Accessible technology – smartphones made easy

emporia – accessible smartphones

The internet is an integral part of everyday life and connects us to everything we need – from messaging family to banking and buying groceries. But the problem for some people is that many smartphone are not easy to use – for older people, those with visual impairment or motor issues, the thought of learning to use a smartphone can be an intimidating.  Now, ground-breaking new smartphones from emporia Telecom promise to change the way people with accessibility issues interact with modern communications technology. We spoke to Chris Millington, Managing Director of emporia Telecom, to find out more about its range of accessible smartphones.  What are the challenges faced by people with accessibility issues, when using smartphones? Whilst some mainstream smartphones have accessibility features, they do little to assist those whose visual impairment is exacerbated by dexterity, circulatory and nerve issues. The majority of regular phones simply do not address the older audience who have moderate or severe impairments alongside vision loss. Those with impaired vision can struggle to read small text within cluttered interfaces and rely increasingly on audio as a superior form of interaction with their devices. Unfortunately, most phones do not consider the older generation, as adapted audio assistance tools can feel like an afterthought to the people who rely on them. Many older people rely on hearing aid compatibility which many devices lack, meaning they can also struggle with hearing calls or notifications when away from their devices. We want to create a world without barriers where anyone with an impairment can lead a full life and take advantage of technology rather than feeling excluded or forgotten. How do your products address this?  To develop our TALKactive device, we worked alongside the Technology For Life team at the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) to develop specialised devices that cater to the needs of blind or visually impaired people and lower the barriers to technology. The phones all include a specially adapted voice assist function which offers voice support throughout all functions of the phone. Accessibility to us also includes cost barriers. The addition of accessibility features to a smartphone can bear massive costs that will inevitably be passed onto the consumer. It is unreasonable to expect people to spend £1,000 on a device they can only use 5% of the functions. By using the Talkative, we were able to include the power and natural language of Google Voice to connect with people at an accessible price point. People need to be able to get a product they can use at a price they can afford. The voice assist will ‘talk back’ each button when typing, as well as caller ID, new messages, menu navigation and even time and battery status when the phone is closed. This means that every aspect of the phone has been considered and visually impaired people can use a device that feels like it was made for them.  All our devices are catered towards deaf people, with hearing-aid compatibility built-in as well as extra-loud notification sounds that really make a difference. By using a feature phone rather than a smartphone, the physical buttons, tactility and simplicity play a huge role for older people who have sight or hearing loss. These details work to negate much of the frustration and confusion often caused when impaired people use phones not specifically tailored to their needs. How can your product help people to live independently for longer? Nowadays, a mobile phone is undoubtedly the most important and powerful item that we carry. In today’s world living without a functional mobile phone is a huge hindrance to a person’s independence. By providing more accessible solutions to those with impairments, they are able to utilise the vast functionality of their mobile phone to a better standard. For some, impairments progress past the point where the average mobile phone becomes unusable. Confidence is underpinned by simplicity and usability and plays a huge role in independent living. Our products allow users to feel confident in their use of technology and in their ability to have an independent life. Have you seen a rise in demand for your product since lockdown? Yes, we definitely saw a rise in demand across all of our devices during Covid lockdowns, from simple home phones to smartphones. As people became more reliant on technology and loved ones became less accessible in the real world, more and more elderly people looked towards technology to maintain connections.  The world changed a lot and the training book that comes with our smartphones broke barriers for the elderly and helped them get connected. Technology has also become part of our daily routine, with track and trace and contactless payments becoming more common, the older generation needed to have access to this too. This change is one of the few benefits of the pandemic, meaning that thousands of our customers who may have previously been deterred by the thought of owning a mobile phone have become empowered by taking the leap. This has only accelerated our progress towards digitally enabling all seniors and helping them stay independent. MAKING THE INTERNET ACCESSIBLE FOR PEOPLE WITH SIGHT LOSS Jennie Mather, senior retail products manager at RNIB, worked alongside emporia to develop its products. She said: “There are 350,000 people in the UK who are registered blind or partially sighted, and 70% of these are aged over 65.  “The TALKactive phone has been designed with them specifically in mind. It was great to work closely with emporia during the development stages of the phone to really tailor features specifically for people with sight loss.  “This accessible, easy-to-use feature phone will enhance day-to-day life, and RNIB is proud to be its exclusive distributor.” For more information about emporia Telecom, see

