Hello, and welcome to Glasgow City Heritage Trust podcast, “If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk” a new series about the relationships, stories and shared memories that exist between Glasgow historic buildings and people.
Hello I’m Niall Murphy and welcome to “If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk” a podcast by Glasgow City Heritage Trust about the stories and relationships between historic buildings and people in Glasgow.
In this episode we’ll be talking about accessibility and inclusivity in relationship to Glasgow’s historic built environment and heritage sector.
Barriers are at the root of disabled people’s exclusion and inequality, and are an obstacle to their enjoyment and appreciation of heritage, culture and art. So we’re lucky to live in a city famous for its stunning architectural legacy of historic buildings, and majestic cityscape created in a time of great wealth mainly during the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, when Glasgow and its golden age regarded itself as the second city of the Empire. Unfortunately, a lot of these heritage spaces are inaccessible to many people living, working and visiting Glasgow.
According to the Scottish Census of 2011, Glasgow has the highest level of disabled residents compared to other Scottish cities. Looking at the most recent data from Visit Scotland 2021 survey, in Scotland, one in five people is disabled, only 8% of Scottish people with disabilities are wheelchair users, and 70% have disabilities which are invisible.
Access needs are as unique and individual as the person who is requiring them.
And the majority of cases when a space defines itself as fully accessible, it means next to nothing to a person with disabilities. Before going to a new place, 98% of disabled users check accessibility in advance and admit they are most likely to visit a venue if sufficient accessibility information is available, a shocking 75% of people with disabilities feel anxious before visiting a new place, particularly about how to access facilities and hygiene processes and procedures. So we’re also conscious that as we age, this is a growing section of the population. And you have to look at the spending power of disabled households which in 2017, was valued at 249 billion pounds per year. And that is what is known as the Purple Pound.
So what can we do to create spaces that are accessible and inclusive of people with disabilities? And what makes a space truly, fully accessible? And what are the steps to achieve this status.
As Glasgow City Heritage Trust is very conscious of this issue which impacts on how so many Glaswegians can access our heritage, today we have a great guest to discuss this topic and many more: accessibility consultant Emily Rose Yates.
To give an idea of Emily’s background. Emily is a wheelchair user living in Glasgow with eight years experience as an accessibility consultant. Emily first started to volunteer at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. And there was a great quote about Emily from Lord Sebastian Coe, who was the chairman of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games who said about Emily that “In my closing speech at the Paralympic Games in London, I talked about Emily, the games, she said, had lifted the cloud of limitation for people with disability”. So in the back of her experience in London, Emily was invited to Rio de Janeiro by the British Consulate to speak on the importance of access and inclusion of the 2016 Olympic Games. And whilst there she was offered the role as accessibility consultant for Metro Rio, the rapid transit system serving Rio de Janeiro ahead of the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games. So Metro Rio, which first opened in 1979, and you can compare that to Glasgow’s Subway, which opened in 1896. It’s the third oldest in the world. Metro Rio currently has a 58 kilometre network serving 41 stations. So Emily advised on modernisations of existing stations, conducted risk assessments train staff and worked with architects to create plans for an accessible rapid transit line to the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Park.
So Emily is currently working with CCD, or a user centred design agency, and most recently with Heathrow Airport to update their access and inclusion standards, including requirements for disabled staff members for the first time. Emily has also worked with Council of Europe international travel networks, and sits on equality of boards advising Premier League football clubs on their access and inclusion agendas. In addition, Emily has also authorised The Lonely Planet guide to accessible Rio de Janeiro and is currently studying for a PhD in Women’s Studies at the University of York. So welcome to the podcast. Emily.
Thank you so much, and thank you for such a lovely introduction.
It’s an absolute pleasure to have you here. I think, I think your experiences, particularly at Rio De Janeiro are absolutely fascinating. Amazing place to have lived in!
It was it really was, I mean, just the, the vibrancy and the life of the city, it is something that I will never ever forget.
Yes, absolutely. Two cities to have lived in that rollout to the Olympic Games must be quite something. Absolutely.
