For this week’s blog we have asked our friends from SeatPlan to share some thoughts about London theatres and what can be done to make them more accessible.
London Zoo? Check. The Tower of London? Check. The London Eye? Check. A West End show? Hmmm…
Though seeing a West End show is on many of London visitors’ to do lists, the beautiful, old buildings that are home to some of the best theatre in the world aren’t the most amenable to people with access requirements. Most of the theatres date to at least Victorian or Edwardian times. Theatre Royal Drury Lane, built in 1812, is even older – it pre-dates Queen Victoria’s birth by seven years. Architects back then didn’t consider accessibility in their designs and as many of these buildings are now listed, alterations are difficult and expensive – if they are permitted at all by planning regulations.
Luckily, rising levels of awareness and the wider theatre industry’s commitment to increasing access is bringing about change. Most West End theatres are now fitted with infrared hearing systems and removable seating, many offer dedicated access performances and downloadable Visual Stories, assistance dogs are usually permitted, and staff have been specifically trained to support theatregoers with their access requirements. When building regulations allow, ramps, lifts and step-free routes have been installed, as have low-level service counters at bars and box offices.
Many West End theatres are owned by one of four bigger companies, which enables access provisions to be standardised across an entire venue group. For instance, Ambassadors Theatre Group, also known as ATG, has a dedicated access team that can provide theatregoers for information and support with ticket booking across all of their venues, both in and out of London.
On the other hand, change just isn’t happening fast enough and there’s little financial reason for progress to be so slow. The West End is doing incredibly well – with record breaking numbers year on year, London theatre is showing no signs of slowing down. It’s a booming industry and there’s a lot of audience demand for tickets, but all audiences aren’t treated equally. Theatre seating is usually spread over multiple storeys so only certain areas of the theatre may be accessible, and many venues don’t have internal lifts. Main entrances usually have at least a few steps into the foyer from street level. Most theatres ask that patrons with access requirements contact the venue well in advance, and arrive at least half an hour early on the day of the performance they’re attending. Some theatres don’t even have adapted toilets.
Late last year, charity VocalEyes conducted an industry-wide access audit and their findings were disappointing. Out of the 659 researched theatres across the UK, 72% have access information on their websites. Whilst this is a lot, that still means more than a quarter of the venues surveyed didn’t provide any information about their access provisions at all. London is slightly higher at 78%, but Northern Ireland is the lowest, with just over half of its theatres providing access information on their websites. The report also states the amount and quality of the access information provided varies, from a few lines to detailed descriptions. Frankly, this isn’t good enough.
Nearly half of West End theatregoers hail from outside of London, indicating that seeing a show is clearly on the list of things to do for many people visiting the city. These visitors are less likely to go the West End theatres regularly, so they will be less familiar with individual theatres and the access provisions they provide. As VocalEyes’ survey proves, if information is provided online it’s not currently standardised across the industry as a whole, or even within the commercial theatre scene of a single city.
Another problem is the sheer amount of content about West End theatre on the internet. There are seemingly endless ticket retailers, news and reviews sites and other websites. Though it indicates how popular theatre is, it’s a confusing landscape to navigate even for seasoned audiences. Numerous third party ticket agents work with theatres to get bums on seats, and long lines of communication mean that information from the venues isn’t always displayed on vendors’ sites, or displayed accurately – and it may not be on the theatre’s website anyway. What with SEO optimisation that all websites use to rank higher in search results, the actual theatre’s website might be further down the list and may not be obvious, either.
Because of this resounding lack of comprehensive access information for the whole West End in a single resource, theatre website SeatPlan, in its aim to help audiences find the best seats, added an access page to each of the site’s venue listings. These access pages contain detailed descriptions of building entrances, numbers of steps in and around the theatre, bar seating, and so on. It also provides contact details for the theatres’ access teams at the West End’s major theatres and many regional venues.
These teams will be able to provide theatregoers with further details relating to your access requirements and assist with booking tickets or performances that best suit you. They can also advise on the availability of touch tours, audio description, captions, BSL interpreted and relaxed performances.
So whilst theatres still have a lot to do in order to improve their accessibility, they are taking steps in the right direction. Independent resources like SeatPlan also help, by making the process quicker and more streamlined. Even though there’s still a lot of work to be done, the theatre industry as a whole is finally waking up to accessibility shortcomings so change is coming.
For this week’s blog we searched the web for interesting blogs about disability.
One of the most amazing things about blogging is that it gives people a platform to share their thoughts and connect with the world.
