Creating an Accessible Heritage Open Days Programme

By Theresa Hodge, Access Consultant & Richard Sturgess, Fareham & Gosport Access Officer

This guide was written for Heritage Open Days organisers in Gosport and Hastings & St Leonards. It was given out at trainings events as a useful guide for organisers to use when planning access for their event.

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A disabled visitor to your event is as much an individual as any other visitor. Respect for the individual visitor is of paramount importance.

We believe that access is for everyone and should be thought about right at the beginning of planning and putting an event together.

Access needs of disabled people are important, but so are those of all of our audiences and everyone taking part in our events. We need to think about all the different kinds of access that might be required, physical, sensory, emotional, communication and intellectual. Whether organising events for families, young people, older people, or those speaking different languages (such as British Sign Language), walks, talks, tours or activities. Anticipate and put whatever you can in place right at the beginning - to make your event inclusive for everyone.

Make sure that you cost and book access support well in advance!

It is important to recognise that you may not be able to meet everyone’s needs at every event, so you need to be honest and clear about what you can realistically offer and what you are not able to provide so your visitors can make informed choices. So, at the start of planning any event, get used to asking yourself these three questions:

  • Who am I excluding?
  • Why am I excluding them?
  • What can I do to make it better?

This may not mean having to make ‘big’ or costly’ changes, but it does mean thinking about what ‘reasonable steps’ you can take to improve access.

Under the new Equalities Act we are all required to consider making ‘reasonable adjustments to improve access. When you improve access for disabled people, you will improve it for everyone else.

In the next few pages we will provide some tips and ideas for you to consider when putting your events together:

  • How people find out about your events – basic marketing
  • Getting to your event
  • Venue or site access
  • Meeting and greeting disabled people
  • Suggestions for cost-effective solutions and ideas for interpreting heritage
  • Some useful websites and other access toolkits
  • Some local contacts and resources

1. Promoting Your  Event

  • Consider what kind of event you are providing
  • Do you have a target audience in mind?
  • Plan how you could provide your publicity material in a range of different formats, i.e. standard / large print, on the internet, audio, and by word of mouth.  This will attract a wider audience.  Where you produce electronic versions, please produce both Word and PDF files as this will help people using speech screen readers.
  • Present your information clearly in plain English.
  • Use good colour contrast with no images over or under text.
  • Consider using a plain font such as Arial with a recommended font size of 14 or 16 point.
  • Be clear about your access.  Seek advice to make sure you are using the  right access symbols
  • Consider  including pictures or drawings, this may help people with learning difficulties or those who do not read print
  • Consider how you market your events. Build up a good mailing list and make contact with local groups and organisations of disabled people.

2. Getting to Your Event

  • Consider providing a simple map with clear directions
  • Try to give an idea of the size and scale of the site, so people have an idea if there will be a lot of walking involved
  • Consider providing simple information about public transport routes, i.e. bus or train with directions on how to reach your venue by foot if appropriate
  • Consider providing local taxi numbers
  • Provide information on the nearest parking facilities including accessible parking bays.
  • Consider forging links with local community transport providers – they may be able to assist you to encourage local isolated people to come to your event. Perhaps there are ways for your volunteers to get involved here too.

3. Venue or Site Access

  • Consider your current access provision, whether your event is held indoors or outdoors.
  • Consider access for wheelchair users, families or those with mobility aids. Are you able to provide level, good ramped (or for larger venues) lift access?
  • Consider the number of steps you have. Do they have good handrails and edging
  • Consider the distance to the nearest accessible toilets.
  • If your event is outdoors, consider providing seats. This will mean that people with mobility difficulties can rest if they have a lot of walking to do.
  • Make sure that you have clear signage to all entrances and exits and that signage around the site is clear and on a good contrast.
  • All aisles and reception areas should be free of clutter, and fire exits should be kept clear at all times. This will enable people to move with ease and confidence
  • Consider providing (if possible) a refuge point or quiet area as some people may find large crowds difficult.
  • Make sure there is adequate lighting.

