The project builds on our fantastic Break to Play clubs – run during 2010, where we offered weekend and holiday clubs for families of children on the Autism Spectrum. We’ve built on our experiences in Break to Play, and with funding from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, have re-launched the clubs to cater for children with a wider range of impairment such as visual, hearing or physical difficulties. The Project includes other strands of development too, which could be used as the basis to boost your own accessibility, whether you’re a museum, family venue, small local business or school/nursery.
1. Don’t be afraid to ask
No two children are the same – this may sound obvious, but it is an essential principle behind delivering an accessible venue. No two children, and no two families, react in the same way to their surroundings, other people, stimuli and situations. The key is to never be afraid to ask the child, parent or carer what works best for them. Parents and carers will know what suits their child best – what frightens them, what gets them over-excited, as well as what calms them and makes them happy. It sometimes takes confidence to ask the question “Is there anything that we can do for you?”, but most parents, carers and children will welcome it.
2. Explore language and terminology
People can feel quite nervous around the subject of language and political correctness. It pays to demystify some of the terminology and reassure your team about what they can and can’t say. We discovered that some people – particularly our younger team members – didn’t understand the origins of some words and were often quite surprised when it was explained why people might find them offensive. You can refer to sites such as the BBC’s OUCH Blog and Remploy for guidance.
3. Offer a “time-out”
Many parents and carers dread the moment when their child has a public tantrum – this can be particularly challenging when the child has Aspergers or other conditions that can affect behaviour. If this is happening, ask the parents or carer what you can do to help (see tip 1!). Ask them if it would help to take the child into another environment, maybe outside if the weather is nice, or somewhere calmer and away from any crowds of people or any stimulating surroundings. The key is to ask what works, then support them to find a solution. At Eureka! we have identified areas where we can take families if one of them needs to step away from the crowd for a little while, and our staff know the best ways to help – which brings me on to…
4. Train your team
The amazing staff here at Eureka! are our most valuable asset, are key to the success of our Break to Play programme and are central to delivering Helping Hands. Everyone at Eureka!, whether they worked in our marketing team, café, our technicians and Chief Executive, were asked to attend two awareness raising sessions run by the Calderdale Parent & Carer’s Council.
Invest time and resources in developing your staff – raise awareness of some of the challenges faced by parents, carers and people with disabilities. Give them the opportunity to interact with disabled children – your local special school will welcome willing volunteers with open arms, and the experience gained will go a long way towards building your team’s confidence.
Who is the expert trainer for your needs? It might be your local professional team, e.g. the Disabled Children’s Team, the Specialist Inclusion Service, but have you also thought about asking disabled young adults in to talk to your team? Do an online search to identify parent or carer groups in your area – most will be pleased to offer an insight into their experiences and many will offer training.
Many of our Enablers have now received specialist training around supporting visitors with a wide selection of additional needs.
5. Offer an Extra Pair of Hands
By developing the knowledge and experience of our staff, we’re now able to offer our Extra Pair of Hands service, in which families will be able to book time with a trained Enabler – a dedicated member of staff – who will help them get the most out of their visit. This service complements the Helping Hands Clubs, which we’re now piloting. Not everyone will have the time and/or resources to offer a day or half day for dedicated access and support, but could you offer two hours, an hour, to help visitors to get the most out of your venue or business? If you can’t spare the resources for face to face support, consider setting up an advice line for disabled visitors to speak to a member of staff about the challenges your visitor environment might pose, and the solutions you’ve come up with.