Shortfalls revealed in disability provision at venues across Northern Ireland

Major shortfalls have been identified in disability access at many of Northern Ireland’s most popular visitor, tourist, cultural and sporting attractions – potentially affecting the lives of over 300,000 people and their families.

The findings by Detail Data are published today as the charity Disability Action also raises concerns about Stormont’s Disability Strategy which promised to raise awareness and improve opportunities and services for disabled people by addressing the inequalities and tackling the barriers they face in their daily lives.

Detail Data surveyed venues across Northern Ireland on provision for people with mobility, hearing and vision issues. This included staff training, information provision and seating availability.

In total 40 venues responded to the survey request, with venues in each of the 11 council areas contributing.

The key findings from our survey include:

  • One quarter of venues said that all levels, floors and areas were not accessible to wheelchair users without assistance.
  • Nearly half of the venues (17) said front facing staff had not received disability training in the last three years as recommended by Disability Action.
  • Half of the 40 venues said printed material was not available in larger format, while 27 said printed material was not available in Braille. A number said such material was available on request.
  • Although 39 of the venues have disabled toilet facilities, just six have a Changing Places bathroom which has extra features, like a changing bench and hoist, and more space to meet the needs of disabled people.
  • A total of 29 venues said front facing staff had no training in British or Irish sign language.
  • 12 venues do not have an audio loop system for hearing aid users whilst half have audio-visual or captioning services.

The 2011 census found that 207,173 people in Northern Ireland have problems with mobility or dexterity; 93,091 have deafness or partial hearing loss and 30,862 have blindness or partial sight loss.

Karen Hall, Disability Action’s Assistant Director with responsibility for policy and external relations, said the lack of clarity relating to the progress of the existing and future strategy is disappointing.

“What we want is real tangible actions to be taken, and resourced” 

"We welcome that the draft Programme for Government has included a specific indicator on disability and we hope that this will mean tangible actions going forward."

Detail Data asked Tourism NI for details of how it promotes and encourages disabled facilities at tourist/visitor attractions.

In response a Tourism NI (TNI) spokesperson said:

“Tourism NI does not endorse a specific accessibility designation scheme or provider, however we encourage tourist accommodation providers and visitor attractions to produce self-completed Access Statements in line with best-practice guidelines of the Equality Commission NI.

“We encourage accommodation providers to provide any additional accessibility information or accessibility designations within their own marketing materials.

“TNI encourages individuals and organisations working in the tourism industry to undertake training through the World Host Customer Service Programme to raise awareness of customers with disabilities.

“All Tourism NI funded projects and events have conditions written into all letters of offer to ensure that project promoters meet all statutory obligations, including for example Section 75 obligations.”

Orla McCann of Disability Action believes that a more proactive approach should be taken in relation to disability friendly tourism development.

“We believe that TNI could be doing more to ensure that industry providers address the access needs of people with disabilities”

Dermot Devlin is a wheelchair user who runs My Way Access, a directory style website that contains details of attractions and how suitable they are for disabled visitors.

He said the findings of the Detail Data survey reinforce his experiences at many venues, with staff training and information issues prevalent.

“In a lot of venues the staff aren’t trained, at a very basic level, in how to react to people with disabilities. People can be patronising”

“I’m 36, but I’ve been in places where people talk down to me. There are people with disabilities; in a wheelchair or with a hearing problem or with eyesight problems and they are still getting this sort of stuff.

“At the moment, information on websites is terrible. The majority of sites have one or two lines saying they are accessible. Not who they are accessible to.”

To find out how web technology is improving information on accessibility, read our feature on the Detail Data Portal.

According to Kevin O’Neill of Disability Sport NI, there are also good examples of building improvements.

“The Inclusive Stadia Advisory Group developed a set of technical guidelines for the three refurbished stadia. So there was a really good set of technical guidance and that informed improvements at the Kingspan Stadium (Ravenhill) in Belfast where provision has improved dramatically.

“The national football stadium (Windsor Park) has incorporated a lot of changes and is planning to do more and the GAA and Casement Park shouldn’t be too far behind.

“There is now the sub regional soccer stadium programme. We are obviously campaigning that the guidelines are implemented there and that the three big sports actually have a disability action plan to improve spectating at the various grounds.”

In 2014, the Department of Work and Pensions published research which highlighted that UK households with a disabled person have a combined income of £212 billion after housing costs. The research also showed that disabled people find shopping the most difficult experience for accessibility, followed by going to the cinema, theatre and concerts.

Disability Action’s Orla McCann said similar research is required specifically for Northern Ireland to evaluate the potential spending power of disabled people – something that is known as the Purple Pound.

“I believe a piece of work needs to be done to identify the value of the purple pound when you take into account family and friends who will avoid a venue because their family member/friend cannot join them”

To read the full story by Detail Data's Cormac Campbell, which includes an interactive map of the venues surveyed, click here.

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