Okay, well, turning back to Glasgow. generally do you think Glasgow is an accessible city for people with visible and invisible disabilities? And you know, considering its main attractions, such as museums, music, venues, pubs, restaurants, and Glasgow’s public realm as well. What do you think about us?
So I’ve got a bit of a story regarding this I, the first time I actually ever came to Glasgow, I spent two weeks here before the 2014 Commonwealth Games. So I was, I was basically asked to write a bit of an accessible Travel Guide of Glasgow, went in for the first time, and spent two weeks in the city, staying in a different hotel every night, eating at different establishments, going into different venues. And I really did feel that within that two weeks, I’d got to know Glasgow quite well. And that’s what really helped me in my decision a couple of years later, to move to the city.
And when it comes to access and inclusion, I really like to separate it into two different areas if you like. So I think it’s really important to of course, look at physical access within the built environment. But I think it’s also vital to look at something that I call social access. So the mentality and the perception that surrounds disability and how that user experience feels. That’s just as important as ramps and automatic doors and lowered counters and physical access in that sense.
So I think Glasgow really, really stands out in terms of social access, the people are friendly, they’re open. They’re very open to education, a lot of the time learning new things. And I think that was one thing that really, I guess encouraged me to move to the city and celebrate it for what it is now. And if you look at physical access, I think in general, a lot of the museums and culture and heritage institutions are doing a really good job in terms of accessibility.
I think there’s more to be done in terms of nightlife music venues. A lot of the clubs and pubs especially independent ones are like underground, downstairs, things like that. So I have to say that even after living in Glasgow for five years, I have not experienced much of the Glaswegian nightlife. But I have experienced a lot of the arts and culture that the city has to offer.
So I mean, what about things like the underground, now, obviously, I’m very conscious of that.
And also, the railway network too. I was, quite a while ago, involved in trying to save Maxwell Park Station on the Southside, which is a beautiful little B listed kind of wooden two storey station, which is a big flight of steps to get you down to the Cathcart Circle which was putting a cutting all the way through the Southside. So there, there are serious level issues there. And we just couldn’t convince Network Rail at the time to invest in a lift in the station. That was how, again, within the limited confines of that station, did you get a lift in? And, and I think Cathcart Circle, I think it has two lifts on it. So you know, you’re thinking that’s, it’s really not fair on people that you know, you can say something’s accessible actually, there’s only two of the however many stations you can actually use.
Yeah, you have to get a taxi from and so the things like that, that are difficult. And again, with the underground, I mean, you can appreciate because 1896 nobody was thinking like that. So you can appreciate that those, there are those issues then but then when you when you have an opportunity to modernise, it’s the thing is, you’re not just serving a minority audience, you’re actually improving accessibility for everybody. Okay, so and that’s, that’s the key thing to get out of it.
Yeah, I think that’s a really good point. We quite often say that: there’s no such thing as disabled and non disabled people, there’s disabled people and not yet disabled people. And I think when we start thinking with that mentality, you do realise that you are modernising something that will serve everybody, as you say. So that’s a really good point. And yeah, it’s a shame because the subway in Glasgow is so iconic, right? But I’ve never used it. I’ve never been done. I’ve never seen it. And so yeah, I think I think you make a really good point there of how can we make something that is so celebrated and so iconic, in so many ways, be accessible for more people so that they can celebrate it too?
Yeah, definitely very much another good example as well on this, not to dwell too much on it.
But in wearing one of my other hats as the chair of Govanhill Baths Building Preservation Trust, and so we had, we had an accessibility issue that was quite interesting in the way the building currently works is, and this was how it’s originally designed. You had two main entrances, and so they had flights of stairs up to them. So what we wanted to do and obviously there’s been this massive community campaign, which has been going on for like two decades to go to get the building back in use that the board very strongly and this was the Community Trust Board, very strongly who haven’t done this campaign for so long felt that that building should be accessible to absolutely everybody. And there is a disabled ramp up the side of one of the drawers at the moment, but it’s not brilliantly designed, it’s not properly accessible as we would have it now. So we decided to remove that and open up the central window between these two entrances and get our disabled entrance in there. So it was accessible to everybody in Govanhill, that was the point of the gesture.
