“We are really proud of our award-winning customer service and we want to deliver the same fantastic experience to all our visitors.”
This is a fundamental value of the EICC, as Sales and Marketing Director Amanda Wrathall says. The venue is committed to ensuring that all visitors attending events and conferences enjoy them equally, with the conference centre designed to be inclusive to people of all abilities. “Being a modern and purpose-built venue, accessibility has been considered from the outset,” she continues. “From the navigation of the building to the lighting and signage, a huge amount of thought has gone into the design.”
Two major, high-profile events which had inclusiveness at their core have recently been held at the EICC, which gave the venue the opportunity to re-evaluate its accessibility.
In October, the Rehabilitation International (RI) World Congress brought together 1,000 of the world’s leading disability experts who are committed to creating a more inclusive and accessible world for all. This year, the Shaw Trust – a charity that works with employers, social services and the disabled to help people with disabilities find employment – hosted the Congress in partnership with RI.
The EICC underwent a thorough accessibility audit with the Shaw Trust before the event. “There were lessons for us around the accessibility of arriving at our venue, such as taxi ranks, drop-off points and bus stops,” Amanda explains. “As well as visiting the venue when it was empty, the team of champions involved in the audit walked through the building when it was in full flow, which was really valuable.”
Roy O’Shaughnessy, CEO of Shaw Trust, said: “The theme of this year’s RIWC is inclusion, so it was only fitting the event should take place in the EICC. The venue’s recent investment in facilities to meet the requirements of people with a variety of disabilities, showcases the positive impact small changes organisations can make to become significantly more accessible and accommodating to disabled people.”
In September the EICC also hosted the Autism-Europe International Congress (see this issue’s Case Study). Before this event the EICC carried out company-wide autism and disability awareness training, not only with teams at the EICC but also with third-party suppliers. New autism-friendly guides for visitors and event organisers were also introduced in partnership with the National Autistic Society.
“The autism-awareness training got us thinking about safe and quiet zones in the building,” says Amanda. “We also worked with a group of young people with autism who gave us their perception of the building and highlighted aspects which could be problematic for someone with autism, such as lighting. During the Congress we then made fundamental changes to the way we do things. For example there were pre-warnings for announcements on the PA system. We all came out of the training with a much greater awareness.”
Leaving a legacy
At the RI World Congress, representatives from the World Health Organisation, United Nations, the International Social Security Agency and International Disability Alliance put forward papers on provisional five-year plans and strategies for inclusion.
Dr Stephen Duckworth, Chair of this year’s Programme Board, explains that the event aims to show the capabilities of people with disabilities: “The Congress demonstrates to the world that it’s not just about the Paralympics – there are many things disabled people can do with their lives. We focused on how we can remove the barriers that limit opportunities for people with disabilities.”
The event was a huge opportunity for cross-collaboration between partners and nations which will no doubt have an impact in the future. Dr Duckworth says: “There were several low-income countries at the event such as Afghanistan as well as affluent countries like China. It will be fantastic to see the outcomes from introducing these people who have the same vision for life.”
“Our ambition is to be one of the world’s most accessible venues, which we’re working our way towards”
Both these congresses also look set to leave a legacy for the EICC and Edinburgh. The RI World Congress has kick-started a joint project between VisitScotland, Scottish Enterprise, Marketing Edinburgh and Euan’s Guide called ‘Everyone’s Edinburgh’, which aims to design an action plan to make the city more accessible.
The EICC meanwhile was recognised with an Autism Friendly Award during the Autism-Europe International Congress. The venue is only the second building in Edinburgh to be given the award, the other being the Scottish Parliament. “The congresses have helped us to think about how we can enhance accessibility further,” says Amanda. “Our ambition is to be one of the world’s most accessible venues, which we’re working our way towards.”
VisitScotland has been pivotal in helping the events industry become more inclusive. The organisation has produced an Accessibility Guide for promoting and holding events as part of a wider programme around accessible tourism, copies of which are available at www.visitscotland.org.