Children’s charity launches accessible cookbook

Step-By-Step Cookbook is an accessible cookbook by the Children's Trust

The Children’s Trust has produced a special ‘easy to follow’ accessible cookbook, developed by children and rehabilitation therapists, for the whole family to enjoy and have fun in the kitchen. The ‘Step-by-step Cookbook’ has been created with assistance from young people at The Children’s Trust, the UK’s leading charity for children with brain injury, who have helped to test out the recipes. Using simple icons to show what equipment and ingredients are needed, and steps to tick-off with a wipeable marker, the accessible cookbook features 16 recipes. From breakfast dishes to drinks these include cheesy pasta, mini quiches and lemon drizzle cake.  It also provides information on healthy eating, specialist equipment available and cooking tips.  The idea for the recipe book was formed as therapists recognised a need for more accessible recipes. One young person who contributed to the book was 11-year-old Joey who received rehabilitation at The Children’s Trust following a brain haemorrhage in 2018. He said: “I love creating my own food and then eating it of course! The cookbook has been great to use as I can easily see what ingredients I need and then follow the steps to find out what’s next.” Sharon Tuppeny, Head of Therapy Rehabilitation at The Children’s Trust, added: “Cooking has many benefits for children with additional and learning needs such as planning the task, developing motor skills, the social aspects and a sense of achievement. Participation in everyday activities is central to our approach at The Children’s Trust and the recipes we’ve included in the book are all used as part of the rehabilitation programme. The young people have really enjoyed following the recipes. It’s a great way to keep busy during the summer holidays whilst also gaining independence. Sponsored by Simply Food Solutions, an extensive range of quality food solutions, the ‘Step-by-step Cookbook’ also features a keema curry developed by Managing Director of the company, Yaqoob Ishaq. Speaking about the accessible cookbook, Yaqoob added: “It has been fantastic to support such a great cause and the cookbook looks fantastic. I really hope that the keema curry is enjoyed by everyone as much as it is in my home.” The Children’s Trust publishes a number of books to help families and teachers, all available free of charge with P&P costs only. The ‘Step-by-step Cookbook’ is available via

How the eCane will change the lives of blind and deafblind users

eCane - a man walking with a cane

Physicist Ron Liebermann formed Signtel, Inc. in 2000 with the mission to use technology to improve the lives of the hearing and sight challenged people. He hired over 100 such individuals to work as assistant developers, providing their own life experience as input into the products developed. Here, he explains how his product the Electronic Cane eCane will become the eyes and ears of people who are blind or deafblind… The eCane is a contraption mounted and attached to a cane used by blind individuals who are either only blind, or both blind and deaf (deafblind). Its uses are broadly twofold:  Firstly, it provides secure navigation. The Electronic Cane guides its holder to a desired location by giving directive instructions towards such location. Secondly, the Electronic Cane acts as a communications tool, utilising mobile phone, sign language, foreign language translation and internet communications.  Features of the eCane  • The user can access a mobile phone using either voice and/or Morse Code via a button on the Electronic Cane. The user receives input by voice, or Morse Code through vibrations of the Electronic Cane • The user can find out on demand the locations and proximity of their family members (or designated friends), as the Electronic Cane operates with cooperating technologies, such as (RFID), GPS, or Google’s indoor navigation. This is made possible thanks to a contraption such as a wristband, belt or cloth worn by the friend or family member. • The Electronic Cane can navigate to desired locations when the user provides a request by voice or by clicking Morse Code on a button and receiving continuous directions for movements, either by voice or via the eCane vibrating in Morse Code. This makes it easy for the user to find their home, a hotel, office, business facility or store etc. As an example, if a blind individual requests the eCane to be led to a bathroom while in a hotel lobby or supermarket, the eCane will direct that person to the bathroom that is for the correct gender of the blind individual. • Navigation also works within the user’s home around various rooms, features and furniture. Outdoors the eCane guides across roads, up and down pavements, advised by the eCane what store is encountered and what is displayed in the window. Once inside a store, navigation is given, allowing the user to pick up desired articles from the shelf. • The eCane holder is advised about the environment around him or her, such as “a woman walking a small dog is coming towards you and a child who is riding his scooter just past next to you”. This is enabled by a video camera being attached to the eCane system and artificial intelligence analyzing the images. • Enabling the eCane holder to perform monetary transactions, such as payments or receiving money, which is done directly through the eCane holder’s bank account.   • Communicating with deaf individuals, utilizing Sign Language, wherein Sign Language of the deaf is captured by the camera which is then translated to the eCane holder in audio and/or Morse Code vibrations.   • Secure walking, whereas the eCane detects objects either on the ground or elevated, and warns the eCane holder of their proximity, height, being stationary or moving, as well as giving a description of their nature. • The eCane notifying its holder when the “battery” (mostly a Supercapacitor) needs a recharge, which is mostly done automatically by just being in proximity to the charging facility. • Ability of the eCane holder to find the eCane that was either, dropped, forgotten or placed in any location by pressing a knob on the wristband unit carried by the eCane user. • The wristband mentioned above can also provide various alerts to its deafblind holder, such as a phone call coming in, somebody talking, someone in your vicinity is communicating with you or an alarm clock to wake up the user. 
For more information about Signtel, see Signtel will be exhibiting at Naidex at the NEC on 17 & 18 March 2020, at stand N345.