4. Meeting and Greeting Disabled People

  • Everyone is different. Try not to make assumptions based on first appearances.
  • We are all individual. All of us want to be treated with equal respect.
  • Even though someone may have an impairment that appears to be similar to that of another person, that individual’s needs may be quite different.
  • It is important to try not to get too caught up in political correctness to the extent that you cannot say anything for fear of “getting it wrong”.
  • Try to make sure that you do not say anything that is knowingly offensive. Language will always shift and change.
  • Please be aware that you will not always know when you are talking with a disabled person as many people have hidden impairments
  • We suggest you consider welcoming all visitors in the same way, offering assistance and help to everyone who comes through the door.
  • Always talk directly to the disabled person and not to their companion or their carer/assistant.

People with Mobility Impairments

  • Please never lean on a person’s wheelchair as this is their own personal space.
  • Try to be at the same level where possible. It is usually better to get a chair and sit down rather than to bend down or crouch, unless this is acceptable to the disabled person.  This may not always be a wheelchair user but could also apply to somebody with restricted growth.
  • Please be aware that you must NEVER lift a person in or out of their wheelchair unless you have been trained to do so.
  • People who use crutches or walking sticks may find it difficult or tiring to stand in a queue for any length of time.  Consider this and be prepared to assist or provide seating as necessary.
  • If you need to offer written material to a wheelchair user or someone using crutches, be aware that they may have difficulties in holding things whilst using their crutches or wheelchair.  Be prepared to help but only with the person’s approval and at their pace.

Blind and partially sighted people

  • It isn’t always easy to tell if someone is blind or partially sighted. Not everyone will use a white cane or guide dog. If one of your visitors has a white cane with red bands on it, this means they may have some hearing loss too.
  • Please remember that guide dogs are working and avoid petting unless you have asked and been given permission to do so from the owner. You may like to consider offering a bowl of water.
  • When offering assistance to blind and partially sighted people, please tell them who you are. If you are going to leave them (even for a short while – perhaps to follow up an enquiry) it is really important that you let them know.

Artefact handling session for the visually impaired.

  • To guide a blind or partially sighted person, offer your elbow/arm – do not grab their arm or hand as this can be very disconcerting.  Walk slightly ahead and to the side of them and mention obstacles such as doorways, steps or ramps before you arrive at them.  When offering a seat, put their hand on the back of the chair to allow them to seat themselves.
  • Be prepared to read out information and to provide a bit of description of the surroundings any objects and pictures
  • Where possible, have information available in a range of alternative formats.
  • If you are dealing with money, ask the person if they would like you to count it into their hand. Try to hand receipts, notes and change separately.

Deaf and hearing impaired people

  • To attract a deaf person’s attention, use a gentle wave of your hand or a light tap on their shoulder.
  • Look directly at the hearing impaired person to whom you are speaking. Talk clearly and at a steady pace.
  • Try to keep your face in the light and always keep your hands away from your mouth.
  • Do not raise your voice or shout as this distorts your mouth, blurs the sound and makes it difficult for lip reading and hearing aid users.
  • If asked to repeat a statement, repeat it just as you originally said it.  The person listening or lip reading may have understood half the words and wants to receive the missing ones.  If asked to repeat again, it may then be necessary to try saying the information in a different way.
  • You may like to consider having a piece of paper and a pencil available. Be aware that this may not always work for people who are profoundly deaf. They may only understand British Sign Language (BSL), not the written word.

People with Speech Impairments

  • When a person with a speech impairment is trying to talk to you, please be patient and try not to interrupt in mid sentence or to complete the sentence for them.

People with Learning Difficulties

  • If you are talking with an adult who has a learning difficulty you may need to explain things in plain English or differently.

5. Suggestions for Cost-effective Solutions and Ideas for interpreting heritage

Under the legislation contained in the new Equalities Act, it may not be possible to make your venue/event fully accessible to everyone. However, it might not take much to make simple changes that will open your event up to a wider audience. Here are some other ideas to consider:

