“I have limited mobility but do not use a wheelchair. Sometimes my disability is not immediately obvious and I often have to experience embarrassing situations where I have to explain my health problems to a stranger. For example, I cannot stand in a queue, but the people I need to speak to are usually busy dealing with hundreds of people and don’t have time to listen to individual needs. I have to explain my personal needs in front of a queue of people and sometimes they do not even believe me!”
A quote from one person, but experienced by many, from the Attitude is Everything report “State of Access 2014” on the nature of difficulties that disabled people encounter in attending public events.
Also from the Muscular Dystrophy /Trailblazers’ report on access to live music, James Lee from London says:
“With events that are highly in demand, the submission of evidence which is required for booking accessible tickets has meant that I’ve missed out on live music events in the past. Though there is usually an allocation of accessible tickets, the numbers are usually very small and if I miss out on that small number of tickets then I simply cannot go. While I recognise that the submission of evidence is necessary to prevent the exploitation of the tickets which have been allocated for customers with disabilities, I feel the system could be better. Perhaps there could be a central database shared by the major booking companies so that frequent customers would not have to keep on photocopying and posting their documents in. I don’t know how practical that is but it’s just an idea.”
Booking tickets for rock festivals, theatre performances, cinema etc can be very problematic for disabled people. Nowadays, most tickets are purchased on-line, unless you have a disability in which case you need to order by phone from the venue direct. And so starts a long process of bureaucracy around proving a disability, followed by a dialogue on the nature of the disablement, and the measures necessary to accommodate them; too many people give up at this stage, as the process is cumbersome. The risk of an unsatisfactory outcome is too high.
The UK Government, in its policy on Equality, explicitly encourages the use of the “social model of disability” which states that:
“…disability is caused by the way society is organised, rather than by a person’s impairment or difference. It looks at ways of removing barriers that restrict life choices for disabled people. When barriers are removed, disabled people can be independent and equal in society, with choice and control over their own lives.”
The traditional, and out dated “medical model” states that the disability is caused by an individual’s health condition or impairment.
Put simply, for a person who cannot walk, their disability is caused by the flight of steps, not the fact that they use a wheelchair.
The legal obligation to remove the barrier referred to as “reasonable adjustments”, rests with the provider, not the disabled person, and if it can be reasonably “anticipated” then it must be done before the need of the disabled person arises.
So, in the case of the wheelchair, the need for a ramp can be readily anticipated and so must be installed.
In summary, for a situation such as purchasing tickets for an event, the provider has a number of practical issues. They have to:
- Establish that the individual is disabled, without actually seeing them. This usually involves documents being sent to the provider with the consequent time delay
- Establish what “barriers” the person has ( which might involve difficult, lengthy and embarrassing conversations) and
- Confirm the “reasonable adjustments” necessary to allow the disabled person to have an opportunity to attend and enjoy the event.
James Lee, above, contemplated the notion of a “central database” which would address some of the problems.
Nimbus, a Derby-based social enterprise subsidiary, of the local charity, Disability Direct, has invented the Access Card which goes a long way to solving the 1st 2 hurdles in the ticketing process. Martin Austin, the Managing Director, explained to me, in detail, how the process works.
It is a simple card, with a photograph, which contains 9 different symbols that give an indication of the nature of the “barriers” that the disabled person needs to overcome . It is issued by the Nimbus organisation, who also assess, which of the 9 icons are pertinent to the individual. It is not an ID card, per se, and it makes no reference to the individuals health condition, or disabilities.
In addition to being on the card, the 9 symbols are contained within a central database, ( written by a local IT company, Bright Flair, based in Derby’s Cathedral Quarter) accessible by the providers/ticketing agents. The usual controls are in place to protect confidentiality.
The need for posting proof of disability is removed for cardholders ordering tickets from a participating provider. The provider has access to the barrier symbols and so, a conversation can take place about “reasonable adjustments”. No conversation is required on personal health issues. For example, if someone needs immediate access to a toilet on a regular basis, the conversation is about the location of seating and the proximity of the toilets, not a personal dialogue about the nature of the health problem and symptoms driving the urgency.