But what we later realised when we’ve been planning this, was that you came into this kind of central area, and there was a flight of stairs on one side of you and then a wee lift on the other so that disabled people could get up to the level of the pool via that we lift. And it was only after we, we had a meanwhile use in the building. And we were using the pool for helping mothers and babies and young school children learn how to swim. And we realised that there was going to be a major issue with women coming in with prams and that they were all going to have to queue to use that lift rather than use the stairs. And it was going to be a total nightmare and have people queuing out the door. And this just was not going to work. And so we ended up completely redesigning, this was fairly at the last minute, the foyer space to accommodate a proper ramp, so that we could get people up to the level of the pool without having to sit and queue. And that means, you know, it makes the situation better for everybody.
And it’s just about thinking those things through from first principles.
Yeah. And you’ve changed that physical access by looking at the user experience and thinking not just whether it complies to standards or not, which is, sadly, what a lot of people focus on. But you’re also looking at right. Okay, how in reality, is this going to be used? And is that going to be successful in itself? And I think that’s the really important point that’s often at the crux of access and inclusion being successful.
Very much, very much brings me on to my second question, which is, you know, Glasgow has this kind of, you know, fantastic legacy of historic buildings. And although they look amazing, you know, they aren’t quite as accessible, or only partially accessible to people with disabilities. And so how do you think that issue has an impact on the sense of belonging and ownership felt by the disabled community towards heritage and the historic built environment in Glasgow? And you know, what, what does that tell them about the city that they live in?
Well, of course, to say at the very beginning, I’m only one person, so I can only really talk about my experience as as a disabled person living in Glasgow.
But I think it’s, it’s probably quite natural for a lot of disabled people to gravitate towards newness and modern buildings, venues, in terms of new houses, shopping centres, those kind of things. Because when you wake up in the morning, you don’t want to be constantly thinking through every single step, right? Okay, how am I going to make this work for myself, and quite often, you know, whether we like it or not, the kind of new shopping centres, new cinemas, those kind of things, do provide that access, where you don’t constantly have to be second guessing yourself every single time.
But I think what’s really, really important when it comes to Glasgow and historic buildings is, first of all that social access that I mentioned, and that, that friendliness and approachability of the people.
But secondly, I think it’s a lot to do with how historic venues and buildings advertise what we can offer and advertise that in an honest way. So what I mean by that is, if you, as a museum, a venue, don’t have a hearing or induction loop, for example, let people know that you don’t. And then they have the autonomy and the independence to make their own decision as to whether they will visit or not.
I think one of the problems that we have so often when it comes to access and inclusion in cities in particular, because different venues are so often in competition with each other about how many visitors they get in and things like that, is that more often than not people aren’t honest about what they can offer and what they can’t. So you’ve got a lot of disabled people that are turning up at the door, and maybe not having as much of a positive experience because they just didn’t have the information that they required to make that decision pre arrival as to whether or not it would suit them.
So I think here when we’re looking at competing venues in cities, not just Glasgow but, but everywhere in the UK and internationally, it’s just about being honest about where you’re at in terms of access and inclusion, what your aims and goals are for the next kind of short and long term.
And also just allowing disabled people to make their own decisions, because those, those with lived experiences are going to be experts in that lived experience. And that’s okay. That’s how it should be.
That reminds me of a recent PR disaster, which was with Emirates Arena, or Stadium in the East End. And that was being used as canting Centre for the Scottish parliamentary elections. And there was a disabled, MSP Pam (Duncan-Glancy), her surname escapes me at the moment.
