I have been to several conferences recently where the only places to put down your cup of coffee or glass of wine was on a high table or barrel. When I complained that these were at unsuitable heights for a permanent wheelchair user I was told that there was not enough space in the refreshment area for anything else due to the number of people attending the event.
This is like saying we don’t want wheelchair users or people with a mobility impairment at our conference. Surely this is unacceptable in a modern inclusive society and it is also a very poor business attitude. There are always alternative solutions. Placing a small coffee table in a corner with a suitable sign on it saying ’This table is available for those with a mobility impairment’. Or providing a lower table and chairs in a nearby lounge or even asking if you can clear a temporary space at the back of the conference room.
All these solutions would take just a few moments to organise and if the event organiser from the venue had checked beforehand this could be completed seamlessly prior to arrival. On too many occasions the needs of people with an impairment are not considered until the issue occurs on the day. Then there is a mad panic about what to do and a great deal of attention and embarrassment is caused to both the venue staff and the person with an impairment. This can ruin a conference as other delegates stop and stare and comment about the poor service.
Another situation that arose recently was when I needed to go to the toilet. My medical condition means this can be both sudden and urgent. I realise other disabled people may be ahead of me but I don’t expect a member of staff to appear ten minutes later with some lame excuse that he needed to go and this toilet was closest. All staff must be aware that when there is a wheelchair sign it is meant for people that physically can’t get into another cubicle and that their needs may often be vitally important.
Recent research by VisitEngland showed this market for stay away from home and day visits is worth £12bn. The market is growing rapidly and venues have an opportunity to increase their share and size of the market. I hope that this time venues are better equipped with suitably trained staff. My concern is that we will market share to Europe or further afield.
Any comments? Email Zoe Vernor