Should we celebrate Eastbourne’s accessibility?
We can all agree, surely, that Eastbourne is a great place to live and visit but is this everyone’s experience? There are many consumers for whom shopping, leisure and eating out are not as straightforward as for most. People with disabilities or sensory impairment; those with mental health issues; older people; or just parents with boisterous children are just some examples, who often feel overlooked or unvalued.
Prompted by this understanding, local campaign “Inclusive Eastbourne” has recently carried out a Mystery Shopping survey*, mainly in the hospitality sector, using volunteers who themselves face some such challenges, to find out how well served consumers are in today’s Eastbourne. The great news is that, in the main, their experience was good. Our town’s hospitality businesses are, as we would hope, generally friendly to all and well-equipped to serve customers with all kinds of needs [unlike one retailer surveyed: “I was ignored. I had to go to the till for help. None of the staff took any notice of me”]. There are some truly inclusive providers in our community: The Grand Hotel; Devonshire Park Theatre; Shades; and St Wilfrid’s Café, are just a few examples to admire.
“I was impressed that staff were trained to help people with a disability “.
“2 servers asked if there was anything we needed but not in a way that was annoying or too much”
This is not to say that there is no room for improvement. No names, but:
“No-one came to serve us “
“Unsuitable for consumers who have trouble negotiating steps”
“Too many tables and chairs leaving insufficient room to manoeuvre wheelchair or for blind people”
“Poor lighting. Made reading menu and signs difficult”
“Staff did not appear to know about loop system”
Some general lessons emerged:
- Good signage with good contrast makes a huge difference, outside as well as inside premises, especially to help locate disabled facilities but even for menus, pricing and general information.
- Staff may find it hard to identify customers’ needs. Consumers do help staff help them when they carry a white stick or have a guide dog, showing their sight impairment; or use walkers or sticks to aid mobility. Just owning up to wanting help usually wins it.
- Glass doors can be a real problem for some. These should always have something written or stuck at eye level to make them more visible.
- The large supermarket chains are generally excellent models in how to serve consumers with special needs, thanks to their corporate training schemes. This may be hard for smaller firms to emulate but can be useful for benchmarking. Smaller businesses can be more personal in their approach to compensate.
To help both business and consumer to enjoy better mutual experience of shopping and leisure in Eastbourne, local voluntary groups have got together to list, help, advise and offer services via a new online hub: Accessible Eastbourne www.accessibleeastbourne.org.uk. This not only lists and links organisations of help to those with particular needs but also offers practical services:
- for businesses wanting to continue to improve their performance for consumers’ needs there is an online Inclusivity Self-assessment tool; and
- for residents and visitors there is a free GPS-enabled online toilet locator.
Partners Inclusive Eastbourne and Eastbourne Access Group, hope that this hub may become the go-to directory for disabled services in Eastbourne. For further information contact Accessible Eastbourne’s virtual assistant, Natalie – firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07789-102300
[*32 businesses were visited, some by more than one surveyor, during the summer months of 2017.]