But there was an issue with her where she couldn’t get access to the account. Because of that, and obviously, you know, it was really, it was a shocking experience, of course, she was tweeting about it. And it was just you know, that and that kind of disconnection. You’re absolutely right, that, you know, if you if you knew in advance, you could make those choices. But that choice was denied from her, and it just sends this totally wrong message absolutely at the wrong time. I’m sure everyone was mortified about it. And she actually handled the whole thing with really good grace. But it was, you know, that’s, it’s, we need to avoid situations like that. Because it’s exclusionary?
Yeah, it is. And you’re absolutely right in what you say. And that, that decision is then taken away from disabled people. And that’s what we want to avoid. We want to be bringing as much empowerment and decision making process into the hands of people with lived experiences as we possibly can. And that counts within physical access, social access, whether you’re looking at historic buildings, new builds, whatever it may be, that’s really important to remember. But Wow, that that is quite a shocking story. And yeah, well done her for handling it with such good grace.
Absolutely. Okay, so talking about heritage and representation, do you think that there is still a lot to be done in this field to allow disabled, the disabled community to enjoy art and heritage in safety and comfort?
I think representation is such an interesting one. And I think when I look at particular venues, very rarely do I see images of disabled people on the website on social media, there’s often an access statement that tells me how high a counter is or how wide the door is, but very rarely do I witness disabled people enjoying the space or being invited to speak at certain event, whatever it may be.
And I think there’s a long way to go here in terms of making sure that disabled people feel welcomed into a particular venue, because they can see that other people like them have enjoyed it. And that would definitely make a difference for me as a wheelchair user. If I knew that, okay, this particular venue has had disabled people to speak at an event or they’ve held an accessible wedding, or whatever it might be. I think it’s really important when that happens to advertise it.
And to really show how important and valuable that representation can be because I am nearly 30 years old, and I’ve grown up really without having any kind of disabled role model because I’ve grown up in a time where disabled people weren’t really on TV, they weren’t really in magazines. The Paralympics only really started to get properly famous when I was young, and you started to have in Para olympians that, okay, started to go on TV and things like that. So it’s lovely to..
London really made a difference there.
It really did. It really did. Yeah, it did make a difference. And it’s lovely to see that now that’s happening, you know, there are characters in TV shows that just so happened to be disabled is not even part of their character role. And that’s, yeah.
That’s exactly how it should be.
It really is. But I think when we’re looking at venue websites, and their social media and how they present themselves to potential visitors, we could really up the ante in terms of disability representation there.
Okay. According to recent research, only 30% of people with disabilities in Scotland have a visible disability. So how do you think people with invisible disabilities like neurodivergent people, as people with cognitive learning and neurological impairments, how do you think they experienced the city?
This is a really interesting question, and I’ve got to put my accessibility consultant hat on a little bit here because I’m not neurodivergent personally.
But I think you made a really good point Niall in the, in the introduction when you said that actually only 8% of disabled people are wheelchair users, you got another 92% of people that, yes might have some kind of physical impairment, but they might have a hidden impairment, they might be neurodivergent, they might have a sensory issue or a cognitive issue.
And I think quite a lot of the time, when we think about access and inclusion, we are still thinking about physical access for wheelchair users. And honestly, not really going much further than that. And I think part of my job is to now make the clients that I work with aware that there are different groups of people with different impairments and absolutely different needs.
And there’s also a very real accessibility hierarchy, if you like that exists. So a really good example of the accessibility hierarchy and how those needs clash is, for example, somebody with a visual impairment will absolutely require tactile flooring to get about safely to cross the road. Yes, for a wheelchair user like me, that tiled tile floor, it is a bit of a nightmare for me to to reverse but, absolutely as it should be their need for safety, comfort. And actually, actually, the preservation of life, in some instances, is much more important than my discomfort for five seconds. So I think we’ve also got to be aware of this accessibility hierarchy that exists. And when we focus only on people with physical impairments, often we make life much harder for neurodivergent people in particular.
So what can venues do about this? Well, have you made sure that your staff are trained to be proactive in offering assistance, not just somebody that looks visibly disabled, but anybody that looks like it might be struggling or might just need a bit of an extra hand?
