REPORT: Open Meeting 26 March 2019

Disability Partnership Calderdale Open Meeting
26 March 2019 – Kings Centre, Halifax

Disability Partnership Calderdale holds regular “open” meetings in Halifax. On Tuesday 26th March 2019 the organisation held a special meeting to introduce the Accessible Calderdale Project to its members.

Disability Partnership Calderdale will be working on the Accessible Calderdale Project in partnership with Visits Unlimited, who opened the meeting by introducing themselves and their work.

INTRODUCING VISITS UNLIMTED

Visits Unlimited are a family-led social enterprise made up of people with experience of disability. They provide assessments and training on accessibility and inclusivity, all around the country. This includes training staff at visitor attractions, with the National Trust and The Deep amongst the organisations to benefit from their input.

Visits Unlimited believe that good customer service skills and a positive attitude amongst staff are vital for businesses and public attractions, if they are to be truly accessible and inclusive and they employ an access auditor, who visits venues, businesses and attractions and then goes back to deliver training to staff.

THE ACCESSIBLE CALDERDALE PROJECT

Visits Unlimited then went on to introduce the Accessible Calderdale Project.

The Accessible Calderdale Project is funded for three years and will focus on making Calderdale an accessible and inclusive destination for all.

For many, accessibility is defined in terms of infrastructure, such as smooth, wide pavements, wide doorways, accessible toilets, dropped kerbs and other features of the roads, footpaths and buildings that make up a village, town or visitor destination.

However, Visits Unlimited also view accessibility in terms of the wider “visitor journey”. This begins when an individual starts thinking about visiting somewhere. They might Google for information on an area or an attraction and, specifically, its accessibility.  They would also have to work out how to get there and the transportation options, before moving on to consider the surfaces they will have to move over, once they’ve arrived.

Next, they might wonder what the staff or the people they will interact with, will be like. Will they be trained in and aware of accessibility issues and will they be welcoming. The visitor will also need to consider whether they will be able to navigate around the area or attraction.

Finally, the “visitor journey” might end with an individual being asked how the visit went for them, before they leave and, possible given the opportunity to feed back on the experience, on-line. All these stages of the “visitor journey” need to be in place if true accessibility is to be achieved.

So, accessibility isn’t just limited to buildings and pathways, it also includes the availability of good information and the attitude of business and attraction staff.

Work on the Accessible Calderdale Project has already begun, following a public launch in late February. As the project expands it will draw on Visits Unlimited’s experience and involve a range of local councils, parish councils, plus public transport providers, local businesses and attractions.

Monthly meetings of a steering group will help guide the project, along with quarterly meetings of a new group, the Accessible Calderdale Disability Access Forum (ACDAF), which is currently looking for volunteer members.

So, if you want to get involved and add your voice to the Accessible Calderdale Project, please email Lorraine Beiley of Visits Unlimited, who is the Project Co-ordinator – lorraine@visitsunlimited.org.uk

CASE HISTORY – ACCESSIBLE HEBDEN BRIDGE

The meeting concluded with a presentation from Hebden Bridge Disability Action Forum’s Graham Hale, who talked about the successful Accessible Hebden Bridge Project, giving the meeting a strong sense of what might be achieved in Calderdale.

Graham explained that he was a member of the Hebden Bridge Disability Action Forum (HBDAF) steering/working group. Their work began in 2015 with them setting out a list of priorities and then boiling that down into a top ten “to-do” list.

The group looked specifically at the issues that were affecting everybody, disabled people, tourists and residents. Several key issues were identified as affecting everyone and a report was written based on the experience of group members who posed as tourists, arriving in the town on buses, trains or in cars.

The council were then able to use this report to influence officials responsible for transport and infrastructure. Indeed, with some of the funding coming from Hebden Royd Town Council, the steering group found that there was considerable interest and support from local councillors, who regularly attend meetings.

Amongst the accessibility issues identified by the group, the condition of the town’s pavements following the floods of December 2015, gave concern, especially the all-important route from the railway station into the town.

Confused planning was also highlighted. Cobbled speed bumps had been built adjacent to dropped kerbs. Dropped kerbs are, of course, designed to help wheelchairs, prams and partially sighted people to cross the road, but suddenly these routes also involved a humped and cobbled surface. The group identified this as a planning issue, but with the council now able to turn to HBDAF for input on similar work, these problems are being addressed and should become a thing of the past.

Hebden Bridge’s businesses have also been very supportive of the Accessible Hebden Bridge Project and many now feature wider entrance doors, disabled-access toilets and welcoming staff.  These businesses are recognised in a new map, the Step Free Access Map of Hebden Bridge.

The map employs colour-coding to indicate how accessible pavements and streets are, whilst also listing accessible businesses and attractions. Twelve thousand copies of the map were printed in 2018 and it has gone through numerous revisions as accessibility improves and more businesses come onside.  Interestingly, businesses have reported additional customers visiting with wheelchairs and prams, proving that the scheme benefits everyone.

Graham concluded his presentation with the news that Hebden Bridge station has just opened a new lift system, giving disabled access to both platforms for the first time.

GET INVOLVED

Remember, if you want to get involved and add your voice to the Accessible Calderdale Project, please email Lorraine Beiley of Visits Unlimited, who is the Project Co-ordinator – lorraine@visitsunlimited.org.uk