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Accessibility- Falling at the first hurdle

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Experiencing the failings of a company's awareness of disability

In this guest blog, Bascule’s PR and Comms Manager, Spencer Butt describes his recent experience of an organisation’s failings in accessibility

Having worked with Bascule Disability Training for many years, I feel like I have learnt quite a bit about accessibility.  

Managing the PR and communications has meant that I’ve worked closely with our MD, Chris Jay, writing articles, creating blogs, developing content and generally conveying Chris’ expertise into insightful and meaningful copy. I’ve also sat in on countless workshops, online training programmes and keynote speeches. However, it wasn’t until I travelled with Chris recently that I witnessed a moment that exemplified precisely why businesses need training.  Whilst I knew a lot about the importance of disability awareness, on this particular occasion I was able to observe a blatant need for it, first hand.  

We arrived at a large, grandiose office in central London, as Chris was a spokesperson at a conference in the building. We had decided to get there early, as Chris (being a wheelchair user), wanted to scope out accessibility around the stage area. I entered the building first and approached the reception, whilst Chris waited outside with the equipment.

The smartly dressed gentleman on reception calmly greeted me, and with a friendly smile, confirmed we were in the right place and politely pointed me in the direction of an escalator leading to the event.

“I’ll just let my colleague know we are in the right place.” I said.

“No problem, sir.” he responded- and I left to tell Chris.

We then re-entered the building and when the receptionist saw Chris was a wheelchair user, he reacted like we had walked into the building with a bomb. His jaw dropped and he jumped up in a panic. As we approached the reception, he raised his voice and held a hand up indicating we should stop.
“WAIT THERE, WAIT THERE!” He shouted. We stopped in our tracks.
“I know what to do.” He said as he scrambled around for something on his desk, dropping his phone in a rush to contact someone urgently. It was like he’d witnessed a crime that needed reporting immediately.

For some reason he looked back over towards us and repeated once again- “WAIT THERE”, like we had considered running away. He proceeded to call someone for their assistance to take us through via a lift that required an alternative access.

“They are coming to help you now, they won’t be long. Just wait there. Then they’ll take you to the lift.” He said, looking towards me as he spoke, rather than Chris, despite the instruction being for him.

Phew, panic over!

The difference between the receptionist’s manner when I entered alone and then with Chris had shocked me. Whilst he had obviously been given instructions on what to do when someone in a wheelchair entered the building, you couldn’t help but feel that he saw Chris’ presence as an emergency- or rather, a problem. Of course, the receptionist didn’t act with any malice or intention to offend– he’d been trained in what to do- but just wasn’t aware of how to do it.  

Later, I asked Chris about the experience, and he laughed and agreed. I could tell from his reaction that he experienced similar responses on a regular basis. “I’m glad you noticed it.” said Chris, “Perhaps you should write a blog about it, from your perspective?”

In Bascule’s training Chris often talks about the importance of disability awareness for the whole workforce. Not just line managers, not just HR staff- but everyone. It was only after experiencing the receptionist’s reaction that I fully understood why.

Your business could have a strong focus on accessibility and diversity, but if you are a visitor, and the first person you see reacts in a way that makes you feel like you’re a problem or a challenge- that first impression has already been made. And we all know how important first impressions are. Why else would a business have a beautifully furnished, ostentatious reception?

This business in question had done everything right. They had a well-considered process for visitors that were wheelchair users and had clearly briefed the receptionist on what to do. However, they failed at the first hurdle. They failed because the person at the front of house didn’t have a basic understanding or awareness of disability, and therefore lacked an inclusive mindset. And, as they were providing the venue for a conference, it was also a poor reflection on the event.

So, as a final thought- for all the businesses out there, that have adhered to the equality act, made significant physical adjustments to their environment, and now believe they are fully accessible- remember the most important asset of all is your people. Otherwise, you could be losing customers, clients, staff and reputation- to that bad ‘first impression’. 

 

If you would like to improve disability awareness in your business- join us on November 29th for online training by FOLLOWING THIS LINK