Making a Games For All - and setting a standard for accessibility
Seating for assistance dogs, Changing Places toilets, specialist quiet areas, charging points for wheelchairs and panel sessions with sign-language interpreters.
Five items chosen almost at random from a list that could would run to pages, demonstrating the lengths taken to ensure Birmingham 2022 was not only the most accessible Commonwealth Games but also a standard bearer for any major event.
But, rewinding to when Birmingham was awarded the Games, there was not an obvious blueprint to follow, either from previous Commonwealth Games or even other major events.
Our aim was to not only ensure accessibility was at the heart of Birmingham 2022, but also to ensure other events of any size could learn from our best practice.
How did we achieve that and what legacy has been left? This blog explores those topics, but also gives insight into how any event can be made accessible to all.
One key tip to start? Think about accessibility pretty much before you think about anything else. Fail to do this and you - and more importantly your end users - are in for a world of difficulty.
Start with People
We started this post with a list of ‘things’ that help make an event accessible, but this is not how to approach the work. You cannot simply pull a working group together and brainstorm what accessibility looks like, however common that approach might be.
Instead, the process starts with people, ensuring that everyone has the chance to contribute, be that as employee, volunteer or in forums such as accessibility panels.
Those panels, whereby you discuss accessibility questions and concerns, are a great starting point - a chance to hear a range of voices and learn what would need to happen to make an event accessible.
Or we should say they can be this great start, but only if the panels themselves are accessible, Is there a step-free route to the meeting room, can a sign language interpreter be provided if required, can any documents be provided in alternate formats? We provide a guide to creating accessibility panels at (LINK)
The voices you need to hear to make your undertaking accessible might be the very voices you don’t hear unless you ensure this first stage is truly accessible.
The solid foundations also extend to where will roles both paid and voluntary, be posted. We used a variety of channels, these including disability job boards. Other initiatives included an ability for flexibility with applications, for instance allowing video submissions rather than the traditional - but for some inaccessible - written form.
Questions and answers became a cornerstone of our approach - and for some of the tougher questions we were asked, answers were not always instant. They required thought, but led us to create a Games more accessible than any predecessor.
It is certainly better to hear forthright views early on saying ‘you need to do this’ than hear them post event saying ‘you should have done this’.
Questions enabled us to look at an end point and work backwards.
If a visitor to the Games has accessibility requirements. How do they get to their seat? Is their room for their companion or assistance dog? How do they get to the venue? How have they applied for seats (was the website fully accessible?), how were they made to feel it was worth applying for tickets, perhaps past major events have not been a pleasant experience.
It is the height of arrogance to assume you have all the questions, again listening to people is essential. Find the questions they need answering and ensure solutions are found.
While the Accessibility Team for Birmingham 2022 had overall responsibility for ensuring all elements were available to all, this is not a task that can be wholly devolved to one team or individual. The buck stopped with us, but the work wasn’t ours alone.
The team or person in charge can share best practice and monitor performance, but each area must follow this question-led approach, a failing of some previous global events perhaps that accessibility was not a thread running through every decision.
A huge task of making an event accessible can be made a number of smaller, achievable tasks.
The team in charge of venues worked with us to ensure entrances were accessible, there was step-free access, doorways were sufficiently wide, ramped access was provided and those performing searches were trained in being dignified given non-visible accessibility requirements. And these just a small selection of steps undertaken.
Further sub divisions allowed us to check every aspect had been considered. Was the ticketing process accessible, were suitable tickets available (visual impairment seating, access to British Sign Language Interpreters, Assistance Dog seating) - and were those tickets able to choose in an accessible manner. Speaking of those assistance dogs, was there toileting areas for them - by Games time, there was.
Our Marketing and Communications Team was a further example, creating website and social content that was accessible, making video with subtitles, captions or sign language interpretation.
One innovative element was to have an ‘accessibility toolbar’ on the Birmingham 2022 site, this making it straightforward for users to change the font size, colour and other elements as best suited to their needs - with read aloud functionality also enabled.
The Legacy We Leave
Casting our minds back all those months to when Birmingham was awarded the 2022 Games, we had two aims - to deliver a Games that truly was the most accessible seen, but also to ensure a legacy of greater inclusivity.
The wonderful inclusive spectacle that was both the Games and the surrounding festivities, with events enjoyed by all was the visible success of this first aim.
However, what of legacy?
We approached the task with little in the way of existing documentation or guides to best practice, as we progressed we documented our findings and used these to produce guides which can be used when managing any event of any scale.
We created a Commonwealth Games that can set the standard for all future editions in relation to accessibility, and indeed other sporting events too.
However, perhaps the best legacy will be to go somewhat unnoticed. Accessibility will just happen at events, it will be an area that is thought of from the very beginning at the core of planning, not factored in through late panic.
The less accessibility is notably missing, the more it just happens, the greater our legacy.