Blogs are educational and a great way for dispelling myths about the various disabilities, as through them the blogger can talk about their life and hobbies opening the doors to a world that often is very different from the one of the reader. Blogs can also function as a way to educate, to inform and to explain how to overcome certain obstacles or find priceless information.
So, here some of the best with a description straight from their ABOUT ME page:
My name is Martyn Sibley. I am a regular guy who happens to have a disability called Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). This means I cannot walk, lift anything heavier than a book or shower myself. Nonetheless I run Disability Horizons, am the author of ‘Everything is Possible‘, I have a Degree in Economics & a Masters in Marketing. I love adventure travels (including an epic visit to Australia), I have great people in my life (including my soul mate), I drive my own adapted car, run my own business, have flown a plane, enjoyed skiing & SCUBA diving, and live independently on earth.
I’m a stay at home dad with a passion for gaming, programming and to be honest, little skill in either category. That doesn’t stop me from loving both however and wanting to improve.
I have two lovely children, one boy and one girl. The person that granted me these two lovely bundles of joy is my wife, I refer to her as Anime online, a nickname she acquired while playing Stronghold Kingdoms with me, due to her love of Anime, a game she still enjoys playing to this day.
Carly Findlay is an award winning writer, speaker and appearance activist. Carly has the rare, severe skin condition called Ichthyosis. She writes on disability issues for publications including ABC, Daily Life and SBS .She was named as one of Australia’s most influential women in the 2014 Australian Financial Review and Westpac 100 Women of Influence Awards. She has appeared on ABC’s You Can’t Ask That and Cyber Hate with Tara Moss, and has been a regular on various ABC radio programs. Carly is currently writing her first book – a memoir.
Welcome to my blog blind intuition! My name is Sarah and I am a Thirtysomething year old wife to Cameron and mother of two boys – Archer and Griffin.
In July 2015 after the birth of my son Archer, I became legally blind. During my pregnancy, it was discovered that I had benign tumours growing on my optic nerve. When Archer was nine days old, I underwent a 7 1/2 hour long brain surgery to remove the tumours; when I woke up my world had changed, I was legally blind.
I created Blind Intuition as a platform to process the trauma experienced from losing my vision suddenly and the impact it had on my family and myself. Blind Intuition not only tracks my progress in regaining my independence, but strives to breakdown preconceived ideas about people who are blind or have low vision. Blind Intuition is a parenting, travel, healthy living and lifestyle blog that demonstrates how life goes on after blindness and can be embraced and lived to the fullest.
My name is Holly and I am 22 years old. I am a York St John University Graduate. I am a lover of music, concerts and all girly stuff. I have been blind since birth, due to a condition called Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP). My disability has made me the person I am today and has given me so many opportunities which inspired me to start this blog. The portrayal of disability can often be negative, but I believe that there are so many positives of having a disability, in my case a severe visual impairment. My visual impairment is the reason behind this blog.
The Mighty is a community of people sharing real stories and commentary about living with disability, disease and mental illness. As well as having some great articles, it’s also a place to connect with others and has helped lots of people to feel less isolated.
Dale Reardon is the Founder of My Disability Matters
I am the founder of My Disability Matters. I want MDM to be your place to come to for information and advice on issues that are important to you. It is also a place to meet new people, make friends and have some fun.
I am 47 and have been blind since the age of 17. My seeing eye dog Charlie is 9 and is my fourth dog.
For a long time I have been involved in disability advocacy. I personally believe the disability community needs a place to gather for discussion around disability issues with a community willing to share information and experiences.
Travelling with a disability is never an easy task. That’s why public transports should be on the forefront of helping out. Unfortunately it seems this is not always the case.
Southern Rail’s cuts
Southern Railway train
This week we got very concerned upon hearing how train companies in the UK are scrapping help for disable people; especially Southern Rail, that is quietly cancelling ‘guaranteed assistance’ from 33 stations.
Transport for All, which campaigns on behalf of disabled passengers, said the company have scrapped their ‘turn up and go’ access at dozens of stations.
Before the change was announced, train maps specified the stations where those needing assistance could turn up and travel.
Now, the maps on the trains say that if such passengers do not book help in advance, ‘there might be a significant delay to your journey’.
A spokesman for Transport For All said: ‘Whether it’s assistance failing to turn up, inaccessible platforms or a lack of accessible facilities on trains, what is clear is that our railways are failing disabled and older passengers.
‘Now, to make matters worse Southern Rail have announced that they are withdrawing turn up and go assistance from 33 stations across their network.
‘This is clearly a huge backwards step for accessibility.’