How Chris kept on turning after going blind

Chris Fisher, aka the Blind Woodturner

Chris Fisher has made quite a name for himself in the media – you might know him as The Blind Woodturner. Chris wasn’t born blind – toxoplasmosis struck in 2008 when he was working as an engineer with a busy life as a husband and dad to a young son. But after a difficult adjustment period, where Chris had to battle severe anxiety as well as get used to life without sight, he “turned” his life around. With the help of wife Nicola, he is now helping others to do the same. UCan2 editor Victoria Galligan caught up with Chris at his home in Whittle-le-Woods, Lancashire… What happened when you went blind suddenly 12 years ago? How did you cope? You learn to adapt – I suffered with crippling anxiety for four years and that started about a year after going blind. The first year of being blind was all about going to rehab, working with a sensory team and social workers but then I started feeling terribly sick, actually being sick, having panic attacks, hallucinations, muscles spasms, not sleeping, being afraid to go out and sometimes having to come back home because I’d had a panic attack and support worker at the time, Dean, would have to bring me home. It was a terrible place to be. If I didn’t have the network of people around me, my friends and family, I probably would have ended my life. I get why people commit suicide and I was getting towards that point. Luckily I have a son, who was seven at the time, and a wife and I felt I didn’t have that option. So I dug deeper than I ever thought possible and, with the help of counselling from the RNIB’s bereavement service, and going on anti-anxiety meds, slowly but surely I felt “Hey! I actually felt good today!” Then I started going out more – I got through it and I’m so glad I did. Then I started chomping at the bit and feeling: “Right, I’m ready to attack life now!”  You mentioned your PA Dean and the RNIB – which other services were there to help you? Initially it was support from Wigan Council’s Sensory Team as I lived in Greater Manchester at the time. They were absolutely brilliant in helping me to come to terms with my disability and giving me practical advice – they taught me how to prepare a simple meal safely or a cup of tea. They showed me how to use some gadgets like a signal cane, and I got some other gadgets from the RNIB like liquid level indicators, talking measuring jug, talking tape measure and a Daisy Player which is a device that plays CDs with tactile, chunky controls on it. I use it to listen to books. And for the first eight years I had a support worker, Dean, then when he changed his job I got Bamber, my guide dog. He’s next-level intelligent and truly indispensable. I’m the navigator when we go out but he’s my pilot and takes me where I need to go! I can ask him to find steps, find a button for a lift, a bus stop. At home, he never leaves me on my own and he’s always watching me! He comes down the stairs in front of me to make sure I’m safe and he’s ever-vigilant. How did the woodturning start? I started to want to try new things – but obviously as a blind man. And because I was a keen horror film fan and loved doing stuff at Halloween for the house. I wanted to make a vampire stake for the garden – people said “You what?” but it was something I wanted to do! You’ve got to start somewhere. I started to listen to woodturning tutorials on YouTube and ended up listening to 600 hours! I was really serious about it because I wanted that vampire stake! I listened for five or six hours a day for months, assimilating all the information I could about woodturning, tools, techniques, health and safety and finishing. I got in touch with a few YouTubers to ask them to add some audio description to the videos – a lot of the videos are compressed, with no verbal directions and they’re set to music, which is of no use to the blind! So about 10 woodturning YouTubers added some verbal information and they’d say: “This blind guy’s got in touch because he wants to learn woodturning so, for you Chris, I’m going to explain what I’m doing here!” After the 600 hours I got myself a lathe, some wood and some tools and taught myself, just by touch and with a picture in my mind. Because I was sighted until I was nearly 39 years old, I had a great memory map which played in my favour. I’d worked with tools and my hands all my working life – I didn’t have any accidents but my early work was a bit shoddy and I made mistakes. But I put the hours in and the practice and became very passionate and people started to want to buy what I was making. Last August I became the first-ever blind person to join the Register of Professional Turners. I had to apply with photos of my work. This had to be backed by two sponsors, and then they came out to assess me. It was a rigorous test by a master turner from the Worshipful Company of Turners (which has 800 years of history). There was an interview, an accounts check of my business to make sure I was making money from woodturning, a risk assessment check, an examination of my completed works plus a check of the workshop and a practical assessment – which was videoed. It was tough but I passed! You’ve now built a real brand around yourself! How did you achieve that?  I started a YouTube channel to inspire and motivate people