  • If you have steps up to the main entrance there may be an alternative entrance with level access or you might consider purchasing or borrowing a portable ramp to put over the steps.
  • If you are leading a guided walk, is the route accessible to wheelchair users and are there any sighted guides to assist visually impaired participants.
  • If some of your visitors are deaf or have hearing loss and you are going to give a verbal description as part of the event, consider providing some notes of what you intend to say.
  • Make sure that all written information is clear and in plain English, with good colour contrast. Consider using pictures and symbols to make it accessible to people with learning difficulties.
  • Consider putting descriptions on a CD or MP3 player for blind and partially sighted visitors or people with learning difficulties.
  • Make sure that the contents of display cabinets are labelled in clear print. The PenFriend is an audio labelling device which would enable blind and partially sighted visitors, as well as those with learning difficulties,  to hear a spoken description of objects at an exhibition.
  • Consider providing objects that can be touched, having some out on display if possible, object handling sessions, etc.
  • Consider purchasing or hiring some hand-held or electronic magnifiers to enable blind and partially sighted people to access printed information or to see small objects.
  • Consider purchasing or hiring an induction loop to make talks, performances or conferences accessible to hearing aid users. This is a loop of wire that is placed around the edge of the room where your meeting is taking place. People speaking inside the loop are picked up by the microphones supplied and their voices are amplified for people whose hearing aids are set to the T position.
  • In addition, use of a PA system can also make talks, performances and conferences more accessible to everyone as the sound is generally amplified. Use of roving microphones is very useful where questions are invited from the audience so that everyone can hear the questions. Without this, induction loop users are excluded and have to rely on questions being repeated by the speaker.

6. Access Toolkits and Other Resources
The following is a list of some useful access toolkits and other publications which are available.  Please check with the publisher of each one regarding any charges which they make for their resources.

ISAN Access Toolkit
Through Attitude is Everything, ISAN has produced a comprehensive access toolkit specifically for outdoor events which includes tips for working with disabled artists.

Voluntary Arts Network Briefing - Events Checklist - Disability and Access
This is one of VAN’s briefings, which are short, succinct publications which provide up-to-date and relevant information for voluntary arts groups and those who work in them.

Change Picture Banks 
These CD-ROMs, produced by a leading national organisation run by and for people with learning difficulties, contain pictures which help to make information more accessible to people with learning difficulties.

Centre for Accessible Environments (CAE) Access Resources
CAE has produced a range of publications, including design guides, specifiers' handbooks and CD ROMs related to access to the built environment.

7. National Organisations

  • The Access Association: The work of the Access Association includes supporting people working in access and disability fields, as well as promoting the appointment of Access professionals and the development and training of Access professionals and volunteers, and seeking to ensure consistency in practice and standards.
  • Accessible Countryside for Everyone provides a website resource that gives information on places, walks and recreational opportunities with disabled access for each of the counties of England and Wales, ACE promotes disabled access in the countryside and the wider publication of accessible information in general.
  • Access Group Resources is the information and networking website for local access groups. Its aim is to develop the capacity of local access groups – and other disabled people's organisations involved with promoting accessibility – across England and Wales. The website aims to help groups link up with each other to share issues, stimulate discussion and develop good practice approaches to accessibility and inclusive design.
  • Deafblind UK provides a range of services to assist deafblind people, their support assistants and other professionals.  These include training in communication and rehabilitation skills, a free 24 our helpline, a regional network of staff and volunteers, a varied leisure programme and a range of publications in different formats.
  • Joint Committee on Mobility of Blind and Partially Sighted People  An independent body consisting of representatives from the principle organisations of blind, deafblind and partially sighted people, with a specific interest in access and mobility. Secretariat for JCMBPS is provided by Guide Dogs for the Blind Association (Guide Dogs).
  • Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB)  provides a wide range of products and services related to supporting people with sight loss, their families and friends, as well as employers and service providers.
  • Royal National Institute of the Deaf works to improve the lives of deaf and hard of hearing people, by providing a range of services, campaigning and lobbying, raising awareness of deafness and hearing loss and through social, medical and technical research.
  • National Register of Access Consultants (NRAC) is an independent register of accredited Access Auditors and Access Consultants who meet professional standards and criteria established by a peer review system. It is a UK-wide accreditation service for individuals who undertake access auditing and access consultancy.

Important Notice
This pack has been produced by Liz Porter, Access Adviser for Creative Landscapes, Richard Sturgess, Gosport Access Officer, and Theresa Hodge, Hastings based Disability Equality Consultant. The tips and ideas provided are based on the experiences and opinions of the writers and of local disabled people who also contributed to the document.

Taking on board any of the suggestions provided does not constitute meeting the requirements under the Equalities Act. Where appropriate, we recommend that event organisers should seek more detailed professional advice by requesting an access audit from a qualified Access Auditor. Details of local Access Auditors can be sought from a number of the organisations listed in the final section of this document.

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