Accessibility. What does it mean? What is the “purple pound”? What is an Access Guide? If you are reading this and you work for an attraction, venue, hotel or leisure facility, I am sure you will have heard these words before, if you have not, please Google them and see what comes up (or give me a call 😉) and then read on.
The Scotch Whisky Experience is located in a Grade B listed building. We have four floors with public access, a mezzanine level and five floors with staff access. Located at the top of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile with a cobbled street outside you would be forgiven for imagining that we are not particularly accessible, yet we have worked hard on our facilities and access and aim to be visited and enjoyed by as many people as possible.
We welcome all and our doors are always open.
We have an accessible whisky barrel car ride, 20 languages (including British and American Sign Language), we have magnifiers for our menus in Amber Restaurant, an EvacChair, hearing loops, a lowered level reception desk, lowered bars, lowered shop till points and much more. We also allow guide dogs throughout the tour experience, in the restaurant and in our shop. We are not perfect, but we have certainly come a long way since our journey began.
How to make your venue accessible
The first thing to do when thinking about accessibility at your venue is to put pen to paper. Start writing your Access Guide – you may be amazed by everything that you can include in it. This is the most important thing you can do – make a start. An Accessibility Guide is an important document to provide potential visitors with key accessibility information about your venue. It allows people to make informed decisions about whether they can visit you or not. Access Guides are not solely for wheelchair users, but for those with hearing loss, visual or mental impairment, families with young children, old people and more.
Don’t know where to start? Take a step back. Think about the different personas that visit your venue. Be mindful of the varying needs and disabilities that your visitors may have. Would the use of lots of photographs in your access guide be useful? Speak to your team, get their ideas – everyone may look at it from a different perspective when thinking about the different people they would bring or have met previously at the venue. Arrive the way your visitors would arrive. How long did it take to get there from the nearest public transport for example? How many steps were there? Was there a ramp? If you were hard of hearing, would you hear the welcome on arrival? Could you easily have heard the shop assistant telling you the amount you had spent?
This is what we did. We walked the visitor route. Our conversation went along these lines: “Waverley station is really near to us, but it is a very steep hill that a customer would need to almost ‘climb’ up if they were walking. Would this be possible for everyone? No. Where could a taxi do a drop-off then? Is the background music too loud? Do we have a hearing loop installed so staff could easily be heard at till-points?” And this is what happened at the start of our Access guide journey. Use these questions and the easy headings below to start off your own access guide.
Remember, a great access guide does not mean perfect access for all, but rather a brilliant description to allow visitors to make an informed decision.
Telling guests about obstacles will prevent visitors coming who are likely to find your business unsuitable and leave you managing a poor experience.
I’m not going to lie. Access guides take time to write and keep up to date. The most labour-intensive part is just getting it started and putting the bones of it together. You need photographs, content from other departments and are continually reviewing and updating. Only this week have I amended ours twice, I see this as ‘essential maintenance’ and it doesn’t take long to do. This was to say that we now have A4 magnifier sheets which are can be used to enlarge text if something (such as a whisky bottle) has small writing and that customers should bring their own ear-phones (or we have a couple of spares) to use with our audio guides if they are hard of hearing.
Some easy headings to allow you to get started:
- Main Entrance
- Facilities (WC, hearing loop, different languages, wheelchair hire, buggy store for example)
- Assistance dogs welcome
- Facilities nearby – is there a Changing Places toilet close by, for example? How far is it to get to?
Another tip for writing an access guide:
Your access guide should be written in font size 24.
And once it is written, a great way to test if you have covered everything, is to invite people in to your venue and ask them to read it in advance of visiting so they know what to expect. Meet them after their tour/stay/meal and see if they have any pointers for you; a great way to get insights into additional items to add to your Access Guide, or simple things which can be introduced to make a visit by one of your customers more enjoyable. This is how I found out about the magnifier sheets mentioned above. If there are items which are to be purchased to improve access, or significant investment needed, then set short, medium and long-term goals to help you achieve great access for the future.
(And if you didn’t bother Googling, VisitBritain states that those with accessibility requirements are a market worth some £12 billion – known as “the purple pound”).
The Scotch Whisky Experience’s current Access Guide can be found here.