Can you offer out sunflowers lanyards, so people can demonstrate that they might need a bit of assistance, if that’s something that they want to do, they shouldn’t have to, but if they want to, they can. What about if you are a museum or a gallery, offering something like sensory kits, where you’ve got ear defenders, where you’ve got fidget spinners, where you’ve got perhaps a bit of advertisement for a quiet area, or a sensory room within your establishment, these things are all things that you can do, where you don’t have to shout about it, you can do it in a nice, dignified way that allows these people that might need a bit of extra help, or might need a certain area to go to, that ability to do so. And I think that’s really the crux of it. Yes, it’s really important that we look at physical access in the built environment. But it’s also important that we look at what are people feeling when they experience our venues? And how does that translate? If you are neurodivergent? If you’ve got a sensory impairment, or a cognitive impairment, what can we do to make your life a bit easier and make your experience more enjoyable?
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I mean, I was conscious, because I’m an architect and conscious that as part of my training, and I remember, kind of being disappointed in kind of this was in the in the 1990s, when we first started really probably having to think about these things.
There is a building that I love by Edwin Lutyens the great Edwardian architect, his Midland Bank Building in London has this fantastic, really grand flight of marble stairs in it, but he does every stair as kind of black and white. If you’re visually impaired. I mean, it looked magnificent. But if you’re visually impaired, What a nightmare. And that was like oh, can’t do that anymore. And it was like, that’s a bit disappointing. But then you have to think about people’s experiences. And for some people that would be really, really jarring and uncomfortable. And they would find it really stressful and difficult using that stare.
And it’s funny because it came back to me. Two years ago, I was visiting a venue in North Lanarkshire, which is big sports complex on the former Ravenscraig site, and has this really unusual design where it’s kind of got these big steel sheds, but they’re all angled. And it was really weird because you were on the level approaching the entrance. But because all the elevations are kind of angled away from you that your brain is telling you that you’re actually going downhill, but you’re on the level. And it was so disorienting, I actually was feeling nauseous coming up to the centres and I’m thinking for people that really would have you know, neurodivergent issues and everything that must be incredibly jarring for them and when that’s the main entrance of the building, how many people actually get put off by that and find that a really discomforting experience. And it’s not pleasant when you’re made to feel uncomfortable like that. So you do have to be really acutely conscious about these issues.
Totally. And I think you’ve hit a really important point there of almost function versus form. Yeah, and I think this is something that is so often go wrong when it comes to accessing inclusion. So you talk about the black and white marble floor, which sounds absolutely amazing. But you know, whether you’re visually impaired or whether you’ve got dementia, for example, yeah, any kind of pattern on the floor can be really jarring, and, and actually really upsetting for a lot of people.
So how do we make sure that whatever, whatever accessible environments that we’re creating, don’t look like hospital rooms, don’t look clinical, that also, like you say, have those considerations in place so that any form that is created in terms of aesthetic is also inclusive? And I think you’re absolutely right, that’s where we need to now create that next building block to make people aware of that.
Okay, right. Next up, I’m going to read out a statement before I go on to the question, and this is about the Purple Pound, which I referred to earlier. So the Purple Pound refers to the spending power of disabled households, a disabled household is a household in which at least one of the members has a disability, and in Scotland has a total market value of £ 1.3 3,000,000,0 – 98% of people check accessibility and advanced before going to a new place. Okay, and 81% of those do so from a website, 75% of people feel anxious before visiting a new place, and 98% are more likely to visit to venue if there is accessibility information in the place. And this is all this data available from the Visit Scotland survey back in 2021. I mentioned earlier.
So do you think that this data matches with the effort that businesses put into being fully accessible? And if not, why do you think that’s the case?
That’s such a good question. And I think the heart of this matter, and the heart of the Purple Pound, and the whole purpose of the Purple Pound, if you like, is to prove that access and inclusion is no longer a kind and an ethical thing to do. It’s a savvy, good profitable business model. Because disabled people aren’t just people that you should kindly care to for, because you think you’re doing the right thing and being lovely. They’re people that you should cater for, because we’re good loyal customers, who actually when we have a positive, accessible experience, will come to your venue again, and again and again. And we will tell our deaf and disabled friends about it, we’ll tell our friends and family about it. And we will help build profit, build publicity, whatever it may be about your particular venue.
