As many of my regular readers will know I’m currently at Limitless Travel on my final occupational therapy placement. As part of that I’m currently trying to design an Audit framework for assessing how accessible hotels and attractions are.
The 12th March was Disabled Access Day. A national event, a chance for people with disabilities to get out and find out more about access options. A chance for adventure. It’s run in conjunction with Euans Guide, as website compiling disabled access review of a massive variety of locations.
I finished the first draft of my attraction form just in time so I decided to try it out. The theory is that with my form, anyone (regardless of their own ability) will be able to assess how accessible a location is. The list is mainly check boxes and covers corridor widths, staff training, complex dietary needs, bathroom dimensions and alternative format information amongst other things.
I checked the Disabled Access Day website and found 3 local (Ipswich) places joining in with the #AccessDay fun. Barclay’s Bank, Caffe Nero and the New Wolsey Theatre.
I decided to visit Barclay’s first (thinking I’d need a rest break at the Caffe next). I arrived and scoped out the building, generally speaking I was very impressed but when I got inside I was disappointed to find no evidence of #AccessDay at all. I spoke to two members of staff who were both polite but neither knew anything. I had the option to wait for the manager but after seeing how many other people were waiting I decided to move on. This was a pretty big disappointment but the Barclay’s Access team on twitter got in touch very quickly and they’ve said they are investigating. Excellent customer service.
The next location was Caffe Nero. I made my way inside and immediately spotted an Access day sign on the counter. I asked to speak with a member of staff and was greeted with a smile and shown to a table. (Great start) The lady I spoke with was really helpful and after some negotiating we sat down for a few minutes to talk about my access checklist.
So here goes..
Caffe Nero Access Review
There’s a slope at the front and the doors are pretty difficult to negotiate for anyone with a mobility impairment but not impossible, they are the same colour as the surrounding walls but do have glass panels so you can see people coming from the opposite direction. Once you get inside the floor is dual colour. Wood floors under the seating areas and blue grey tiling by the counters, the two colours are separated by a thin strip of high contrast but visually stressful black and white check print. The counter is busy and there is a lot of background noise (the usual sounds of coffee shops). The counter is single height (above my head when in my wheelchair) and has a few things like special offers and biscuits on the top which do obscure line of sight between you and the staff behind. They don’t appear to hae any kind of hearing enhancement system (induction loop or similar).
The staff receive minimal training, no first aid or disability awareness at all. That said I was treated well, not once did anyone address my partner over my head even, no ‘does she take sugar’.
The caffe provides both a gluten-free and dairy free option and they do have a blender so there should be no problem if you’re on a liquid diet. The caffe does have detailed allergy information available. Unfortunately (but understandably) it is store policy not to allow outside food or drinks so if you have severe or complex allergies this might not be the place for you. There are no printed menus, everything is written on little signs next to the food or on the back wall above the counter on chalk boards, black background with white writing (no braille or large print).
There is a range of seating downstairs, mainly wooden chairs and little round tables (they don’t contrast much at all with the floor). There is also an area with black leather-effect comfy chairs. They look wonderfully squishy and comfy..probably nearly impossible to get out of!
I didn’t go upstairs but the stairs are narrow enough that you can reach the hand rail on both sides, there is a slight lip on each step so it might be possible to catch your toes and trip especially for people prone to dragging their feet.
They do have an accessible bathroom. The corridor leading up to it is a little narrow but not impossible at all, I was fine getting past in my manual wheelchair. The door opens outwards and has a horizontal bar on the inside of the door to help close it. The lock is a long bar you flip-up, I could operate it easily using just one closed fist so it is suitable for people with limited dexterity. Ideally accessable bathrooms have a 1.5m turning circle with no obstructions but the shorter side in this bathroom measured 1.10m. There is a changing table for kids and a sanitary disposal bin. They also have an emergency pull cord which reaches all the way to the ground. I do have a few slight complaints, firstly the toilet roll holder is behind you as you’re on the loo.. It would be impossible for many disabled people to reach. Seems I’m not the only one who thought so since there was a spare loo roll within easy reach resting on the sanitary bin. Given the size of the room it was laid out remarkably well, it was possible to transfer onto the loo from the left (as you look at the loo) and from in front. The sink was a little low and I think people who were walking might struggle especially if they’re tall.
Given the constraints of the building I think it’s smartly laid out and they’ve done everything possible to make it accessible without major building work. With some structural changes to the counter and a bit of staff training on disability I think it could be a good place to go. Would I go there again on wheels? Yes. I would.
So what did I learn? Well I’m pretty pleased with how my checklist held up and it was certainly useful once I got back home and started writing the next day. I don’t think any major changes are needed but I’m planning on adding spaces to write measurements.. as it was when I measured the bathroom I just jotted the measurements down in the margin.
It’s been an interesting experience for me and suspect for other people too.. I wonder just how many people with disabilities just get used to struggling when out and about? Just how many people like me go around just expecting to get stuck. To have to ask for help because the world isn’t designed to meet our needs.. To quote ‘A Streetcar named Desire’… I’ve always relied on the kindness of strangers.
This is what access day is all about for me. Helping to make the world more accessible. If nothing else it’s becoming possible to plan in advance. Maybe one day I’ll just be able to go out and assume I can get into a building but today is not that day.
I do hope you’ve found this useful and I’d love to hear any questions or comments.