Access: Disability and the Reality of Normality


As we begin to see the world reopening after so long in lockdown, and with the future looking brighter, as a disabled person, something comes to my mind. I’ve been very aware that many features introduced to meet Government Covid-19 guidelines have had unintended positive consequences for ease of access for people like myself.

In hospitality, I’ve noticed easy-to-read online menus, table service, and booking in advance becoming the norm – all important for anyone with sight and/or mobility needs. It made me feel that, finally, disabled voices were being heard – it only took a global pandemic.

However, it frightens me that once the world is back to some degree of whatever counts as normality, these small changes that make the world of difference to someone like me, will be taken away, despite the benefits. I guess the question is: are we being listened to, or will these improvements fall by the side of the road when the majority don’t need them so much?

As a visually impaired person, I worry about the two-metre rule, and whether I am having my space invaded or if I’m accidentally invading the space of others when waiting in queues for shops. Isla McIntosh, Community Development Manager for Glasgow Disability Alliance, says that other members with visual impairments are similarly concerned about how to socially distance and maintain hygiene, especially if they rely on guides or touch to navigate.

Street furniture is an issue which causes me some concern, especially now that many bars and cafes have no other option than to provide outside seating areas in order to trade. This means that people who are wheelchair users or visually impaired are put at risk due to increased trip hazards. Local councils should be looking at their lockdown easing measures more closely to make sure everyone is kept safe, not just the abled. This is from someone who has found themselves walking into beer garden barriers many, many times.


Photo by Elevate on Unsplash


Isla McIntosh of GDA mentions to me that members of GDA have also reported concerns about the expansion of outdoors areas encroaching on accessibility of pavements. I’m not alone, it seems.

Hospitality has had it tough in the last year, but it is the responsibility of the local council to implement rules which make sure that the public, especially those with disabilities and access needs, are able to use public spaces safely.

According to the council, accessibility is a consideration when deciding on whether a premises can have a temporary outdoor area.

The Lord provost Phillip Braat, who is the councillor for the Yorkhill area of Glasgow replied to us: ‘The swift increase of street furniture is to help hospitality to open up safely during this time. But I understand the concern around the help and safety for those with mobility issues. The council will have this in mind when deciding the way to re-open society for everyone.’

We’ll have to wait and see how much consideration it’s given when we’re in the full flow of summer.

Table service is now more common in Scotland than ever before, benefiting those with anxiety disorders; waiting at a crowded bar is a stressful thing for many people, so a table service option takes away that fear and allows more people to access venues. Knowing that I can have a table booked in advance, as someone who has mobility issues, means that there is no fear of having to stand and wait at the bar for a table when I could be having a bad pain day. I’m already noticing that pre-booking is becoming a thing of the past with some venues.

If you run a bar, restaurant or café, ask yourself, is it possible to keep pre-booking as an option? If it is, you’d be well on track to keeping me, and others with similar needs, as customers. For example, people with invisible disabilities, such as autism, often benefit from familiar routines and have an increased need to pre-plan activities. Giving everyone the option to pre-book a table and having menu options freely available online goes a long way to avoiding surprises and last-minute changes, which can be difficult to deal with.

Indeed, online menu systems are now more prevalent than they have ever been. Many venues now have methods of ordering what you want straight from your phone. Some also give the capability of zooming in and out of menus, which means that people who are visually impaired or those who use screen readers can confidently and easily access menus which should have been made universal in the first place.

I have been really pleased with, and taken aback by, the increase in restaurants and bars implementing online menu systems. These changes are something I, and many others, I’m sure, would like to see maintained even after Covid restrictions are a distant memory.

With restrictions easing and the world finding its feet again, I just hope that the voices of those which went unheard before are listened to now. This is a chance for the world to become more accessible for those living with disabilities. Everyone benefits from increased accessibility for all.

Main photo credit: elevatebeer via Unsplash


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