And I think when it comes to businesses and what they’re doing now, I do think that, that cultural change is starting to happen. And businesses are realising that actually, we can’t just do this because we think it’s the right thing. We need to do this because it will help us financially as a business as well. And I want to be seen as a disabled customer that can bring positive elements to a business and help it to run. I don’t just want to be seen as this burden this person that, Okay, we’ve got to do this because we have to look after disabled people.
Yeah, yes, done in a resentful way. Yeah.
And, you know, I work hard, I’ve got money to spend, a lot of my disabled friends feel the same way. And so I do think that’s an important step. And I do think that Purple Pounders, hugely, hugely helped with that culture change. And what do I think the next steps could be with that? And where are we? Where are we perhaps going wrong? I think that there’s still very much focus on this external forward facing disabled visitor or disabled passenger experience.
And I think it’s still taken a lot of time for businesses and organisations to think about disabled staff members. So thinking about inclusive recruitment, thinking about what the experience of their staff members would be, if they were disabled. And I think there’s still a long way to go to almost merge that disabled person, the idea of the disabled person as a loyal consumer, to seeing that disabled person as a really hard working capable employee or colleague. And I think when we get there will have done a good job.
Yes, yeah. As you’re seeing, seeing someone as a proper rounded individual.
Yes. It is taking a bit of a while to almost put those jigsaw pieces together in terms of this disabled person being seen as that full rounded figure. And we, we are getting there, slowly but surely.
Good, good, good, right. My next question is more kind of mental wellbeing issues, which it is something that really interests me. And the kind of historic built environment is one of my motivators for being involved. And it’s very much like sir Harry Burns, when he talks about the kind of the damage that was done to Glasgow, in the 1960s, 70s and early 80s, in terms of the demolition of whole swathes of the city and the dislocation, that people felt about that when the entire surroundings were suddenly removed.
So talking about that, and kind of, you know, the historic environment, and how it surrounds you, it does have a major impact on people. And so I’m interested in how much of an impact you think being able to be in a kind of beautiful historic environment can have on the mental health and well being of people with disabilities?
I think it’s absolutely huge. I mean, the short answer, I think it can have an absolutely huge positive impact. And I think what’s really special and spectacular about Glasgow as a city, is the wealth of education information that you are able to almost glean from these different organisations, institutions, venues, regardless of what your interests are.
So I think taking away from disabled people for a second, we’re not just disabled people, we’re also people that have interests and have preferences and want to do things just like anybody else. And I think looking at those different organisations and venues and thinking about whatever preference you might have, whatever you might be interested in within Glasgow, you can you can find it, you can find some information about it, you can really almost hone your interests and build on them and develop them. And I think regardless of whether you’re disabled or not, being able to do that, and further that education, and that interest is absolutely vital.
And I think that’s something that within the last year, with the pandemic, I’ve definitely realised that I’ve missed, and I didn’t quite realise how much I engaged with that side of myself as a disabled person. And I’ve really, really missed it. And I’m absolutely desperate to go back to museums and galleries more than I am to go and have a drink. I’ll be totally honest I am. Because I don’t think in a city like Glasgow, I don’t think you realise how much is on offer until it’s taken away from you.
Oh, absolutely, absolutely couldn’t couldn’t agree more. Yeah, it’s it’s, it has been an eye opening experience and to see in a wander through deserted streets in the city centre. In earlier parts of the lockdown, was, was really shocking, because it’s like, where is everybody? You know, actually, you begin to realise how much you do connect with everybody.
And Glasgow is such a warm, friendly city from that point of view that. Yeah, suddenly that not being there, and everyone being kind of isolated and atomised in their own homes. Yeah, you really do miss that kind of social field, which everybody should be able to participate in.
