Have you heard of EuansGuide.com? This charity website gives disabled people, their friends, family and carers the opportunity to research and share access information about all kinds of places from in the UK and beyond. There are more than 7,500 entries on the site, covering everything from the location of accessible toilets to reviews of the accessibility (or lack of it) of shops, cafes, hotels, theatres and many more.
Euan’s Guide was founded as a charity in 2013 by Euan MacDonald MBE and his sister Kiki after Euan was diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease. As a powerchair user, Euan and his family soon discovered how a lack of accessibility information could make even the most everyday errands a stressful experience. It led to the creation of EuansGuide.com, a website which enables disabled people to share their access experiences, both good and bad.
Why is sharing accessibility information important?
Every single disabled person has a story about how they’ve been barred from doing something because of accessibility problems. It could be that the lift at the cinema is broken, meaning you have to get a taxi home alone while the rest of your family watches the film you’d all been waiting months to see (which happened to me). Or perhaps your local convenience store suddenly becomes inaccessible because the cafe next door put up new outdoor tables blocking step-free access (as happened to a friend). Or maybe the door of the posh restaurant you’ve booked to celebrate your engagement is too narrow for your wheelchair and you get stuck in the doorway while your friends and everyone else in the restaurant stares at you not really knowing what to do and you desperately try to keep smiling and laugh at the situation (me again).
When access isn’t accessible
Or perhaps it’s your first ever family outing after becoming disabled, a long-anticipated trip to the West End to see a musical. Where you’ve only just got your new wheelchair and are hoping it will give you back a little bit of the vast amount of freedom you’ve lost. Where you and your mum have separately made long phone calls to the theatre’s specialist accessibility team, where you explained your requirements in detail and they assured you that this space will fit perfectly and enable you to enjoy the show just like the hundreds of other non-disabled people in the audience.
Where inevitably this turns out not to be true and the wheelchair space you’ve booked is actually far too small for your chair and blocks the row behind from being able to even get into their row of seats, let alone sit in them. Where an usher who wants to be kind and helpful but has no idea how to rectify the situation just stares at you while you keep trying to somehow make your wheelchair defy physics and fit into a space that’s clearly too small. Where gradually all the strangers around you realise something is up and turn to stare at you and it all gets too much and you can’t hold back the tears of frustration and embarrassment and rage and sadness and loss and you just wish the floor would swallow you up. Where you finally end up transferring into a very uncomfortable seat because the only option is that or go home and, even though going home is what you’d actually vastly prefer by this stage, you can’t ruin everyone else’s day (although honestly, no one’s really having a good time by this point). Where the stress and the bad seat and the travel mean your pain eventually gets so bad you have to stop the car to throw up three times on the way home. Where, once you finally crawl into your bed, all you can think is ‘never ever ever again’. (It’s probably not an enormous surprise that this is also my story. Even though it happened over a decade ago it’s still seared into my brain and, as it really was my first trip out since my CRPS made me need to use a wheelchair, it knocked my already shaky confidence down to negative numbers, made me feel like even more of a burden and a nuisance than I already did, and vastly eroded my willingness to even consider attempting to do the things I used to love and do all the time prior to my disability).
Access really matters
The reason for these real-life examples is simply this: access matters. Vitally. It is absolutely fundamental to a disabled person’s ability to engage with the world. It’s the building block upon which our ability to participate in society is founded. I would argue there is little else more crucial or essential.
There are key things that decide whether someone in a wheelchair can physically get into your theatre or cinema or restaurant or shop or anywhere else. And those key things are completely different for another disabled person who doesn’t have mobility problems but is visually impaired. Or on the autism spectrum. Or has a service animal. Or is hearing impaired. Or uses a powerchair rather than a manual wheelchair. And it is impossible to fully understand exactly what those essential requirements are without speaking to disabled people and listening when they tell you what they need.
And that is why EuansGuide.com is so important. It not only provides a place for accessibility information to be consistently collated, it actually gives disabled people, their families, friends and carers a chance to use their voices and put forward their lived experiences. To share what worked for them and what didn’t. To note whether staff were trained to help disabled patrons, if the wheelchair lift worked, if the ramp was usable in practice or just in theory. To let other disabled people know whether the accessibility information on the venue’s website is accurate. EuansGuide.com is a fantastic resource and one we should all support by sharing our voices.
Yearly accessibility questionnaire
Which brings me neatly to my point. Every year, the charity behind EuansGuide.com runs an Access Survey, where they ask disabled people and their families, friends and carers to fill in a questionnaire about accessibility they’ve experienced in the past year, both bad and good.
Now in its eighth year, more than 2,400 people responded to the survey in 2021, making it the largest and longest-running of its kind in the UK. Findings from last year’s survey included:
- 73% of respondents had found information on a venue’s website to be misleading, inaccurate or confusing
- 73% of respondents had experienced a disappointing trip or had to change plans due to poor accessibility
- 59% of disabled people believe that COVID has made disabled access worse
If you’d like to see the results of previous surveys in more detail, then click here.
Access Survey is now open
2022’s Access Survey is now open and they need to hear from you! The survey is supported by Motability Operations, and aims to find out what’s good and not so good about disabled access.
The questionnaire takes about 15-20 minutes to complete, and has sections asking about your experiences of disabled transport, accessible toilets and the cost of living crisis amongst others. Click on the relevant words if you require a large print, easy read or audio version of the survey. As a thank you for taking part, there’s a prize draw for five £25 Amazon vouchers.
If you or a friend or loved one are disabled and you’ve got a spare fifteen minutes then please do take this chance to fill in the survey; it often feels like our voices aren’t heard, and this is a valuable opportunity to reverse that and make a real difference to accessibility for the estimated 14.6 million disabled people in the UK. And, just perhaps, ensure that fewer newly disabled people find themselves sobbing in the stalls of a West End theatre.