Friday, 14 February 2014

What is a perfect venue?

(Originally written for Really Useful Stuff)

The trouble is, it's different for everyone - some prefer modern, some traditional, some want alcohol in abundance, others want a quiet cup of tea.

In this day and age, our ever-present internet solves the problem - we search, look at photos, menus, maps, details. Then decide. Then book. Simple.

Unless you have any non-average access requirements. Then it's endless phone calls with lists of questions, waiting for calls back because they aren't sure, and hoping the information eventually given is relatively accurate and not missing anything essential. So few websites have any accessibility info, but it would make SO much difference to us customers with disabilities.

It doesn't surprise me. I am fully aware that for many business owners, especially small businesses, disabled access is a complicated, technical, confusing and expensive legal thing. And having sat through a 'Disability Awareness Course' and 'Equality training day' - quite frankly, I understand why. (This was actually said. I kid you not.)

[image description: stickman lecturing "There should be tarmac paths to all remote beautiful locations! To disagree is discriminatory." Class thinking "that's just silly." Wheelchair user thinking "..but I don't want tarmacked countryside. Why not an off road wheelchair or a monthly day with firefighters to help you?"]

But I bring you good tidings!

It's actually straight forward to write access information.
Here's my quick and easy guide:

  1. Write a bullet point list of everything you have deliberately done to assist with accessibility.
  2. Look at the key areas of your premises: e.g. external path/route to entrance, entrance door, toilet, bar/restaurant area, reception etc and describe the access in literal terms, paying special attention to the floor surfaces and space - e.g. "One 6 inch step to front door, with grab rails. Portable ramp available. 1 inch high threshold between entrance hall and restaurant, accessible bathroom*, crazy paving path to entrance, staff available to assist with access where needed."
  3. Combine the two lists into bullet point descriptions. Avoid flouncy words and attempts to make it sound technical and politically correct - your average individual with non-standard access requirements wants the info, not the jargon.
  4. Put the list on your website.
  5. Add photos. Lots of photos. Not pretty, posed photos - but practical ones which clearly show the path surface, or the toilet layout, or the amount of space for getting between tables etc. Every person will have slightly different abilities and needs, and letting them see for themselves whether your venue will work for them is the best way to approach it.
  6. Add a phone number to contact with questions or feedback
  7. Any questions or feedback you get on accessibility, ask yourself "would this be useful for others to know" - if so, add it to your accessibility info list, making sure you keep it up to date with any layout changes. (You won't pick up everything relevant first time. Just keep learning, using your common sense, and listening to your customers.)
  8. Wherever negative issues are highlighted, use your problem solving skills. You might be surprised at how cheap and effective solutions can be.

Voila, you will have made my day and there is a good chance you will have got my custom.
[image description: manual wheelchair user stuck in a gravel path.]
Note: from a wheelie perspective: gravel is evil. Think 'wading through treacle'. If you have a gravel car park or pathways, please please make a more solid area for wheelies! 

Even if some things are not 'ideal' in terms of access, don't hide it - describe it. Because you might be surprised to find that when people know about it and are prepared, it is workable for more people than you thought.

I recently went to a fabulous restaurant (my mouth waters every time I talk about it!) - in an old country house (Fallowfields, Oxfordshire). They'd had no accessibility info on the site. I thought access would be poor. It wasn't. Some parts weren't ideal - other parts were perfect. I got chatting to the owner and got the impression he had has a similar 'disability awareness training' experience to me. He couldn't rebuild the rambling old building to be a perfect wheelie heaven, so it couldn't be accessible. It almost felt as if he was ashamed and depressed by the lack of access. We chatted, and I think he realised that I, as a wheelchair using individual could access everywhere I needed to and things could be even better with relatively little expenditure (an external light, a tiny portable ramp for the 2inch back door step, tidying up the accessible bathroom and some minor path repairs). The outcome was that the above procedure was followed. He wrote a list of stuff deliberately done, and stuff planned as a result of my visit (much of which is already done). I added a few things I'd noticed and appreciated like the low height reception desk. AWESOME! I could actually see the receptionist when I spoke to her!

And hey presto - one of the most useful accessibility information pages I've seen. Yes, I might be slightly biased as I helped write it and it features my 'Positive Accessibility Logo' (not for use without my express written permission and payment of a suitable fee), but it works. Because it has the kind of info that people with disabilities find useful.

And whatever happens, please don't tell people your premises is 'accessible' without providing further detail - because everyones 'accessible' is different.
[image description: Electric wheelchair user having a face-palm moment at hotel door, door has a step. Standing person saying "But we are accessible! It's only one step and see, we have installed a grab rail!"]

*'Accessible bathroom' used to describe a 'larger than average, has grab rails, step free access, easy-to-use taps and privacy lock' bathrooms is one of the few times the use of the word 'accessible' is moderately useful. However, given the huge variety of set-ups in these I would strongly advise putting a photo of the accessible loo and the area around it.


  1. Gravel's also evil if you have to push a trolley through it. Think of who has to deliver the paper for your printers, folks!

  2. We went to a holiday park with my wheelie brother. It was pretty accessible but had some areas of difficulty like using gravel to cover pipes on paths so you just ground to a halt. They were newly built and really keen to improve accessibility in the next round of upgrades, so we suggested using one of their "hireable" chairs and just trying to get around the place themselves. Next time we went, the place was superbly accessible, and the staff all seemed very wheely aware. We discovered that they'd really taken our advice to heart - they'd had a "staff training" activity where *every* member of staff had to use their bit of the facility in a chair or buggy, and then acted on any problems encountered!

    1. That's great Susannah, it's always good to hear positive stories about accessibility.

  3. This is the best idea that's why I am finding a conference venue finder on the web and I found this venue finder Melbourne that was really perfect for our business meetings.

  4. Thanks for this post about importance of a perfect venue for celebrations and parties. I am glad to read this informative article. My cousin is getting engaged and is looking for venues in Chicago. I will definitely tell her about this post.


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