Absolutely. And I think looking back at the disabled experience, if you are perhaps unable to, I don’t know, if taking a walk through Glasgow Green is too much and too difficult. And there’s not enough places to maybe sit down and rest and recuperate. And you just wouldn’t normally do that by yourself, maybe you feel slightly vulnerable doing that on your own. I think that’s where culture and heritage venues really do come in, because I would feel more comfortable go into the GoMA or go into the Kelvingrove than I would go in on a hike by myself.
And I think it allows this engagement with a beautiful environment that’s slightly different to perhaps what other people experience, but is just as valuable. And I think if we can almost tap into that a little bit more, and make people realise how valuable that is for disabled people or, or elderly people or parents with children who want to keep an eye on them or people who feel maybe slightly vulnerable going into open spaces on their own. I think those are the kind of things that we really need to start looking into and and seeing what our positive impacts that can have.
Right. So what would your advice be to venues and places to make their space more accessible to everybody? I mean, that’s apart from you know, making disabled users, active participants in planning and designing spaces. What would your advice be?
Yeah, so you hit on a really important point there. If engaging people with lived experience as much as possible, you know whether, whether that is in helping design and plan or whether that’s being a member of a user group or a focus group and giving ideas of their own lived experience to help that design and planning. I think another really big thing is, wherever possible, don’t just depend on the compliance of accessibility standards, go above and beyond them wherever you can.
So I have a lot of clients that say, right, okay, are we are we compliant with approved document part Emily? Are we compliant with BS8300 ? All right, that’s all done then! See you later see in a few years, and they don’t really think about how you can go above and beyond.
And again, I know I keep coming back to it, but how that experience will actually feel for people.
Yes, your ramp might be at the correct gradient. But what will that experience feel like for people, so I think, going above and beyond and engaging with those people with lived experience, wherever is absolutely vital. I think the next thing is making sure that you never, ever consider access and inclusion to just be a tick box exercise. So something you have to do, again, that’s going back to the Purple pound, isn’t it, and seeing it as something that’s aspirational, is something that will actually bring you value as a business or a venue as well.
And I also think, wherever possible, try and build empathy and understanding along the way. So a lot of the time people read, I don’t know, a technical standards, and they look for compliance. And it really is just sentences that people know that they’ve got to comply with, but they don’t really under the dot here at the time to build empathy and understanding around why that is so important. For somebody who’s experienced why this will make such a difference to somebody’s experience.
So I think the biggest bit of advice that I could give to venues that want to make themselves more accessible is take that time to build that empathy, whether that’s getting somebody in who’s you know, a disabled person, with lived experience to talk about it, whether it’s making sure that your staff are trained in disability awareness and communication, whatever it may be, make sure that that empathy is, is really kind of at the heart of whatever you do. Because those standards are brilliant, and making sure that you’ve kind of complied with everything that you need to do is brilliant. But that doesn’t automatically equal inclusion.
Absolutely, it’s about thinking yourself into another person’s kind of experience. And absolutely so critical. I remember again, this is going back to the 90s. And when Buchanan Galleries opened, and I was speaking back then to a disability consultant about that, who was trying to teach young architects about how to visualise the city, and to, to think about what other people’s experience of going around the city was actually like in that kind of small difficulties you would get in various places. But the totality of that experience gradually adds up. And one thing he was pointing out in Buchanan Galleries was fantastic. Somebody put in a huge ramp here for everybody. But has anyone actually ever tried to wheel themselves up it? Because it’s a total nightmare.
And you have to be like, you have to have this incredible physical fitness and stamina to be able to do it, because it’s like the world’s longest ramp. So it’s thinking through things like that is is is absolutely key, and that, as a designer, you should be able to do that you should be able to project yourself into kind of other people’s experiences and be able to understand that should be a key facet of your skill set.
Yes. Agreed. Agreed. Absolutely.
So what in your opinion makes a building or venue truly accessible?
