Wheelchair access and the design and development of accessible venues have come a long way in the last couple of decades. Changes to legislation and the willingness of business to adapt means that individuals with various disabilities have fewer challenges to face when visiting different venues.
Many countries now have buses and trains that are designed to provide wheelchair access and greater comfort. Businesses and entertainment venues include a wider range of facilities that are accessible to all. Staff are often also better trained to help those with a disability to enjoy their visit.
While older buildings have needed retrofitting for better access, by law in many countries, new designs and construction must have it all built-in from the start, even before one brick is laid.
The biggest sector where access has changed for those with disabilities in sport and entertainment venues. Stadiums and arenas across the world have undertaken a lot of work to update their facilities, not just for better access and wheelchair friendly seating areas but to also cater for visitors with a wide range of different disabilities.
But what makes a venue be deemed as accessible? Here we take a closer look at the key points and access issues that need to be addressed.
The rules and regulations concerning accessibility might vary from country to country but most have the same basic components in place.
One of the first things that accessible venues need to come to terms with is that disability doesn’t just mean a person is in a wheelchair. An individual who has sustained a serious spinal cord injury, for example, will likely benefit from accessible features being present at the venues they choose to frequent, but there are many other forms of disability that also need to be considered.
Visitors might have hearing or sight impairments, they may have trouble walking long distances because of respiratory problems, or they could have cognitive challenges that need to be catered for.
One of the biggest complaints that disabled customers had about many venues in the past was the lack of communication. The ramps were there, for example, to get into the venue but that was where the assistance stopped.
Additions like audio commentary for those visual impairment or printed information produced in braille is one example where things have improved.
One of the biggest changes in recent years is the how venues have stopped seeing a disabled person as being ‘the problem’. They are actually finding solutions so that there is equality where everyone can enjoy the experience.
Accessible venues that really deliver for people with a wide range of disabilities are also the ones that have effectively trained stewards to help. Again, this is something that has improved dramatically in many places although in others, progress still needs to be made.
We are thankfully past the day when those helping people at a venue are likely to see things as the disabled person’s fault or view them as an inconvenience. It is now more a case of ‘how can we help’ not ‘what’s your problem’.
One of the major changes in recent years has been physical accessibility with ramps and lifts that make coming and going easier, especially for wheelchair users.
In many older sports stadia and venues such as theatres, these changes have been implemented primarily because of developing equality laws. In new builds, they are added as a matter of course. Access needs to be obvious and truly accessible, not hidden around a corner.
Access also stretches to having enough parking spaces that people can use and get to where they need to with ease.
One of the accessible venue features that requires particular attention is suitable toilet facilities. All too often in the past, these were found to be few and far between at many venues.
The other issue is keeping these clean, something which many venues have trouble with, especially in large sports arenas where there are thousands of people in attendance at one time.
Another aspect that classes your business as an accessible venue is having enough wheelchair spaces to cope with the demand. That includes having the ramps, lifts and wide access for people to get to their places comfortably. Most places will designate a minimum of 1% of their car parking space for those in need of improved access.
Some sporting venues go over and above what others are doing currently. The T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, is one of these, hosting a wide range of different sports including world title boxing, hockey and basketball.
They include everything from accessible tickets for the disabled, assistive listening systems, captioning services and braille signage.
It’s not just new venues that have been able to transform themselves to help make their facilities more accessible. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway started back in 1909 but in recent years it has been refurbished to give improved access to wheelchair users and visitors with other disabilities.
Creating accessible venues does require a good deal of thought and a direct dialogue with those who have disabilities to find out what they need and how services are best delivered.
Better facilities and better training for staff make a huge difference, allowing equality for all whether it’s watching sport, going to see a play, enjoying a film or attending a concert.
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