Electric vehicles and disability – what are your options?

Ioniq in white outside glass building

Many new cars for sale in the not-too-distant future will be electric vehicles, with a complete ban on conventionally-fuelled new cars being mooted as soon as 2030. But what does this mean for people with a disability, asks UCan2 editor Victoria Galligan… You’ve been there – it’s dark, cold and windy outside and you need to stop for fuel. Not only that, but if you need to get your wheelchair out of the car, or have another walking aid to negotiate, if you have trouble using the pump or if there’s a long walk to the shop to pay for fuel then you’re going to be spending more time than is comfortable outside in the horrendous British weather. Wouldn’t it be easier if you could refuel from the comfort of your own home? Or while you were at work? Well nowadays of course you can – thanks to electric vehicle (EV) charging. But is EV charging going to be easy for disabled drivers? You may not fancy buying a brand new electric car right now – but in the next decade or so you probably won’t have a choice. And thankfully some of the negative aspects of running an electric car – such as a lack of EV charging points throughout the country, the need for accessible EV charging bays and the higher forecourt price of electric-powered cars compared to petrol- or diesel-powered models – are, slowly but surely, being addressed. Here, I hope to answer some of the questions you might have about owning an electric vehicle. Are there savings to be made?  The forecourt price of electric cars is clearly higher than the price of a conventional car at the moment  – but this shouldn’t put you off. As well as the environmental benefits and the convenience of EV charging at home, there are also savings in running costs to be considered, too. We at UCan2 have often highlighted the high price of having a disability – from loss of earnings to the need for adaptations – so saving a cool grand a year on average would be a huge bonus and would certainly make up for the price difference in models when purchasing a new car. £1,000 is how much Pod Point say you could save when running an electric car – including reduced fuel bills, an exemption from road tax and congestion charges, and savings which can be made on general maintenance compared to conventional cars. Do I have to buy an electric car? Certainly not – at the moment. But electric cars are quieter, cleaner and greener and we’re all going to need one soon when the government’s zero-carbon pledge starts drawing nearer. The government announced last year that two-thirds of cars on the road would need to be electric by 2030 to meet the ambitious CO2 reduction target – although the independent advisory panel, Committee for Climate Change, said that this would not be enough and recommended instead that the government should announce a complete sales ban on conventional vehicles starting from between 2030 and 2035. Can I buy an electric vehicle under the Motability scheme? Yes. There are electric cars which you can buy if you receive the Motability benefit – these include: • Smart ForTwo • Smart ForFour • BMW i3 • Hyundai IONIQ • Renault Zoe What about hybrid cars? For those who find it difficult to use an EV charging point regularly or take particularly long journeys, a hybrid can be a great option. There are many hybrid models on offer under Motability, including: • Suzuki Ignis • Suzuki Swift • Hyundai IONIQ • Hyundai Tucson • Kia Niro • Toyota Prius • Toyota Yaris • Toyota Corolla • Toyota Rav 4 • Mini Countryman • Ford Mondeo • BMW 2 Series • Honda CR-V • Mitsubishi Outlander Is charging at home is cheaper?  Where to charge an electric vehicle is another dilemma people face when they first buy an electric vehicle. Amazingly, around 200,000 ultra-low electric cars were on the road at the end of Q4 2018. And in July, England became the first country to plan on insisting that all new-build homes have an EV charging point fitted as standard. It costs around £8.40 for a full charge at home (based on a 60kWh battery, with a 200-mile range). A rapid charging point at a service station, in comparison, would cost around £13 for an hour-long, 200-mile charge. Of course, you’ll need an EV charging point installed at home to power up your electric car. You can get help towards the cost of installing one with a government plug-in grant from the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV): owners of category 1 vehicles, which are classed as “ultra-low emission vehicles” by the government, are eligible for £3,500 in OLEV funding. And the best part? You do not need to do anything if you want to buy one of these vehicles – the dealer will include the value of the grant in the vehicle’s price. If you buy a category 2 or 3 car, you can still get up to £500 towards installing an EV charging point thanks to the Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme. Check which models are eligible for which grant at And remember your home electricity now increasingly comes from renewable sources. Fossil fuels are being overtaken by green alternatives when it comes to electricity supply – Carbon Brief reported in October that, for the first time, the UK’s windfarms, solar panels, biomass and hydro plants generated more electricity than the combined output from power stations fired by coal, oil and gas. Where else can I charge up? It’s not just houses which are providing electric vehicles charging points – many fuel stations, workplaces and public facilities are now striving to offer them too. Some workplaces and public sector buildings will offer this for free –  some have introduced new electric vehicles charging points with a limited period of free charging – but expect to pay in a

