Birmingham Access Guide Launch – DisabledGo

Today I attended a launch event announcing the arrival of a access guide for Birmingham created by the organisation DisabledGo in conjunction with Birmingham City Council and sponsored by Marks & Spencers.

It began with a member of the council explaining Birmingham’s commitment to “addressing inequalities”. He then went on to talk about how this new IT support service would be a big step forwards in addressing a lot of the existing inequalities. I don’t quite agree with that, but I’ll explain that side of things later. Next up was a lady from DisabledGo who explained about the principles of the access service.

  • It covers 700 venues across Birmingham including mixture of independent businesses and larger chains
  • It covers theatres, cinemas, restaurants, shops, health care providers, education providers, travel, accommodation, banks, professional companies and more
  • These were chosen from the most popular recommendations put forwards by community steering groups at initial consultations
  • Disabled surveyors with various impairments visited each venue using a standard set of questions produced in consolation with disabled people & disabled peoples organisations
  • Users will be able to grow the database by suggesting new places to add as well as commenting on out-dated/ incorrect entries
  • There will also be steering groups twice annually to help direct and grow the guide
  • It is the 90th Access Guide launched by DisabledGo
  • It was match funded, Marks & Spencer provided £40,000 and the council are matching it over 5 years to ensure longevity of the service
  • The service will recruit more local volunteers to act as surveyors as it grows in size
  • The service will be made available to those without internet access through training of front line council and tourist information staff. It will also be possible to get hard copies of the guide.

The guide itself is pretty good. The website; www.disabledgo.com is  available in a range of colour contrast options, variable text sizes and has pro-reader settings.

You can search via post code if you are a local looking for services in specific parts of the city or, if you’re coming to visit then you can choose by area (for Birmingham you’d choose the Midlands, then choose Birmingham City Council from the list of councils covered).

It’s by no means exhaustive, Birmingham has a lot more than 700 businesses, venues, medical providers etc. but it is a good start. Having had a quick look there are a couple of local pubs and restaurants I’ve been avoiding because they appear inaccessible which actually have level access hidden round the back which is rather handy. I still get pretty grumpy about using places that make disabled people use the back entrance or having to ask staff to move bins so we can get in via a odd fire-escape, but having the option of access is better than none. I understand that it’s a step forward and that pre-1990’s civic-planning and architecture was pretty much always built without access for disabled people in mind yet still, segregated entrances will never sit well with me. Anyhow, I digress. 

There were some problematic aspects with regards to the launch, which can be problematic with any initative helping a community as diverse as those who are disabled;

  • I was pretty much the only person not attending as part of a organisation/charity. There were very few individuals. That is an issue because an awful lot of disabled people don’t have contact with the select group of organisations attending. 
  • It was mentioned repetitively that DisabledGo wanted to work with organisations representing disabled people, which means that the views of charities/organisations like RNIB, RNID, Cerebral Palsy Midlands, Spokz People etc… and the often limited range of disabilities they represent will have a larger sway over the direction of content.I would rather see the content driven by all potential users. Even those that don’t attend day centres and are not in frequent contact with charity representatives.
  • There was little there covering access from a specific Mental Health standpoint from what I saw & heard. Though, much of the guide could be very useful to people with Mental Health issues, especially in the anxiety clusters.
  • They give a mark to companies that say their staff have received disability awareness training, but there is no scale for how through this training is nor whether it is kept up to date. From personal experience working with some major UK supermarket chains diversity training is often a 15 min talk given by someone with very little knowledge about the field covering the bear minimum. As a disabled person I find that this ‘training’ more often than not doesn’t seem to stay with staff or stop them acting in a less than ideal manner which makes that certification rather pointless in my opinion.
  • The closing message by one of the project directors spoke about how this project wasn’t intended as an ‘ DDA/equalities act audit’ and how the council was using this to put ‘nice’ pressure on businesses by explaing that their is £18bn to be made from disabled customers in the UK every year and giving them a gentle nudge towards becoming more accessible in small ways. he was very keen to emphasise that they didn’t want to ‘force’ businesses to become accessible because that might create bad feeling. There was also mention that we shouldn’t be ‘too mean’ to business that don’t live up to access requirements. I, personally, feel much more radically about these things. If a business is not DDA/Equalities Act compliant I feel they should be told they are breaking the law and that they need to deal with the breach asap. Businesses will always have an excuse not to part with money in the short term for staff training/ colour defined steps/ wheelchair ramps/ hearing loops and so on and so forth. I don’t think a business’s owner’s right to feel comfortable exceeds disabled peoples rights to basic choice, access & independence. If we don’t start enforcing the equalities act the only people who will suffer are the already oppressed and disadvantaged.

All in all I though the product they were launching is a very useful tool and will become more so over time if plenty of people buy into it. I for one plan to take advantage of it. Still, there were issues with how it’s being rolled out and in my mind it is being used by the council to cover some rather counter-productive attitudes to disability and access.

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  1. The annoying thing is that diversity training *isn't difficult.*

    I was slightly bemused when I got a mail from my training dept asking if I'd been on such training in the last 12 months. Cos I've been on training; just not recently.

    Turns out it's my employer's process that we get annual training on it. Shows how awesome my work is; but also I can't help wondering why more employers don't do this.

    Fire marshall training is also annual and includes how to deal with disabled people. As you no doubt knew – cos I asked – what happened at ATOS regarding you “being a fire risk if you used the lift” is completely and utterly illegal.

    Like

  2. And Google still doesn't know who I am – sighs

    love

    Kath M

    Like

  3. Thanks for sharing, I will bookmark and be back again

    Diversity Training

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