We need better access for disabled people, insist Legacy chiefs
Organisations urged to embrace the 'Stoke Mandeville Standard'
Imagine a world where disabled people had easy access to every street, park, hotel, shop and public building – however large or small.
Imagine places where disabled people could communicate freely with everyone around them, where everyone’s needs were met. And imagine that disabled people had the chance to play the sport of their choice in whatever club they joined.
Utopia perhaps, but it’s a world that the Buckinghamshire Legacy Board wants to move towards by raising the bar on accessibility standards throughout the county.
“We want to encourage businesses, clubs and residents across Bucks to adopt what we are referring to as the ‘Stoke Mandeville Standard’,” said former Legacy Chairman Carl Etholen, speaking in 2014.
“There are many national and international agreed standards. We want Buckinghamshire organisations to want to meet and exceed these standards.
“We are the birthplace of the Paralympic Movement and we are very keen to continue to lead the way for the rest of the UK as far as access and inclusivity are concerned.”
His views were echoed by Ian Barham, the Manager of Buckinghamshire Legacy, who explained: “There are many great examples locally of organisations that have gone out of their way to make their premises or services accessible – but we want to try to make this the norm rather than the exception in Bucks.
“Our aim is to encourage businesses and public authorities to deliver the ‘Stoke Mandeville Standard’. In a nutshell, this means gold star facilities for disabled people all across the county. That would be the most fitting way to honour the memory of Poppa Guttmann, the founder of the Paralympic movement.”
Andrew Clark, chair of BuDS (Buckinghamshire Disability Service), says a change of culture is needed.
“Only a proportion of buildings, public spaces and sports clubs are fully accessible to disabled people. It can be humiliating and upsetting – and an enormous amount of human potential is wasted. Buckinghamshire has a proud heritage of enabling social change for disabled people through sport. Now we need to see practical change across Bucks to extend that sporting heritage to all areas of life.
“The Buckinghamshire Legacy Board is a very important forum to help us achieve these ambitions because its partners have a common goal to try to make a difference.”
EXAMPLES OF GREAT ACCESS:
Mr Barham was keen to stress that the standards in the county are already extremely high in a number of places. He cited the following examples:
- The historic Stowe House, in Buckingham, pictured above, with its picturesque National Trust landscaped gardens, is fully accessible and welcomes visitors with disabilities. Visitors are advised to make staff aware of their access requirements in advance so they can help facilitate entry to the house. For house visitors with access needs there is parking at the north front of the house and arrangements can be made for them to be met at their vehicle by a member of the Stowe House visitor services team who will assist them into the house. Access is available at ground floor level or for those visitors who can ascend steps; access is at first floor level. The State Rooms on the first floor are accessible via a lift and there are a limited number of wheelchairs available upon request. Mr Barham said: “The origins of this house date back centuries. So considering its age, this is a magnificent example of how a stately home can be give ease of access without this spoiling any of its character.”
- The Phoenix Trail and Stoke Mandeville Way are described by Mr Barham as fine examples of rights of way that have been made accessible for disabled people. The Phoenix Trail, a six mile walk between Thame and Princes Risborough, is described by online guides as likely to be suitable for people with impaired mobility and users of wheelchairs, mobility scooters and pushchairs. “There is good level access, with steps having been removed which make it an ideal introduction to the countryside for those with mobility issues,” said Mr Barham. Meanwhile, the creation of Stoke Mandeville Way has given the public a much more-accessible footpath linking Aylesbury town centre to Stoke Mandeville Stadium, the hospital and village. “Both of these routes show just what can be done with a bit of planning and forethought,” he added.
- The Holiday Inn, Aylesbury is a modern flat access building with good facilities, including wheelchair-equipped rooms and staff with excellent attitudes, according to Mr Barham. “They have understood the needs of carers and taken trouble to ensure rooms are correctly booked. Being on a level floor and close to Stoke Mandeville Hospital makes them a good venue for disabled customers,” he said. Two of the ground floor bedrooms are fully accessible with wider doorways, grab rails and low level amenities, and there are assistance cords in the bedroom. In addition, there are interconnecting rooms available for carers and two ground floor guest rooms have been adapted for disabled people.
- Lets Unlimited, based in Ivinghoe, offers a selection of self catering cottages in the Chilterns in Herts, Beds and Bucks - see example pictured right of self-catering accommodation. “Some of their holiday accommodation has been specifically designed for mobility-impaired people. Lets is not a national chain so this proves independent providers can do this successfully,” said Mr Barham. “Lets have seen the business opportunity and are reaping the rewards for designing their accommodation in this way.”
- Halton Tennis Centre represents all that is good about inclusive sport, says Mr Barham. In 2013, it notched up a major triumph when it won the award of Disability Network of the Year. The Bucks centre beat off 40 other disability tennis networks from across the UK for the coveted accolade. Inclusive participation at Halton has increased from 47 to 188 people, an increase of 300% since January 2013, thanks to the hard work of the team at Halton Inclusive Tennis. Players of all ages and disabilities (wheelchair, visually/deaf impaired and learning disabilities) are welcome to come along and play.
- The Adventure Learning Foundation, whose headquarters are at the Longridge Activity Centre in Marlow, sets an outstanding example for the way in which it employs disabled staff, says Mr Barham. Director Amanda Foister explained: “We don’t in any way distinguish between people and we employ staff from all backgrounds and of all ability. We have a number of staff with physical disabilities and a number with learning disabilities. I think we get good value from this from a business point of view because it helps the entire team that we have an eclectic group of people who bring something fresh to us and who have a different perspective.”
- Aylesbury Vale District Council’s new headquarters, The Gateway, is a perfect illustration of an effective modern flat access building, with good facilities throughout, says Mr Barham. “This is clearly good for the community, but it’s also sensible for the council which is striving to generate a commercial return in terms of conference bookings,” he said. “It opened in 2012, replacing three less accessible buildings.”
- Chiltern Railways was also praised by Mr Barham for the work done to make High Wycombe and Aylesbury train stations more accessible. “They have invested heavily in improving the access at High Wycombe and Aylesbury – working towards making the stations step free,” he said. “Public transport simply has to be modernised in this way.” Ramps are held at all staffed stations, Marylebone benefits from a ‘buggy’ that will transport people from the platforms to the station entrance. Trains all have one designated wheechair area as well as an interior colour scheme designed to help those with visual difficulties. The majority of long-distance trains also have an accessible toilet. To assist those with hearing problems, all the carriages have electronic visual displays showing the stations at which the train stops.
KEY NEW DEVELOPMENT:
And, in a key new development, BuDS hopes to link with district councils in the county to set up a ‘Fair For All’ taxi initiative for disabled people within the next few months. The aim would be for the councils to encourage cab companies to sign up to join the scheme.
“Companies joining up would guarantee to go the extra mile for disabled people,” said Andrew Clark of BuDS. “Not only would their taxis be fully accessible, but hey would guarantee not to over-charge for journeys, would agree to carry bags and would allow assistance dogs in the vehicle.
“In return, we would heavily promote these firms, for example with care homes and hospitals, so there would be a commercial benefit for them.”
Ian Barham added: “All these initiatives show how much progress has been made in the last few years, but there is still a long way to go.
“We do hope that organisations will embrace the concept of the Stoke Mandeville Standard. Not only will this enhance the lives of disabled people and strengthen communities, but it will bring massive commercial benefits to businesses.”
- Bucks Legacy is keen to hear of and celebrate other examples across the county. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org - 07843311837