A Landscape for Everyone

10 March 2023

Improving the experiences of Disabled visitors to the North Pennines. Ahead of an online training event we are facilitating with tourism businesses in the North Pennines Area of Natural Beauty (AONB), we chatted to Community Engagement officer, Scarlet Hall, about our hopes for the training and our experiences of visiting rural places as Disabled people.

What motivates you to keep offering and hosting trainings over so many years?

Hearing about the changes that organisations and individuals make after our workshops. Our aim is to achieve equality for disabled people and an end to discrimination on the grounds of disability. When we talk to people at our workshops and they share that they ‘had never thought about it like that’ or that they will do something differently in the future, that for us, makes it worthwhile.

Change is hard and, often, disability is way down the list of equality, diversity and inclusion training that is offered to businesses, so it’s always great to have an opportunity to speak to different groups and organisations to share our learning. Likewise, we end up having really insightful conversations with disabled people who come along to these sessions too. After all, in the UK 21% of working age adults and 42% of adults over state pension age are disabled.

A group of people approach an old church through a church yard filled with clusters of snowdrops.

Photo by Simone Rudolphi

Could you share an experience of visiting a rural place as a Disabled person and having a bad time? What made it so bad?

The countryside can be really hit and miss. A few things that have affected myself, my colleagues, and members of Difference Northeast generally come in the form of lack of information or people we speak to in businesses that have a limited understanding of accessibility. For example, calling a venue or B&B to find out if they’re wheelchair accessible, we might get a response like “there’s only one small step up into the building”, which obviously isn’t helpful to someone using wheels. Sometimes disabled people need a lot of information about a place before they can commit to going there, especially in rural locations. This can often seem like we’re being pedantic or asking too much, but the more information you can give, the more options someone with, for example, limited mobility has in understanding what they need to be able to come.

Have you had some really wonderful experiences?

Lots of information makes it so much better. If I go for a walk in the countryside and I know how to get there, what the toilet situation is, what the surface is like, and how long things are going to take, I can decide if I am going to be able to do it. Likewise, when it is clear that the organiser is committed to access and understanding the needs of the disabled people visiting, it fills me with confidence that I can ask questions and find assistance from someone that is going to understand.

What result would you like from this training? What can the people attending the training do to support this to happen?

We would really like not only to change people’s perceptions of disability, but to use that new way of thinking about disability, and disabled people, to help you make changes that make your venue or business more accessible. This can sometimes be a work in progress and that often it can feel like there are big obstacles to making things accessible, such as cost (like installing ramps and accessible toilets) but a lot of the barriers disabled people face can be attitudinal, or a result of a lack of knowledge and understanding around inclusion and access. We would love it if people left the training feeling more confident in talking about disability, recognising some of the more hidden barriers that you might be accidentally putting in place, and to commit to make the changes they can going forward. We would also really encourage people to keep in touch with us and feel like they can contact us for advice. There’s no such thing as a silly question.

What is hard about offering trainings?

The hardest thing about training is ensuring the right people are there, the folks who really need to be listening. We know that most people are doing the best they can and that we all want equality and to make our spaces accessible for everyone. I’m tempted to say that some of the difficult conversations we have in the training sessions are hard – but they are excellent opportunities for learning. Sometimes, talking about disability from our own lived experience (we’re all disabled here at Difference Northeast) can be emotionally tiring, but we usually have such a good experience that it makes it worthwhile. We always feel appreciated, and we know that folks learn a lot from what we do.

You can find out more about our workshops on our Training page. Or, read the PDF version of our training offer here: Training Offer Information Pack PDF

You can also contact Nic, nic@differencenortheast.org.uk


Original post can be found on the AONB website here.