The truth behind sex and disability

sex and disability - Shyam Morjaria, superintendent pharmacist at Nottingham-based UK Meds

In this day and age, it’s important to remember that sex and relationships do not just extend to traditional male/female relationships. The topics surrounding sex and sexual health should be inclusive of people of all sexualities and body types. Shyam Morjaria, superintendent pharmacist at Nottingham-based UK Meds, is committed to making sexual health more accessible and open to all. Here, he explores and breaks down the myths that surround sex and disability. He said: “Everyone should have equal access to quality sex education, sexual health services and wellbeing support. In 2020, inclusive relationships and sex education becomes a mandatory subject that will be taught schools, but unfortunately, it remains a taboo subject, with there being an even greater stigma when it comes to sex and disabilities. Quite simply, the topic isn’t talked about enough and this means that lots of people are missing out on valuable information and support.” Sex between people with disabilities  “More than a billion people across the world live with some sort of disability. This makes up about 15% of the world’s population. Just like the rest of the world, there is no exact formula when it comes down to sexual preference and attraction. Unfortunately, there are a lot of preconceived notions about sexuality and people with disabilities that often put disabled people in a box. “A common misconception is that disabled people prefer to have sex with other disabled people. The problem here lies with assuming a preference. Yes, some disabled people might prefer to have sex with other disabled people, but that does not limit their preference or desire to have sex with anyone they’re attracted to.” Disabled people and relationships “Social attitudes surrounding disability and relationships are often highlighted in terms of capacity, fertility and technique. The topic is usually fixated on and it seems as though we tend to ignore the relational aspects of disability and relationships. But disabled people can have the same happy, healthy relationships as everyone else. As long as all the partners involved are comfortable, safe and consenting, the possibilities of having successful relationships are limitless.” Disabled people and children “It’s reported that between 60-90% of women with disabilities desire to marry and have children. The idea that disabled people can’t have fulfilling family lives is, again, nothing more than a myth. Similarly to desiring relationships, it is a common and normal desire for disabled people to also want to have children. “While the narrative surrounding sexuality and disabilities is changing, there is still work to be done towards normalising the disabled experience for everyone. A fulfilled relationship – as well as the freedom to explore it – should be available to all.” For further sexual health advice, visit UK Meds at