On the other hand, a Southern spokesman said: ‘Passengers do not have to book assistance before travelling with us.
‘We only recommend this to ensure we have staff prepared with ramps or that alternative travel is in place if a station is not accessible. Our priority is to have an on-board supervisor on services which previously had a conductor.’
‘In the exceptional circumstances when this is not possible, we have a clear, robust process to ensure passengers with accessibility requirements are assisted to complete their journeys.’
Travelling with a Guide Dog on Public Transport
After hearing about these cuts by major Railways companies we scanned the web where we found some other very interesting first person accounts about difficulties of travelling on public transport, in this case we report an informative account on the difficulties of travelling with a guide dog from Patrick Robert, from Lambeth, who is blind and uses his guide dog Rufus to travel around London.
Travelling in London can be a real challenge for people with a visual impairment. Back in 2009 I registered as severely visually impaired (Blind). Since then I have had to adapt myself to the transport network and change my habits. Every time I travel around I’ve got the support from Rufus my guide dog.
This change in my life was not always easy. As a result I joined Transport for All in order to get advice and support when using the different public transport modes. “Lack of communications is one of the biggest challenges I face.
I often struggle on buses: when you’re speaking to a bus driver they don’t always verbally respond, but probably do a sign which I can’t see. I have had also some bad experience with bus drivers not stopping at the bus stop but a few meters away. Obviously if a bus driver does not stop in front of me, it makes it impossible for me to discuss with them and check the bus number.
On the Tube I had a lot of issues following the closure of ticket offices, making it harder for me to find staff to assist me. I need staff in order to travel safely and I need to find them as soon as possible to avoid being targeted by the general public.
Lack of communications is also an issue with taxis. Once I booked a taxi and told the operator that I was travelling with my guide dog and the driver should ring my doorbell when they arrive. I received a telephone call from the operator telling me that my taxi had arrived and was waiting outside for me. I reminded the operator of my earlier instructions and asked how I was supposed to identify the taxi outside?
Five minutes later my doorbell rang as I opened the door the driver was already heading back to his taxi.
Locking my front door, Rufus and I walked up to my front gate, only to hear the driver say he cannot take the dog. He proceeded to rant and rave about dogs not being allowed in his taxi. I told him I had advised the operator that I was travelling with a guide dog and he needs to have a go at them and in the meantime I need to get to this council meeting. I could hear him talking on his phone saying he was not prepared to take me. At this point it had started raining and I said to him he was breaking the law by refusing to take us.
That seemed to subdue him for he assisted me and Rufus into his cab and during the journey he kept apologising saying his custom and culture does not accept dogs and his company knew this. I told him it is against the law to refuse access to guide dog owners and their guide dog.
On another occasion I booked a minicab and told the operator that I was blind and the driver needs to come to my front door and ring my doorbell. The phone rang; it was the driver saying that he could not find my property. I gave him specific directions to my home from the location he described to me. Five minutes later, he rang back and asked me to come outside so he could see where my property was and I could see where he was?
I walked outside and waited about ten minutes and then went back in to find four messages on my answer machine from the driver saying he could not see me; he could only see a guy with a white stick, am I anywhere near him? I called him back and told him I was the guy with the white stick.”
The interview with Patrick Robert has been taken from the inews.co.uk (https://inews.co.uk/essentials/news/travelling-disabled-person-taxi-drivers-try-refuse-take-guide-dog-i/)
For any other travel advice or guidance, feel free to contact us and to learn more about our active accessible holidays, click here.
Make Way For Munich: The Most Accessible City in Europe?
Now is the perfect time of year to take a European city break: the lull between Christmas and spring tends to be one of the quietest times for tourists to travel overseas, and the chilly weather is perfect for wrapping up warm, exploring those famous sites, and drinking hot chocolate on bustling promenades. Thinking of taking a last-minute city break this winter but unsure of where you want to go? You may be lured by the romance of Paris, but its old and dated metro system is an accessibility nightmare (the same can sadly be said for London’s underground) and the cobbled streets of Rome are a nightmare if you are travelling in a heavy electric wheelchair. That doesn’t mean that these cities aren’t accessible with a little planning, but they might not be the ideal first choice for a last minute break. For an easy and hassle free accessible break, why not discover accessible Munich? Its old world charm is coupled with the kind of German efficiency that makes accessible travel here a breeze:
Accessible Public Transport
Discover Munich’s accessible bus
Unlike most other European cities, most than 90% of the underground system in Munich is completely accessible, with access to the stations being entirely barrier free. Whilst the system isn’t extensive (comprising of two lines: the U Bahn (urban line) or S Bahn (suburban line) it goes to all of the major sites you would wish to visit and is a perfectly adequate and affordable way of getting around for a long weekend. If you wish to travel somewhere that is not accessible via the underground trains then the Munich public transport system also features buses and trams. All of the buses in the city are accessible via ramps to the rear doors. The tram system is currently undergoing a modernisation process, so not all of the trams are accessible, but approximately 50% of them are (so far) so if you need to get somewhere on a tram route then it is possible, if slightly inconvenient, to just wait until an accessible tram arrives. Getting around in Munich is perfectly possible then, but where should you be getting around to?
