggle to propel them, it’s very hard work for those dealing with exhaustion, balance issues and so on.
  • The alternative route joins to New Street at the top of Pinfold Street. Last year a florist has set up between the market stalls and a set of bollards & phone boxes at the top of Pinfold Street. The bollards & phone boxes were too close together to allow my wheelchair to pass through between the road and the stall so my only options were; to go through the market or to cross Pinfold Street. As Pinfold Street doesn’t have lowered curbs on either side of the road at the top end of the street, to get to a step free crossing point you have to travel down a fairly steep hill and then back up.
  • Visibility – it’s all good having a route suitable for those who need step free alternatives but if it’s not clear that it’s an alternative then it won’t get used.

The council are going to check the gradient of the ramps, if it is more than 1:12 then it isn’t suitable as a ramp for wheelchair users etc… I also asked them to ensure that if it was used they had a good gritting policy to make sure it wasn’t anymore hazardous than needs be. The florist will be back this year so they will hopefully try and ensure that they know they can’t ‘expand’ into the space required for wheelchair access. They will also look at removing bollards that block the way. Hopefully by the route being clear from obstructions it will aid visibility, as will making sure staff are trained to direct people.

Another alternative route was to go from Paradise Forums around the back of the Council Buildings and down Bennetts Hill to join onto New Street at the Tescos. There are a couple of issues with this route as well, examples are;

  • Issues with dropped curbs – Bennetts Hill has a couple that are quite high and also have ‘holes’ in front of them which easily catch casters, sticks and feet.
  • Issues with visibility of route.

They will check Bennetts Hill and surrounding streets for safe access (no dangerous curb issues). Once more, hopefully trained staff will be able to direct people to the appropriate route.

Internal Access Challenges

The largest issue last year was the crush of people trying to move, shop and browse in very confined spaces. As well as being stressful for those trying to use mobility aids or with aural & visual disabilities it was also very upsetting for many of those with mental health issues and learning difficulties. They have already decided to try and ensure the same doesn’t happen again by widening the thoroughfare around the outside of Victoria Square into a single ‘street’ of shops rather than the two they have had previously.

  • In the middle of the thorough fare there will be a set of steps. I drew attention to the risks these posed if the area was too crowed for people to be able to see them. They are a trip/fall hazard for people with visual impairments (as at the best of times they don’t have strong distinguishing features – like colours or textures) and people with mobility issues.
  • There are squeeze points where it gets very congested and practically gridlocked around Tesco, bar’s and in and out of the Paradise Forums. These create problems for many disabled people in the forms of stress, anxiety, standing related issues, continence (for those that don’t have the luxury of waiting 5mins in a queue to get to the nearest toilets) and other such things.
  • Last years market had barriers placed around the back of the shops meaning that once you were in the market you couldn’t just leave by cutting through the gaps between stalls. If you wanted to leave you had to get to an exit point which was often very difficult, especially if you were a disabled person. If you wanted to get help moving the barriers so you could ‘escape’ then it became a bit of a lottery. Some security staff were helpful, others far less so.
  • The ambient noise levels are also quite high so this makes life hard for those with hearing difficulties to participate as most stalls didn’t have hearing loops.

They are looking at placing some Christmas trees or similar on the steps so that the flow of people goes around them and disabled people are not accidentally forced over them.The squeeze points have been noted and they are looking at making extra room by removing stalls and using creative seating arrangements near the bar areas. Better/ consistent training for security staff should make it easier for disabled people to ‘escape’ the market once inside if they need to. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to get a resolution on the issues surrounding hearing problems, sorry.

Abuse Issues

I explained that a combination of alcohol + a rise in disability related hate crime + overcrowded stressful conditions seemed to play a key factor in the abuse I had received. Most of the insults were levied at me when the market was congested and I was either near a busy drinking area or in the line of sight of someone who appeared to have been at the mulled wine previously. I agreed that the plans to widen the thoroughfare to reduce congestion as well as plans to move the seating for various bars out of the main thoroughfare would hopefully ease this. Changing the attitudes that feed into the abuse was outside of the remit of our session 😉

Training of Security Staff

As mentioned before, there wasn’t really a continuity of standards in this area. Depending on which person you asked for assistance you could get a whole range of replies. Like many security staff the only disability training they seem to have really received was the diversity section of the SIA licence course and the common sense they have developed over the years. I suggested that they consider making sure they are all briefed with disability issues in mind so that they can fulfil their role and maximise the accessibility of the event.

I think it went fairly well and I’ve been promised they will be in contact to let me know the outcomes of our discussion so any next steps can be taken. Sorry if you’ve read this and feel disappointed that I missed something. I’m still pretty new to all this. Anyway, love to you all.

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