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Venues must "pull their socks up" to improve disability access

EventHuddle panel urges more disability training for venue staff and greater consideration from planners in event design

Pictured: the EventHuddle panel at Thursday's meeting at 1 Wimpole Street

More on-site venue staff need to receive disability training in order to keep lifting the standards of accessibility at events, this month's EventHuddle has heard.

Event professionals were urged to treat disability training as they would first aid training, by a panel of experts including Kripen Dhrona (marketing comms manager at British Polio Fellowship), Rachel Quick (special events manager at SCOPE), Mark Butler (head of operations at Roundhouse) and access consultant Simone West (Atkins).

The panel also told venues to "pull their socks up" and address access limitations, particularly in light of the increasing challenges of an aging population. It comes after a high profile events professional, BI Worldwide operations director Rachel Belliere-Wilson, spoke out against the "majority" of Britain's venues for failing to cater for disabled delegates.

Speaking at Thursday's panel, Quick said: "Disability training is a really good idea for venue professionals. It’s about managing any issues that disabled people have at a venue, it covers all manner of things. If there are delegates who are autistic or have needs that are invisible, disability training will help someone to recognise that and assist them. So I think that’s the first step."

Butler added: "Staff training is vital. If you have staff that are trained, and if you have logistic issues at your venue, you can solve it with staff."

Dhrona said it was often the case that high-level, management staff received training in disability and access, yet on the ground staff - the contact points for delegates and therefore more valuable - did not.

He added: "We need to keep raising the bar not only in terms of awareness, but as an industry, we need to take it extremely seriously. Not just for commercial reasons, but because we have an aging population. I think it's essential the bar keeps rising and we don't become complacent."

The panel discussion took place at 1 Wimpole Street in London, and was attended by industry professionals and the first year class of event students from Bournemouth University. The panel was chaired by Kevin Jackson, director of ideas and innovation at Experience is the Marketing.

There was also a call to establish the UK's first accessibility conference and an awards ceremony, to promote best practice.

Quick argued there was a perception issue that had to be addressed, saying event organisers should never think in terms of 'us' and 'them'.

"People have said to me 'oh we don't need to worry about (access) because we don't work with disabled people'. Well firstly, how do you know? People might have a disability and just not tell you. Secondly, what about the people you could be working with? You're excluding a huge group," she said.

"For me it's about attitude and changing the way we think about access. A venue might say 'yes we're accessible' and show you the disabled entrance, and it's around the back of the building. You want to make sure everyone's experiences are as close to the same as possible."

West agreed, adding: "We're in the process of trying to change attitude. For events, we refer to it as inclusive design; trying to design something where there’s as negligible a difference as possible, where nobody notices that everything is on the one floor or there is a gradual incline to get to the next room… the best way is for everybody to use the same facilities so they’re getting an equal experience."

Butler, whose venue employer the Roundhouse has achieved gold standard from Attitude is Everything, said other venues needed to take access far more seriously. The Roundhouse has lowered counter positions in the box office, cloakroom and reception and trained staff to walk around the bars to take drink orders from disabled customers at the bars.

Butler said: "I'd hope more venues pull their socks up and they'll start winning more business from it. We'll keep driving forward and improving our strategies - we're not perfect - and we're hoping other venues will also become more inclusive too."

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