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Putting accessibility on the map

1st May 2017

NGCV is working with North East charity, Friends Action NE, to promote a new service which aims to make it easier for people with accessibility needs to visit and review venues across the region.

Friends Action North East, (FANE) is a charity based in Ouseburn, Newcastle upon Tyne, which has been supporting people in the North East with learning disabilities and/or Autism, helping them to make and keep friendships since 2004.

FANE has developed the Community Map and North East Accessibility Rating (NEAR), as a pan-disability, online resource for people to find out about the accessibility of venues across the North East. It allows people to find out information online before they visit, use the guide to plan places to visit then rate and review them based on their experiences.  

The new online rating system is similar to the likes of Trip Advisor, but with a strong focus on accessibility information, service and the whole experience.  There are over five thousand North East venues already listed, each displaying a range of detailed accessibility information. These venues are being regularly rated and reviewed by the public and that feeds into the North East Accessibility Rating. 2017 will see the top accessibility ratings presented with an award to businesses achieving the best accessibility. This will help champion social access across the region. The NEAR award winners will be announced in 2017.

NGCV has been working with FANE to find out how they can ensure the 20 venues that are operated by the partners across Tyneside have quality information and links on the website and are encouraging visitors to use the online rating system.  All NGCV partners have already achieved the Equality Standard Gold Award for the second time running from Equality North East, which is a nationally recognised standard demonstrating the highest level of equality and diversity practice across the organisations and for the visiting public.   

Sally Evans, Project Manager, Friends Action North East, said: “As more and more people use the internet to find suitable places, we hope that this new service will empower people to be able to create independent friendships in their local communities.   There are many barriers people face when making sustainable friendships, and finding accessible venues is one of them.  Other important factors that discouraged disabled potential consumers are staff that are not disability confident, rude or who appear prejudiced.  Businesses can display a ‘Please Rate Us’ badge in their window or door to encourage the people who use their space to rate the venue on our pan-disability community map. We will also be presenting the businesses with the top accessibility ratings, with an award in order to champion social access across our region.”

A ‘Get Out There Group’ of FANE staff and volunteers, meet regularly at different venues to enable them to review venues from an accessibility perspective and add their comments to the online Community Map.  Access is a very important issue for businesses wanting to attract customers. There are over 10 million people with a limiting long term illness, impairment or disability in the UK, with a combined spending power in excess of £212 billion.

Warren, a service user, stated: “I find the community map really useful. It’s got picture icons that show me access information like disabled toilets and if somewhere is a safe place.** I can access it on my phone which means I can use it on the go which makes me not worry so much about visiting new places.”

Mark, another service user, said: “The information on the community map that tells me if a place is too busy or noisy-this is very important to me. I like that I can review a place I visit to tell other people about the things that I would like to know.”

Tyneside Cinema is one of the NGCV partners that has worked closely with FANE to champion people’s individual accessibility needs, making them feel a safe and valued customer and overall having a better inclusive social experience. After visiting the Tyneside Cinema several times the group provided the venue with feedback to inform them of their specific needs to access their venue.

This also has led to some of the cinema’s volunteers becoming ‘volunteer cinema buddies’ and undertaking training to support people to access their cinema. Volunteers on the 1:1 mentoring friendship programme have free entry to the cinema when they are supporting someone to access the Tyneside, as does any carer supporting someone with access needs.

Tyneside Cinema’s Audience and Outreach Development officer, Chris Anderson, said: “Accessibility at Tyneside Cinema is about ensuring we do as much as we can to make sure our venue can be used and enjoyed by as many people as possible, regardless of any difference in physical ability or additional need. As well as being an accessible building we also place a very high value on our staff development. Investing in our staff training helps everyone working at the Cinema understand the range of different needs of our customers. Understanding accessibility, continuing to learn about it and continuing to work alongside other organisations and customers, helps us become a successful organisation.”

FANE's Top Tips to making a venue accessible are:

1.       List it on the Community Map

2.       Support and train staff

3.       Be creative with space

4.       Check signs and symbols

5.       Write a bespoke social access guide

6.       Engage with customers to find out their experience of your business

7.       Take part in Disabled Access Day to promote your business


Further information:


Friends Action North East (FANE) is a Newcastle based charity (Registered charity number 1127153) that champions social inclusion for adults with a learning disability and autism by supporting them to make and keep friendships. Founded in 2004, FANE has worked closely with people and their supporters to develop a successful model of supporting friendship and building meaningful social networks to create independent friendships in their local communities.www.friendsaction.co.uk

Safe Places is a nationwide scheme which helps people with learning disabilities deal with any incident that takes place whilst they are out and about in the community.  If for whatever reason a person with a learning disability becomes distressed e.g. loses a bus pass, has something stolen or is a victim of a hate crime, they would look for a Safe Place, which would be identified by a Safe Place sticker. The person will carry a ‘Blue card’ which identifies them as disabled, which they will show to staff in the Safe Place. Staff will enquire of them what the issue is and then call the family member or supporter’s number on the Blue card or the Police, if it is a hate crime.

** Newcastle’s Safe Place Scheme is run by ‘Better Days’. Friends Action North East have been very supportive in promoting the Safe Places scheme in Newcastle on their community map. This allows people who are not familiar with Newcastle an easy route to finding a Safe Place and thus feeling safe when they visit.

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