WIN tickets for an accessible day out at Biggin Hill Hangar – CLOSED

accessible day out - Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar

The Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar is a great accessible day out for those who have a passion for air transport, classic forces vehicles and wartime history. RAF Biggin Hill is the most famous Battle of Britain fighter base – and here you can trace the footsteps of those brave young men who fought from here in 1939-1945. The name ‘Biggin Hill’ is synonymous with the Battle of Britain, when a small band of fighter pilots stood alone against the might of the Luftwaffe, a fighting force greater in number and already proven in combat. From this hallowed ground, young men, with little experience and only basic training, took off to engage this enemy, with the fate of western civilisation resting on their shoulders. Through sheer determination, they prevailed, as pilot Geoffrey Wellum simply put it: “we beat them.” With dedicated tours available, you can learn more about the hangar, its planes and British wartime heritage in a modern, accessible environment. Accessible day out complete with tour of the hangar The Heritage Hangar was founded in early 2011 to house the activities of The Spitfire Company (Biggin Hill) Limited, with the purpose of restoring a single Spitfire. From this, it has grown to the point where it has now a whole squadron’s worth and completed its sixth airworthy example. At any one time, the hangar is a hive of activity with several ongoing restorations.  In the past, up-close access to Spitfires has been available to only a lucky few, but now you can take a tour around the facility and see at first hand what goes into putting a Spitfire back in the air, how they are maintained and what is involved in their day-to-day running. There is nowhere else in the world that you can see a squadron’s worth of Spitfires up close all year-round and all the restoration work that supports their continued operation. A facility dedicated to putting aircraft back in the air, Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar has several more projects under restoration. As well as up to 13 Spitfires on-site the hangar has a 1940 Hawker Hurricane and Battle of Britain veteran Messerschmitt 109 on view. Spitfire Restoration Hangar Tours of the facility are available on regular weekdays and Saturdays for £39, led by a knowledgable guide. You can also sit in a Spitfire for an additional charge of £30 and have the controls explained in detail. Group sizes are deliberately kept small, with typically no more than ten people in each, ensuring that visitors can enjoy close, unhindered access to the iconic Spitfire in an unmatched historical setting. Please be aware that this is a working hangar facility on a live airfield with loud machinery sometimes in operation, so is not suitable for the very young or pets, however wheelchair access is very good, with no steps to negotiate. Situated within the M25 in Kent, Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar has two large hangars – both of which are wheelchair accessible and parking is available right outside the front doors. There is also a ramp providing access between the two hangars and all the tour routes can be negotiated by manual or electric wheelchairs. For more information and to book your accessible day out see the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar website. You can WIN a prize of four tour tickets which Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar is kindly donating to UCan2 readers. The tickets are for the ‘Spitfire Tour’, RRP £39 each. Alternatively, ‘Sit in a Spitfire’ is available as an upgrade on the day for an additional £30 per person. To enter the competition, click on the Rafflecopter link here: a Rafflecopter giveaway *The administrator of this competition is the UCAN2 magazine (“administrator”). By participating in the competition, each Entrant unconditionally accepts and agrees to comply with and abide by these Official Rules and the decisions of Administrator, which shall be final and binding in all respects. Administrator is responsible for the collection, submission or processing of Entries and the overall administration of the competition. Entrants should look solely to Administrator with any questions, comments or problems related to the Competition. Administrator may be reached by email at during the Promotion Period. * This giveaway will close at 12.00am, 20th July 2020.* The prize is tickets to visit Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar. The prize is non-transferable, non-refundable. There is no cash alternative.* Open to UK residents aged 18 or over, excluding employees of the Administrator, the sponsor, their families and anyone else professionally connected with this promotion. * The prize winner will be asked to provide their email address so that contact can be made to arrange prize delivery, and their name and county be published in the next issue of the magazine  * By entering the competition, you grant the Administrator permission to add your details to the mailing list, share your email address and any other personally identifiable information with the other competition Entities for the purpose of administration and prize fulfillment, including use in a publicly available Winners list.* Entries will only be accepted as instructed and any entrant that does not complete the qualifying requirements will be disqualified *  The winners will be chosen using the random entry selector built into the widget.* The winners will be informed by email within 5 days of the closing date, and must respond within 5 days to claim their prize. If there is no response within the 1 day a new winner will be drawn at random.*This prize draw is governed by English law and the courts of England shall have exclusive jurisdiction over any dispute arising in connection with it.For further T&C and our privacy policy please see here Euromedia Associates Ltd: Privacy Policy

How far has accessible housing come since the 70s?