Interesting and Enjoyable Attractions
Augustiner – Keller. Discover Accessible Munich
Munich is an ancient city at the heart of Germany, and one with a rich history, meaning that there are plenty of tourist attractions worth visiting. The famous BMW museum and factory makes for a fascinating visit, and is proud to be fully accessible, as is the Olympic Park: host of the 1972 Olympic games which were sadly largely overshadowed by what is now known as the Munich Massacre. If you are interested in exploring the darker period of German history, under Nazi rule, then you can reach the Dachau concentration camp (the first camp the Nazi’s built) via accessible transportation, and the historic site is also largely accessible when you arrive. Less interested in history and more interested in fun? Munich is infamous for being home to over 400 different beerhalls, and the vast majority of these are proud to be fully accessible. For ease and convenience, why not try the Augustinekeller, which is situated right next door to the central station, and is fully accessible.
Perfectly Practical Considerations
Of course, disabled travellers also need to consider the practical aspects of their breaks, including the availability of decent healthcare, should something go wrong, and the accessibility of the airport. The healthcare in Germany is highly regarded as being amongst the best in the world, and whilst it is always recommended that you travel with your own health insurance (particularly when you have pre-existing conditions) our membership of the European Union (for as long as that lasts) means that with a valid E111 card, your treatment here is free. And as for the airport? Well it’s time to think of that clichéd German efficiency again, because Munich airport is fully accessible and boasts a wide array of excellent transport links into the city, making it easy for travellers with accessibility concerns to take a last minute trip without having to spend hours worrying about how they will get from A to B. So, Discover Accessible Munich! “This is an article sent in by Sally Dacre”
Accessible Holidays: Last year Rob, wheelchair user from Hawaii enjoyed one of our accessible holidays with accessible excursions, italian food and wine and accessible tours in Sicily, with our support he and his wife were able to admire the wonders of this beautiful Italian region.
Our contribution was decisive to break down the problems of mobility difficulties. Sicily is not accessible but we have allowed wheechair users to enjoy our attractions.
When it comes to accessible holidays in Italy, there’s more choice than ever before from accessible city breaks to disabled cottage holidays as well as supported accessible holidays for elderly people and those with physical disabilities. We feature a great range of accessible accommodation, mobility equipment hire companies, specialist holiday providers and much more. Carers also need some time out, so we’ve made sure to include Italian respite breaks too.
All the property are fully checked and approved based on our prior visit and with pictures available, measurements including all the necessaries needs for accessibility’s standards. Correlative we are offering a service of Hire Wheelchairs, Hire Equipments and Full Accessible Transports with lift. Please check out our Accessible Accommodations that you can choose for your next accessible holiday.
Most of our clients are confined to a wheelchair and are looking for an accessible holiday accommodation with wheelchair access.
Get in touch with us and we will tailor the holidays based on your requirements.
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Catania, Sicily is certainly not the best accessible destinations in Italy. Is a beautiful and historic town which offers museums and tourist attractions to all kinds of visitors. However, Catania now provides accessible tour operators, accessible trasport and features disability equipments which ensure both seniors and disabled tourists an enjoyable stay on the sunny Mediterranean sea.
Air travel on its own is quite a nuisance but it becomes even more difficult for those people who are traveling with a disability. Disabled people often complain about not being treated right and not being provided the right facilities to accommodate their needs. Despite the fact that the EU law clearly specifies the accessibility features that airports should offer, not all airports are properly following them. So it’s best that you make some advance planning along with notifying the airline and the airport of the accommodations they will need to make for you. (more…)
Air travel on its own is quite a nuisance, but it becomes even more difficult when you’re flying with a disability. Disabled people often report not being treated right and not being provided the facilities to accommodate their needs. EU law clearly specifies the accessibility features that airports should offer, however not all airports are properly following them.
The following tips will help you efficiently plan your journey and make flying with a disability easier.
