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Mobility the in-between space

Wheelchair access

Today in 2024 more people seem to understand what it means to be wheelchair accessible. When talking about access, people mention wheelchair access, ramps, lifts and disabled parking. This is great, access is being more understood, but it’s not enough. New buildings are being built to wheelchair accessible standards, but there is more to think about. There are still challenges for wheelchair users but it’s getting better.

Access needs are rarely binary

But, and there is unfortunately a but, mobility isn’t only wheelchair access. We find often in access people look at things from an absolute polarised perspective. For example:

  • Either someone is deaf and can hear nothing at all or someone is hearing.
  • Either someone is blind/severely sight impaired or sighted.
  • Either someone is a wheelchair user or they can walk freely and easily.

Access needs are rarely binary. For all these different access needs there is a range and this is very evident in mobility. You have:

  • Wheelchair users who may use a wheelchair nearly all the time.
  • Temporary wheelchair users who may use a wheelchair in spaces where they would need to do a lot of walking. This is why in museums, supermarkets and hospitals wheelchairs are available for public use.
  • People who walk with aids such as frames, crutches or sticks. (Some may also be temporary wheelchair users.)
  • People who don’t use any aids for walking but may have pain and tiredness some or all of the time. They may need more frequent rests or breaks and the ability to take their time.

Ways to support access

There may be a reluctance to talk about access needs amongst people who don’t use any aids but also with people who walk with aids. If people are uncomfortable explaining their needs, ideally, we can anticipate them. So, what are some of the needs of people with varying levels of mobility. Here is some of what we've gathered over the years from training, workshops and research.

Keep walking distances short

  • If you are a large organisation in a big building book your meeting room on the ground floor near reception.
  • Make sure toilets, included disabled toilets are nearby.
  • Bring in catering or teas and coffee.
  • If it’s a long walk from a bus or train station think about holding meetings in a central hotel.

Make seating accessible

Have varied seating to match different needs.

  • Include upright high-backed chairs, preferably with arms that people can easily get into and out of.
  • Have different heights of chair, including lower chairs for shorter people or children. If someone’s feet can’t touch the ground, this means all their weight is on the lower spine.
  • If all your seating is low sofas or bean bags people may feel self-conscious if they ask for a different chair. They may not be comfortable asking and this could lead to repercussions and pain for them in the following days.

Have more seating

  • In large spaces have seating dotted throughout. This tends to be fairly standard in museums and galleries now.
  • Some places offer portable seats for people to carry around. These can be helpful for some people. Bear in mind we are talking about people with mobility issues so carrying a portable seat may be a challenge for some. We want to avoid making people ask and we know some of this group won’t always ask so this should be an optional extra.

Explain your space

You may have a fully wheelchair accessible location and you’ve followed all the guidance mentioned in this article so far. There is one more thing you can do – explain your space.

Having to walk longer distances or thinking they may need to do this can cause people a lot of stress. Explain the set-up of your building or venue to visitors so they know:

  • Distance to walk from the bus stop, train station, taxi drop off, disabled parking and general parking. Not everyone with mobility issues will have a blue badge.
  • Distance from reception to where you are holding your event.
  • Distance to and location of toilets, disabled toilets, cafeteria, quiet room, prayer room etc.
  • Contact details if they need any assistance getting around the building. Make sure to provide phone and text or email. Not everyone can do voice calls.
  • This will also help people who may have anxiety around going to new places.

Reducing the need to ask

Doing all these things doesn’t replace the need to ask people about their access needs. But it means more people don’t need to ask and those who wouldn’t ask have their needs met. We explained not needing to ask in more detail in, Being Accessible: Don’t wait to be asked.

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