accessible housing - a man in a wheelchair uses accessible kitchen

The idea of accessible housing goes back decades – yet the UK is struggling with a housing crisis in which those with disabilities are the most disadvantaged. Earlier this year, the Government announced a new Equalities Hub which will focus on tackling injustices in the workplace and at home. Part of the hub’s work is to ensure a higher standard of living for disabled people. Victoria Galligan spoke to Habinteg housing association’s Chief Executive Sheron Carter about the history of accessible housing in the UK, the latest standards in housebuilding and how to get help if you feel trapped in your home… Habinteg is a housing association with a difference – its properties are all built using an accessible design model which means people with disabilities can get around easily, and residents are housed within mixed housing so they are not isolated from the rest of society but integrated within it. Sheron explains: “Habinteg was set up in 1970 and it has an interesting history. Back then, if a person had a disability they would likely live in a care facility.” Leading figures from the world of disability were interested in alternative forms of accommodation for people with disabilities.  Sheron adds: “They visited Sweden to look at integrated housing – a model called Fokus had been developed there and it was very forward-thinking, with a cluster of around 15 houses or apartments, of which some had been built specifically for disabled people.” This type of independent housing, situated among communities rather than separate to them, was revolutionary at the time but now seems like simple common sense – why would someone with a disability want to live outside the community and be marginalised from their friends and family? Sheron added: “When they came back they approached Scope [which back then was the Spastics Society] and said: ‘We need to do something to change things here for disabled people’. This is how Habinteg was born – the word is a combination of the Latin habitus integrans, or ‘integrated housing’.” The first innovative scheme was developed in Tottenham and Habinteg’s aim since then has been to go wherever it is needed most – the housing association now offers nearly 3,300 homes nationwide and works with 86 local authorities. Building accessible homes as standard The aims of Habinteg are two-fold: to not only build and manage accessible homes but to encourage the housebuilding industry to create homes which meet accessibility standards from the off – even if the intended residents are not disabled. More homes are needed – but one housing association alone cannot offer the number of accessible homes which the UK needs. However, by working together with Government, housebuilders and disability organisations the hope at Habinteg is that the standards of accessible housing will be adopted on a wider scale. This will help people to stay in their own homes longer, should they become disabled or as they age and become less mobile. Sheron says: “Our organisation can show how it is possible to design, build and manage accessible and adaptable buildings. But we also promote integration and integrated housing among other organisations. Our homes are in England and Wales – from Middlesborough in the North, to Wales, Cornwall, the Midlands and all along the South-West Corridor.” The model on which Habinteg homes were built in the 70s has changed over the years but the ethos remains the same – to create integrated, accessible and adaptable housing which will meet the needs of everyone in society. And the building standards of accessible housing have also changed – The 2015 optional accessible, adaptable dwelling standard (Building Regulations, Volume 1, M4, Category 2 standard) has already been adopted as a mandatory baseline for new builds in London – meaning all new homes in the capital are now built to this standard.  The wheelchair standard (Building Regulations, Volume 1, M4, Category 3 standard) is more detailed and split into two parts a) Wheelchair adaptable (providing space and layout features, but not fully fitted out), and b) Wheelchair accessible (ready and fitted to accommodate wheelchair-user household).  The future of accessible housing Habinteg’s research on housing, “A forecast for accessible homes”, predicts that less than a quarter of homes built outside London by 2030 will be suitable for older and disabled people. That means that those looking for an accessible home will be tied to certain areas – resulting in people with disabilities becoming “trapped”. This does not only mean trapped in the literal sense of not being able to get in and out of a home which is not suitable for disabled living, but also trapped once a resident has found an accessible home. Sheron says: “People experience real joy when they are allocated an accessible home. But further down the line, if they ever want to move, it’s so difficult to find an alternative in a different part of the country that they become trapped in that accessible home.” The need for more accessible and adaptable homes is clear – they are not currently readily available. With an ageing population, the need for people to stay in their own homes for longer and be able to live near their place of work or their family means the UK is heading for an accessible housing crisis. It is not acceptable for families to be placed on seemingly endless waiting lists until a suitable property becomes available. Thankfully, Habinteg and other housing organisations, together with disability rights groups, are pushing the Government in the right direction to create accessible homes.    How to access information on accessible housing So what should you do if your home is not suitable for your needs, or you want to move to an accessible property in a different area? Sheron recommends that you contact your local authority in the first instance, saying: “This is a good starting point, and your LA can access the housing register for you.” An occupation therapist (OT) will also be able to help. Sheron says: “OTs are invaluable – they work with the housing

Wheelchair-friendly days out that are not to be missed!