MAKE NO ASSUMPTIONS IF YOU WANT TO AVOID DISAPPOINTMENT
Just telling your travel agent or airline that you have a particular disability will not be sufficient. You need to clearly explain to them the assistance you will need. It’s also important that you let them know if you are traveling with someone or if you will be on your own.
If you are traveling independently, you might want to request additional support, even if it’s just asking them to keep an eye on you in case something goes wrong. Also make sure you inform the airline at least 48 hours in advance of your flight.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
There are certain things that you have the right to when flying with a disability. If you have a sensory, physical or learning disability which affects your mobility, at European airports you have the right to:
facilities to summon assistance at designated arrival points
assistance to reach check-in
help with registration at check-in
assistance with moving through the airport, including to toilets if required
help with getting on and off the plane
free carriage of medical equipment and up to two items of mobility equipment
a briefing for you and any escort or companion on emergency procedures and the layout of the cabin
help with stowing and retrieving baggage on the plane
assistance with moving to the toilet on the plane (some planes will have an on-board wheelchair)
someone to meet you off the plane and help you reach connecting flights or the next part of your journey
You also have the right to travel with an assistance dog if you need one, however you will need to follow the rules for pet travel which can be found here.
GETTING YOUR MEDIF
It is important that you check with your airline to see if you will need to show medical clearance. If so, you will need to get a Medical Information Form (MEDIF) and have it signed by your doctor. For this form you will need to show your travel date and flight details. The airline will save your details in their records and automatically make arrangements for you the next time you travel with them.
You may also need a license to take some medicines abroad (e.g. morphine). You can get this from your doctor but it’s best to do it well in advance.
Travel insurance is also very important flying with a disability. You can find out more about the best way to get yourself covered on our Disability Travel Insurance blog post.
If you’re worried about navigating the airport, you can find the design and layout information on their websites (e.g. Heathrow). This way you can find out where important facilities such as check-in desks, accessible toilets and information desks are before you travel. This will reduce stress on the day and help you know what you’re looking for when asking for assistance.
It can also just be handy to know what the options for food and drink are. I mean you don’t want to get a McDonald’s at check in if your favourite is Subway and there’s one in the departure lounge!
AVOID CONNECTING FLIGHTS
Passengers that require a wheelchair to get off board are often made to wait until all the other passengers on board get off. This can be a really long wait, especially on international flights. If you want to avoid all the hassle and waiting, it’s best to book a straight flight to your destination.
On the other hand, some wheelchair passengers often find it really difficult to use aircraft lavatories. For that reason they prefer to use several short flights rather than one long flight. If that’s the case, then make sure that time between your connecting flight is at least 90 minutes so you can comfortably reach the next gate.
It’s a bit of a catch-22 (ah the joys of flying with a disability), so all you can do is pick your preference and plan accordingly.
GETTING THROUGH SECURITY
This can be troublesome, especially for people in a wheelchair. If your chair is bigger than the scanner you will have to have a pat down, but here’s a few things to remember:
You shouldn’t have to leave your chair
You can have this done in private
Your wheelchair will be patted down and scanned separately
Tell people of any problems before beginning – for example if you have certain areas that are sensitive or painful that you don’t want tapped too hard
If you come across a member of staff who doesn’t appear to know what they’re doing, don’t be afraid to tell them and ask for a trained member of staff to help you.
FLYING WITH A WHEELCHAIR
Your wheelchair will have to be checked in, but you’ll be provided with a chair to get around the airport and on to the chair. It’s also best to request an aisle seat on the plane and one as close to the entrance and exit as possible.
If you have an electric wheelchair you’ll need to check what battery type you have and the conditions the airline has on those batteries. The main issue will be if your chair or scooter has a wet acid battery. If this is the case baggage handlers will remove the battery and place it in a special container. It’s always best to check with the airline before you travel so you’re certain about what the rules are for your chair and how early you need to arrive to sort it all out.
We hope these tips will make flying with a disability more pleasant. If you have any other questions that might have been missed out in this blog, please let us know and we will do our best to answer them.
For further information on flying with a disability and any other travel advice or guidance, feel free to contact us. To learn more about our active accessible holidays and Seable, click here.
Situated at the southern tip of Italy in the Mediterranean, Sicily is a diverse island of extremes. Its history stretches back more than 3,000 years and as a strategic crossroads for southern Europe, it has the legacy of various civilizations which have influenced its way of life, culture, architecture and cuisine. The island is like a vast museum, a testament to the historic Mediterranean civilizations. (more…)