Andy is a Paralympian who specialises in creating accessible spaces. He joins us to talk about his work with the public transport network and the need for true accessibility for all
Disabled people face a real challenge when using public transport. If we focus on the social model of disability then it is the environment that leads a person to be restricted or denied service due to the disability. Andy talks about the work he does with transport companies, especially one particular rail franchise's approach to Inclusive design for services, that takes into account the necessary adjustments to ensure people of any disability can find that they are being considered. He also talks about his experience as a Paralympian and how his life changed for ever during a sporting event in his youth. There is plenty here for organisations to take away in terms of steering their own thinking around accessibility for all.
Joanne sat down to talk to Andy Barrow, a Paralympian to discuss ‘Why isn’t our public transport network accessible for all?’
Andy has been a wheelchair user for over 20 years since he broke his neck in a freak sporting accident, so he understands the landscape and accepts that there are certain aspects of public transport that are going to be very difficult to make accessible, the tube for example. In instances like this we must look at accessibility through assistance. The two major issues Andy has experienced are that processes often do not allow the staff trying to assist the passengers the best chance to give them the assistance they need and second is the culture – the organisations/staff not understanding the importance of the assistance, which is to allow people to navigate the world independently.
Negative travel experiences can really impact people, affecting their confidence and potential future travel plans. Andy feels, due to the confidence he gained through working in sports and his vast travelling that he needs to be a mouthpiece for others, who perhaps don’t have this. Being in the minority you often feel nervous about the number of unknowns before you travel – what is the accessibility like at the station you are travelling to, will there be someone there who is able to help? Andy now works at SouthEastern to try and ensure that people can all turn up and travel as and how they want to. He accepts that mistakes are going to happen, but it is about how they are dealt with. The frustration from these mistakes is time, when it is only one mistake that may be fine, but when it builds up it is time costs taken out of your day, every single day/week/month/year. Having a severe disability has been equated to having a full time, 30 hour a week job in terms of time cost, just to live. Organisations should be judged by their plan B, when things go wrong how do they deal with it. Often, they try too hard to give a one size fits all, based on their perception of you. But we should be looking at equality vs equity -what is your ideal customer experience? Two people with the same disability may still have a drastically different idea of what this would look like, and this needs to be, within the realms of safety respected.
When Andy used to travel as an athlete on aeroplanes there were incidents where wheelchairs did not arrive and this can be disempowering, disappointing and embarrassing, especially when the assistance you are being offered, often being pushed through the airport, is not what
you want. Wheelchairs are bespoke to the users; you cannot just be changed out of them. You want to be empowered to be independent as individuals. Andy is in a position of power as he knows if he was to remain in his seat and refuse to move, this has a knock-on cost implication to the airline. He does acknowledge that the blame can be unfairly placed on airlines, when the airport may contract out assistance services, so there are different dynamics at play.
Company culture needs to permeate through to all employees, and treatment of staff and engagement needs to be considered for this. Employees need to understand why accessibility for passengers is important and Andy believes if companies treat their staff well, the staff in turn will treat customers well. They need to avoid blame culture, accepting mistakes happen but look at training and ways to overcome this. If people feel empowered, they will be happy to take on responsibility and potentially break rules, but for the right reasons. No one sets out to make someone’s journey/day difficult, but it is the fear of being wrong, getting it wrong and then the consequences. Communication needs to be improved, training as often decisions need to be made in split seconds.
Andy understands that companies must cater to the bell curve, but everyone with a disability is different and hidden disabilities must also be considered. The question should be what do you need to put you at parity with everyone else travelling today? By giving the passenger the power of choice, ensuring they feel empowered they will have a positive experience.
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Andy Barrow Consulting