A few weeks ago a meeting took place at the NEC of the top 26 ticketing agents in the UK (responsible for the vast majority of all entertainment ticketing in the country) on how the Nimbus Access card system could be implemented nation-wide. This was not a debate about “why there was a need” or ”which system” just the “how”; an indication of how compelling the case is. A major IT development was agreed which will allow the Access card to be used for on-line booking thus giving true equality for disabled people. As much automation will be built into the coding as possible e.g. where the person needs an extra ticket for a personal assistant, the enocoding of the “+1” symbol will facilitate the immediate on-line purchase of an extra ticket, free-of-charge.
Whilst there would be no human interaction the provider will know that a disabled person has bought tickets, they will see the barrier symbols, which then can initiate a later phone call on the practical detail of the “reasonable adjustments”.
If a person doesn’t have a card, they can still buy tickets but they will have to ring up, and send through copy documentation. The card is a way to improve the process should the disabled person wish to do so. It is a free choice for an alternative.
In addition to the card there are 3 Quality marks under the CredAble branding which gives assurances about an organisations approach to disabled people, the accessibility of the premises, and/or their employment practices.
Nimbus is a social enterprise, its aims are to blend the objectives of generating funds for the main charity with a social conscience consistent with its primary aims. Various activities associated with the Access card are chargeable. Most of the income stream is planned to come from the providers; at present the Access card costs £15 for 3 years paid for by the disabled person ; this can be paid from their personal budget.
The value of the system is the extent to which it is adopted by provider organisations. In addition to the ticketing agents, it can be used much more widely. Sheffield City Council have embraced the idea, and bought 1000 cards to issue to residents. They have declared it as part of their overall Disability strategy in the City
Nimbus has been approached by both Nottingham and Coventry City Councils to discuss how they can also include it in their strategies.
Derby County is the first football club in the UK to adopt the scheme.
Curiously Derby City Council, covering Derby Live ( including the new Arena) have refused to use it, abruptly curtailing lengthy discussions between both organisations, and scrapping agreed plans for implementation. They are citing that they don’t agree with the principles of operation, and particularly, the issue of charging for the card.
Ironically, the Council charges £10 every 3 years for a blue parking badge.
It is not evident from the Council’s webpage what the over-arching strategy is for the disabled in Derby. There is no document that re-assures us that there is a vision, or an alternative, which achieves the same objective as the Access card.
The objections came from Ann Webster who is the Lead on Equality and Diversity, and Paul Pegg, the current Mayor of Derby, and the Disabled People’s Champion. Mr Pegg was a Trustee/Board Member of Disability Direct for 2 years up to 1 August 2013.
The Access card has the scope for having a much more significant value to the disabled population, beyond ticketing, including loyalty/discount schemes, and targeted information based on interests. There might be better of ways of achieving this same goal but the giants of the ticketing industry and a growing number of councils have seen the real strength for them as providers, which in turn can only be a good thing for those who just wish to engage and integrate in social activities with the same opportunities as the rest of society.
It is a shame that Derby City Council is refusing to be part of this. Perhaps with some vision, Derby could have led the country by being the 1st City to have adopted this scheme as a way of unifying and streamlining key aspects of accessibility. As it is, the Council looks indecisive, and almost churlish on something which can improve a disabled person’s quality of life, and particularly those that feel socially marginalised…. at very little cost.
Sheffield City Council has summed up their approach under the heading “Accessible Sheffield”
“We are working collaboratively and in partnership with Disabled Go, Disability Sheffield and Nimbus Disability to support the ambitions of Sheffield to become an accessible and fairer city for all who live, work, study and or visit Sheffield.
The partnership will support the development and delivery of an exciting new city Access Guide and Access Card scheme.
These will bring benefits that reach beyond disability, including bringing both social and economic benefits for the city.”
Perhaps, one day, Derby City Council will catch up ?
A draft of this article was sent to the Derby City Council Press Office for comment on 19th June. On the 25th June, I received this response.
“The Leader of the council is personally looking into this. Martin (Austin of Nimbus Disability) has been invited in for a meeting along with other interested parties to discuss developments.” – Derby City Council spokesperson.
I understand that this meeting is scheduled for Thursday 2nd July.