Oh, good question. I think ultimately, for me, I could go into the most physically accessible venue in the whole entire world, it could have brilliant accessible parking provisions, step free access, lower curbs, it could have even a help point or information point outside, lower counters everything that I would need in terms of my physical environment.
But if I am not treated well, as a disabled person, once I’m in that venue, and if that mentality and perception of disability is not positive, then that physical access often means very little to me. So I would say the thing, the thing for me that’s really at the heart of everything is making sure that again, like I said that empathy is there, that understanding of the user experience is there.
And staff ultimately feel confident and comfortable in being proactive in assisting me, but also have the ability to empathise with my experience. Work with disabled colleagues, and also be aspirational wherever possible in how they continue to educate themselves around access and inclusion, and the disabled customers and colleagues that they come across in everyday life. I think to me, that’s kind of everything. And I would like to think that even if something wasn’t physically accessible, I could always ask somebody, and they would help me. And I feel like we’re very lucky in Glasgow, that I always feel like I can ask somebody and I can get a friendly answer, and somebody will probably, you know, tell me their life story at the same time.
Absolutely. First time I ever came to Glasgow when I was eight. And it was with my dad, and we went into what was then Lewis’s Department Store and is now, became Debenhams. And I was brought up in Hong Kong and people can be kind of wee bit standoffish in Hong Kong but not too bad.
But I remember stepping into a lift with my dad and this guy turning to my dad and given that remember, and the weather and his entire life story in like five seconds. If I come to, and yes, absolutely what I value about Glaswegians because they are incredibly friendly. And we’ll get your life story out of you just like that. I really appreciate that openness. And that is is so key in a situation like this.
So finally, what is your favourite building in Glasgow and why? And what would it tell you if its walls good talk?
It’s tough and I’ve been thinking about this for a little while I’ll be honest, and I think I’m gonna have to go with what’s probably a huge cliche, because and I say this because every time I turn Argyle Street and see the Kelvingrove. It literally and physically takes my breath away every single time, especially if I see it on a beautiful sunny day. The people enjoying the grounds outside and having their picnics. I just absolutely adore it. So that’s probably a bit of a cliche, but that’s how I feel.
It’s a good choice. I love the Kelvingrove, it’s fabulous, it is brilliant, its great sculptures on it, it’s, it’s such a warm friendly space and I love that you know you go into the kind of the central heart of it and it is when the organs plays and everybody stands around and when, when David Bowie died they did Space Oddity on the organ, wow!
It’s just amazing. It’s lovely. It’s such a great space. Yeah, so it does feel like everybody’s welcome in that space.
Yes, it really does. I think you’re absolutely, absolutely right. And I recently went went to the Linda McCartney exhibition there as well and I absolutely loved that so I’m always looking out for the for the new little exhibitions that go in on the Kelvingrove as well but yeah, I really adore it and i think it’s ,it’s pretty good for access as well.
And if its walls could talk, what would they say? I mean, I think it’s held so many events, so many weddings, I’ve, I’ve been there to speak about disability and relationships. For example, they hold so many brilliant events for different charities and NGOs. And we’ve helped so many different exhibitions from so many different fabulous people that I think it will be able to probably gossip about every single person that has visited it. I think it would have so many stories to tell you know we we talk about how Glaswegians are very quick to tell us their life stories.
The Kelvingrove heard them all, he is heard them all. So I would be very interested to say well, what different bits of information the Kelvingrove will be able to gossip about.
Absolutely. Well, thank you very much, Emily, that was a real pleasure talking to you and to our listeners. If you enjoyed this episode. Please subscribe and share. And don’t forget to follow the hashtag #IGlasgowsWallsCouldTalk. Thank you very much.
Glasgow City Heritage Trust is an independent charity and grant funder that promotes the understanding, appreciation and conservation of Glasgow’s historic built environment. Do you want to know more? Have a look at our website at glasgowheritage.org.uk and follow us on social media @GlasgowHeritage. This podcast was produced by Inner Ear for Glasgow City Heritage Trust. This podcast is kindly sponsored by the National Trust for Scotland and supported by Tunnock’s.