Towards the end of 2021 over 2,400 disabled people and their families, friends, carers and health and social care professionals gave their thoughts in Euan’s Guide Access Survey supported by Motability Operations. The largest of its kind in the UK, the survey found a mix of positive and not so positive experiences – here Euan’s Guide take a closer look at the effects COVID has had on disabled access
Ever since COVID restrictions were eased our daily conversations and activities have focused more and more on a return to “normal”. For some, that might mean getting back to the office; for others it’s the relaxation of testing or being able to go mask-free when indoors in public places. However, this isn’t the case for everyone – Euan’s Guide made interesting but possibly unsurprising discoveries in their latest Access Survey.
One issue found was worsened disabled access post-lockdown. When respondents were asked for their thoughts on going out again their feelings were clear; over half of respondents believed that COVID has made disabled access worse. This suggests that some changes made to reduce COVID-related risks were done so at the expense of accessibility. Sadly, the reality of this has been reduced accessible parking and locked accessible toilets, meaning for some disabled people lockdown still feels very much in place.
In addition, responses in the Access Survey noted that in the effort to boost the economy and make a return to life as it once was not only were there fewer accessible parking bays and toilets, but the changes to queuing and introduction of one-way systems gave no consideration to the needs of disabled visitors.
Dr Elizabeth Ferris is a full-time wheelchair user and a junior doctor. She summed up the situation: “Everywhere we look pavements are being used for outside dining and parking spaces are being recommissioned to increase capacity of stores and restaurants. All these changes have occurred for obvious reasons, but they’ve happened without thought for the needs of disabled people. The loss of such precious resources has a huge impact on how wheelchair users interact with their towns and cities, making it harder and in some cases totally impossible.”
One survey respondent described the impact of this on disabled people: “Because tables have to be further apart, getting into and out of cafes and bars and restaurants is easier. However, because these places now have more outdoor seating it makes passing these places harder due to the amount of pavement they take up.”
There’s no denying that getting out and about again is exciting – but many survey respondents said they weren’t keen to return to major indoor activities, supporting the conclusion that going out has been made harder for disabled people after the COVID lockdowns. The Access Survey found that over half of respondents expressed concerns about attending entertainment venues like theatres and cinemas and, in fact, attending any indoor or covered attractions would cause worry.
On an encouraging note, people said they were more likely to take part in smaller-scale indoor activities, with 56% saying they’d be more likely than normal to visit restaurants, cafes and bars. This suggests that the hospitality sector is doing a good job of making everyone feel safe in these new environments, but the downside is that disabled people are being forgotten about in terms of getting inside in the first place.
In a world post-lockdown, it’s even more important than ever that venues and attractions have reliable and up-to-date information on their accessible facilities. When planning a trip, over 80% of survey respondents said they’d check the company or venue website, 35% would contact the venue directly, and 47% would search the internet, including checking out reviews on Euan’s Guide. If the access information is hard to find, non-existent or negative, venues can fully expect to lose customers – in fact, 56% of people said that they would avoid going to a venue if it didn’t have any disabled access information, presuming it to be inaccessible. And, with 73% of respondents telling Euan’s Guide that they’ve found information on a venue’s website to be misleading, confusing, or inaccurate, it’s obvious more work needs to be done.
On a positive note, the Access Survey also found that disabled people feel more included in some aspects of life with COVID. The pandemic forced organisations of all kinds (from church groups to theatres and museums) to improve their digital offering or provide new ways to engage online. Being able to access cultural events has been a huge bonus for disabled people, and many survey respondents also noted that supermarket shopping became much easier, while working and studying remotely has also been a plus.
Much of this online activity has encouraged a sense of community, allowing people to keep in touch and stay engaged where they may not have been able to before. Broadcaster and journalist, Mik Scarlet agrees. He said: “The arts world has embraced the online experience and this has opened up the arts to many disabled people who could never engage before.”
So, while many of us are keen to return to a life we had before the pandemic it’s worth remembering that the first lockdown in March 2020 actually allowed disabled people to feel more included by being able to get involved virtually.
One survey respondent commented: “It’s been amazing having so many things online. I feel the world has opened up for me rather than shut down in lockdown. I hope places consider keeping more online.”
The full results of Euan’s Guide Access Survey supported by Motability Operations are available on euansguide.com. You can also find out how to contribute to this year’s survey at euansguide.com/AccessSurvey.
Key statistics from the Access Survey
59% believe that COVID has made disabled access worse
92% look for disabled access information before visiting somewhere new
68% are concerned about venue and public toilets being shut
81% say accessible parking bays would make it easier and safer for them to visit venues, places and spaces
57% are less likely to attend entertainment venues like theatres and cinemas
56% more likely than normal to visit restaurants, cafes and bars
55% more likely to go to outdoor areas such as beaches, parks and trails
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