Liberate’s Accès accreditation scheme launched in December 2019 with the aim of raising public awareness of the need to ensure premises were accessible by 1 September 2020, but interest in the scheme only really started to pick up after the final piece of the Discrimination (Jersey) Law 2013 came into force.
The Accès accreditation provides organisations with a report containing recommendations for adjustments they could make to improve access for people with disabilities, employee training on welcoming people with disabilities as customers or colleagues, and a mystery shopper visit.
Liberate have also partnered with Eyecan to jointly badge the accreditation. Clients who are awarded with the Accès accreditation also receive Eyecan’s accreditation that gives people with sight impairment the confidence to use a business or service in the knowledge that their needs will be catered for. This joint working has been beneficial to both charities in sharing best practise about adjustments for people with disabilities, and for clients of the scheme in receiving both accreditations.
Over the last year, Liberate’s team of auditors that includes people with various disabilities has undertaken more than 60 accessibility audits of premises for clients including the Channel Islands Co-Operative Society, Romerils, Standard Bank, Mind Jersey, the States of Jersey Police and the Government of Jersey. Liberate’s auditors have visited buildings as varied as the Library, household recycling centre, the Opera House, the Royal Court, the States Chamber, the Central Market, Highlands College, Victoria College, numerous primary schools, shops, car parks, office blocks and health buildings.
The recommendations from the audits have been mixed with some challenging buildings that have a Grade I listed status being very difficult to adjust at one end of the spectrum and, at the other end, modern buildings constructed in the last 20 years having some accessibility already built-in and needing fewer adjustments.
The part of the audit that always causes Liberate’s auditors to write notes is the accessible toilet facilities. Organisations never seem to get these right. There are a number of common themes: items stored in the transfer space beside the toilet, such as bins or cleaning equipment; handwashing and drying equipment out of reach of the toilet; emergency cords tied up, so they do not reach to the floor; hooks at one (standing) height on the back of the door; and, sanitaryware that is white in a white room. If the transfer space is not kept clear someone cannot manoeuvre their wheelchair into the space beside the toilet to then transfer from it; if handwashing and drying facilities are not within reach of the toilet someone might have to transfer back to their wheelchair with dirty or wet hands; if the emergency cord is tied up you cannot reach to pull it if you have fallen on the floor; if hooks are only at standing height on the rear of the door people who are seated have nowhere to hang a bag or coat; and, if sanitaryware is white against white people with sight impairments may not distinguish it.
The reality is that no building will ever be totally accessible because everyone who has a disability is different (even if nominally they have the same disability). For employees adjustments will often be made on an individual basis to suit them and their role. In the UK, ACAS found that only 4% of reasonable adjustments have a cost and, even then, the average is £184 per disabled employee. For visitors to organisations adjustments have to be made in anticipation of who might wish to use the premises, which is more difficult and where it is good to get some advice.
It is critical that organisations who do not want to discriminate against disabled customers think ahead about their premises and training their employees. Undertaking an audit will reveal small adjustments that can make a big difference to someone visiting your premises and demonstrates a willingness to support people with disabilities. Often these adjustments help people without disabilities, too. A large part of welcoming disabled people is good customer service, but there are some technical details it is helpful for employees to know, so undertaking training is key to being more understanding about the challenges people with disabilities can face.
For Liberate’s auditors with disabilities the experience of being part of Accés has been about making a difference for other people with disabilities, and rather than being about finding barriers, it has been about finding out where they can access. Some auditors, who thought they would never be able to access certain places, have gained confidence from visiting premises and seeing the adjustments already in place. Some auditors, who were having difficulties getting into work, have gained new skills and experience that they have taken into other roles.
As a result of the work carried out by Liberate’s auditors, there are now a number of organisations in Jersey that are making adjustments to their physical premises to welcome people with disabilities and have employees trained in how to work better with clients/colleagues with disabilities. Crucially, these organisations are committed to making the adjustments needed by people with disabilities who interact with them, as demonstrated by the Accès badge.
It is important that there are organisations making a public statement by displaying the Accès logo, and are demonstrating that they want people with disabilities to be able to fully engage with them. Liberate hopes that the kitemark will become a trusted symbol for people with disabilities in Jersey that guarantees a positive experience and friendly welcome. If you would like to know more about the Accès scheme, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org