Edinburgh Castle

Being in a wheelchair will not stop you from sampling some of the best experiences to be had in the UK. There are many wheelchair-friendly days out to be had where venues are accessible and cater for all visitors. This means that it’s not as difficult as you might think to have a great day out, or even a weekend away.  If you are looking for inspiration about trips that you can take here are a few ideas to get you started.  See a show in London  A London theatre break is a great idea if you enjoy live entertainment. The theatre world has made a big effort to ensure that premises are accessible, as it was reported in 2017 that the majority of theatres have from two to twenty spaces for wheelchairs available. The main reason for the lack of disabled access throughout theatres in the first place was due to the time of which the buildings were designed. Most theatres were constructed during the late Victorian and Edwardian period – times where the disabled were often discriminated against, and because of the history of these buildings, many designers cannot find the permission to create the required facilities. But, new theatres are being designed with these accommodations in mind.  Being in a wheelchair should be no barrier if you want to experience the buzz of going to the theatre in London’s West End. It’s a magical experience, no matter which show you decide to see.  Take to the slopes at Chill Factor  Chill Factor in Manchester is one of the best venues to enjoy snow sports. Do not worry that your wheelchair may stop you from getting the full experience.  The folks at Chill Factor have made sure that everyone is included by working with Disability Snowsports UK to accommodate the needs of individuals with any type of disability. You can use the adaptive equipment that is provided while receiving access to specialised instruction and support. This means that you can learn to ski and snowboard and get full enjoyment from your day out.  Sample the Titanic story in Belfast  You will know the story of the doomed Atlantic liner Titanic. It’s a sad tale, but a fascinating one. The great news is that you can learn more about the vessel, and it’s history, at the Titanic Experience.  The venue is accessible for wheelchair users and there is also a loop system in place for anyone that is hearing impaired. This means that anyone can experience the Titanic Story. There is also the opportunity to take in a luxurious afternoon tea, on Sunday afternoons.  Spend time exploring Edinburgh  Edinburgh is one of the most accessible cities in the UK. This makes it the perfect choice for a day trip or short break if you use a wheelchair. It’s a beautiful city steeped in history and tranquility – it’s certainly worth a visit.  You won’t have to worry about getting around this prestigious city, as Edinburgh’s public transport is incredibly accessible for those in a wheelchair, going out of the way to ensure that travel is less challenging for everyone. The airport provides special assistance, while the buses kneel to kerb height for step-free access.  During your visit, there are several different attractions to visit including:  ●    Edinburgh Castle ●    The Royal Mile ●    The Royal Botanic Garden ●    The Scotch Whisky Experience ●    The Edinburgh Fringe Festival Spend time at the beach  UK beaches may not be quite as inviting as those abroad, but they still have their own special appeal. If you are thinking of visiting a beach in a wheelchair, you should choose one that you know is going to be accessible.  For instance, the beach at Broad Haven in Pembrokeshire is a good choice as you can use one of the all-terrain wheelchairs that are provided – just remember to book before you travel. Other beaches that are a good choice for wheelchair users include: ●    Whitmore Bay in South Glamorgan ●    Port Stewart Strand in Northern Ireland ●    North Berwick Beach in Scotland ●    Boscombe Pier Beach in Dorset Explore Beningbrough ​Hall  Beningbrough Hall is a National Trust property and, like many of the Trust’s properties, it’s accessible for wheelchair users. It’s a beautiful place to visit, with a large country house and stunning gardens to explore.  You can take a look around the galleries at the Hall –  you can even learn how to make your own art while you are there. Outside the Hall are woodland walks which provide the perfect opportunity for kids to let off steam, and there’s a restaurant on site where you can explore local seasonal delights created with local produce. It’s an ideal venue for a day trip that appeals to all the family.  Get some excitement at Avon Tyrrell Avon Tyrrell is an adventure centre in the New Forest, and there are more than 40 different activities available to try. All of them are accessible to everyone as there is a range of different special equipment provided. This means that there is no reason to miss out on any of the excitement.  There are also accessible activities available in the wider forest area, including horse riding and wheelchair friendly trails. This means that you can visit the New Forest with your family, or a group of friends, and everyone can experience the fun.  Whatever needs you have, there are places in the UK that you can visit. There are also organisations that arrange trips and holidays that are specifically aimed at people who have accessibility needs. Take a look online and you will find many trips that you are certain to enjoy.