Making Spaces More Accessible

One thing I get asked from time to time is “How do we make this event/ website more accessible?”.  I have a couple of ideas about how to go about this so I thought I’d share.

When thinking about access I like to divide it up into two different categories, direct access and indirect access.

Direct Access

This is how physically accessible your venue/website/event/business is for someone with a disability. Things to consider include;

  • Step free access – steps may well be a problem for people with mobility issues, rolators, prams, wheelchairs and visual impairments. Does the space have ramps and/or working lifts?
  • Stepped access – steps often can’t be avoided but it’s still useful to try and ensure they have hand rails and are not too steep to help people with impairments effecting mobility and balance. It’s also useful to check they are in a well lit area and have clearly marked edges (like a stripe in a contrasting colour) to help people with visual impairments.  Have an idea how many there are so you can tell people who ask that there are ‘x’ steps into the building and then ‘x’ step to the toilets and ‘x’ steps to the meeting room.
  • Background noise – making sure the levels are not too high can help those with hearing impairments, it can also help people with some mental disabilities too.
  • Lighting levels – making sure things are well illuminated can be really helpful for people with visual impairments.
  • Clutter – a simple, clutter free layout is much easier to navigate and therefore more welcoming to everyone.
  • Communication – do you need someone to interpret? How are you going to make sure that people who can’t see your PowerPoint presentation can access it?
  • Text – think about easy to read fonts, this doesn’t mean sticking to  triple line spaced, 18pt Ariel all the time but it does mean re-considering that size 6 squiggly nightmare you were thinking about using. Keep it easy to access to maximise the diversity of your audience. You might want to think about braille for for the visually impaired, or making sure you’ve thought about how a screen reader will deal with your website.

Indirect Access

This is all about how emotionally/ psychologically accessible it is. This looks at the atmosphere you create and the messages that get sent out to disabled people interacting with that space. Some ways you can improve indirect access are;

  • Avoid stereotypes – just because the media suggests all disabled people develop a compensatory super-power/ are sinister/ are benefit frauds/ should be pitied/ are sexless/ are infantile/ are inspirational it doesn’t mean it’s right. 
  • Impairments are personal – curb your curiosity, disabled people are not curio’s for your entertainment. It is really rude to put someone in a position where they feel like they have to explain their health history. Don’t ask if you don’t need to know, especially not before you’ve said hello and asked what their name is.
  • Avoid disablist language – many people feel uncomfortable with (often archaic) medical terms being used as interchangeable with the words rubbish, annoying or volatile. Think before you call someone lame, crazy, mental, cripple, retarded, a flyd, spaz and so on. Some disabled people choose to reclaim those words, but many more don’t. Some disabled people don’t mind those words but can you be sure your audience is comprised of those people? It’s your right to use offensive language but the effect may well be to exclude disabled people. Don’t forget hate speech is illegal.
  • Don’t talk about someones disability unless it’s relevant. Examples include; calling people by their names not their conditions (use Emma, not ‘wheelchair Emma’ or Jo, not ‘the epileptic’). If you have to talk about disability in general terms then the social model suggests you say disabled person rather than person with disabilities. If you need to talk about it with regards to an individual then avoid using emotive language like suffers from/ burdened with/ victim of / struggling with to describe someones impairment (use person with epilepsy not epilepsy sufferer).
  • Keep a reign on comments online – There are great arguments for not moderating comments, but you need to decide if you want your website to be accessible to disabled people. By not working to keep it a safe space then people will be excluded the way they are from other websites. It’s not just the prolific use of disablist slurs that can turn disabled people away. Those who delight in picking on spelling, punctuation and grammar make it clear that those with certain learning disabilities or neurological conditions are not welcome. Yes, it can be difficult to read but does that really require a full on flaming? Will it change the persons impairment?
  • Avoid assumptions about capability – most people would rather be treated like they are more capable than they are than to be patronised.
  • Are you running a competition or game? Have you made sure it’s something accessible to all? By forcing disabled people to either do something they will struggle with or have to avoid you make it clear that they are being excluded from that activity.
  • Create an environment where disabled people can point out problems and suggest solutions without fear of being ostracised or minimised.
  • Don’t think that a summer with a broken leg is comparable to a lifetime of disability.
  • Don’t assume watching House on TV means you are an expert in other peoples conditions.
  • Remember that each disabled person is different, has had different experiences and has a different outlook on life. Not everything about them is tied to disability.

Not all of these things solely benefit disabled people either. A route suitable for a wheelchair will be suitable for a pram, describing diagrams and text can help those who are aural learners rather than visual engage with a presentation.

There are an awful lot of other things that could be added to this I’m sure, but this is just a quick list of things that can help make somewhere more accessible from off the top of my head. If you have suggestions of things that could/ should be added please feel free to pop them in the comments!

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