VisitScotland’s Head of Accessible Tourism, Chris McCoy, explains: “Whatever event people are putting on, why shouldn’t it be accessible to everybody? Very small things make a huge difference, such as making sure there are accessible toilets. In the UK, the potential spending power of people with disabilities is £12 billion. Businesses would all like to do the right thing for their corporate social responsibility agenda but another great motivator is the business case, the revenue they are potentially missing out on. Plus it’s engaging for staff; once they start looking at accessibility, they find it really rewarding.”
“You can have a lovely accessible room in a five-star hotel but people don’t come to Scotland to sit in a room. They want to experience the country and take part in activities, just like everyone else does”
VisitScotland’s accessible tourism programme began after Chris discovered how difficult it was for her friend who has multiple sclerosis to book a holiday. “It would take Sally around three months to find a holiday suitable for her and her family and even then it required numerous follow-up phone calls as there wasn’t enough relevant information available on websites,” Chris explains. “I thought it shouldn’t be that difficult.”
Chris set up a consultation exercise managed by Capability Scotland to gather the views of people with disabilities on the barriers to holidaying in Scotland. “Every group came up with the same answer – information, accessibility and attitude,” says Chris, who was awarded an MBE this year for her contribution to social equality. “And which one came top? Attitude. This did surprise us as we all thought it would be access. We discovered it’s simply providing good quality customer service and information for everybody.”
Since the programme began, VisitScotland has developed tools for the tourism and events industry including online accessible tourism training. In partnership with their colleagues in VisitEngland, Chris’s team will be launching a new website providing the industry with the tools to build an ‘Access Guide’, which allows businesses to easily create information in an accessible format by answering a few simple questions. From spring next year, the information will be readily available to people with disabilities so they can book holidays in Scotland hassle-free.
Chris says that the next stage of the programme is to develop accessible tourism into a more inclusive tourism product: “We are aiming for Scotland to have inclusive destinations, not only accessible places. You can have a lovely accessible room in a five-star hotel but people don’t come to Scotland to sit in a room. They want to experience the country and take part in activities, just like everyone else does.”
GUIDE TO EDINBURGH
Ten years after Euan MacDonald was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND), he and his sister Kiki established Euan’s Guide as a way to share and discover accessible places to socialise. With thousands of disabled access reviews and listings online submitted by disabled people, their families and friends, it aims to be an alternative to the hours spent making phone calls and searching for access information online before deciding to visit somewhere new, whether this is a pub, hotel, venue or museum.
The team at Euan’s Guide say that people often associate historical cities like Edinburgh with tricky disabled access but the capital has many highly-rated, accessible attractions: “After a bit of exploring, you’ll quickly find that Edinburgh has top-rated accessible public transport and countless places to go that are demonstrating creative ways to incorporate disabled access.”
They give us their recommendations of accessible places to visit in the capital.
Perhaps one of the most surprising attractions would be Edinburgh Castle. Perched at the top of an extinct volcano, the castle is centuries old; yet it has been well thought out as a tourist attraction and received several highly rated reviews from disabled visitors. One of the most popular features is its wheelchair accessible vehicle, which can help people with mobility impairments to move around the castle grounds.More information
Royal Yacht Britannia
The Royal Yacht Britannia is another attraction which has gone above and beyond to be accessible to all visitors. They have an accessible toilet facility onboard the yacht and there are well-placed ramps and lifts to help visitors move between the decks of the boat.More information
Pubs and restaurants
Visitors to Edinburgh can read excellent reviews of dozens of hotels around the city, and there is no shortage of pubs and restaurants to experience either. Roseleaf in Leith has been popular on Euan’s Guide and it’s full of quirky touches as well. For those who want to explore the Old Town, OX 184 is one of the most reviewed restaurants on the site.More information
You can read all of the reviews and listings for venues in Edinburgh on the Euan’s Guide website.