Michelle Young, accessibility co-ordinator at Birmingham 2022, explains why accessibility is paramount and how organisers can make their events more accessible and inclusive
Birmingham 2022’s accessibility department is comprised of a team of three. Yet, the small team has one of the biggest tasks ahead of it; to make Birmingham 2022 the most accessible Commonwealth Games in history. Michelle Young, accessibility coordinator at Birmingham 2022, works with Emma Clueit-Ord, head of access, and Chris Massam, access coordinator. Together, they advise every function and department within the Games’ organising committee on every aspect of access you can imagine.
For example, one day, Young might be training colleagues about autism awareness, and the next she could be advising on digital and large print menus for visually impaired and Blind customers. The breadth of work and consultancy required for such a large event is huge; but it’s necessary and one that Young is relishing. She is keen to make every person attending the Games feel included and that they have been thought about.
“We want this to be a Games for all,” she explained. In fact, the large-scale sporting event, which takes place from July 28 to August 8, is set to have the largest integrated Para sport programme in the history of the Games, with Para athletics and Para swimming events added for the first time.
Unlike the Olympics and Paralympics, which factor in a period of time for venues to be turned round and adapted for athletes and audiences with accessibility needs, Birmingham 2022 has considered a myriad of needs now so that everyone attending the event – athletes, employees, volunteers, officials, spectators, and media – can have a safe, exciting, and dignified experience.
For example, Young, Clueit-Ord, and Massam have worked with CSM Live on wayfinding by assessing pictograms and symbols used on signage for food and drink outlets and toilets. Website accessibility and accessible documentation has been a big focus too, as has advice on viewing platforms and distances between seats and toilets, for instance. There will be British Sign Language interpretation at key ceremonies, and disabled people can apply for a ticket for a companion without having to send in proof.
GET ACCESSIBILITY RIGHT
According to Purple, an organisation dedicated to reducing levels of inequality between disabled and non-disabled people, in the UK alone, the consumer spending power of 13.8 million disabled people and their families – the Purple Pound – equates to £249 billion a year. Therefore, the disability market is too big and important to be ignored.
Young explained that Birmingham 2022 is the first Commonwealth Games to have a dedicated access function. It acts as a consultant to the organisation and ensures that details within the event’s Accessibility and Inclusion Commitment [The BIG Standard] are being met.
Training is vital and it is a large part of Young’s job. In fact, we meet not long after she has delivered a “ways of working” training session to Games’ employees on different types of visual impairments and accessibility considerations, such as preparing people for the realities of working with guide dogs and how to guide a visually impaired or Blind person. Young uses aids to demonstrate the different conditions experienced by people living with a visual impairment so that others can appreciate how much more stressful day- to-day tasks, such as travelling, can be.
“A lot of my job is about being approachable and knowledgeable,” Young continued. “Everyone wants to get accessibility right; they just need to be nudged along.”
PUT ACCESS AT THE FOREFRONT
Birmingham 2022 currently holds Bronze in the Deaf-friendly Standard, it has put in evidence of its work to be gain Silver certification and hopes to achieve the Gold standard before the Games begin. It is proof of all the hard work that is being done behind the scenes to ensure equality and inclusion.
“I am a big attender of concerts, but people always think about wheelchairs and not about providing digital menus and large print menus,” Young added.
Young is registered blind and uses a guide dog, Hugo the German Shepherd. She uses her lived experiences to educate and train people within Birmingham 2022 about how to make the Games experience better for people living with additional access needs.
Prior to joining the access team, Young was a volunteer recruitment and selection coordinator for Birmingham 2022; a role she enjoyed immensely. She also has experience of volunteering at Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.
She said: “I came on board with the Commonwealth Games in May 2021. I had worked in volunteer recruitment but as the Games moves from planning to delivery, everyone moves roles. I wanted to pick mine; I had lived experiences and having worked in accessibility; I went for it.”
Young aims to give everyone that she meets some basic knowledge of how you should behave around a guide dog and how you should guide someone who is Blind or has a visual impairment. Access and laws surrounding guide dogs continue to be misunderstood.
“With the arrival of the Equality Act, organisers and businesses were made more aware of their legal obligations, but there is still a lack of knowledge and resistance to put access at the forefront.
“The scope of my role encompasses so much. It’s the most challenging job I have ever done. One month within the Games is like three months in any other job; everything is new and there’s one big immovable deadline.”
But when it comes to live events and access, what advice does Young have for other organisers? “Prioritise access, the way you would any other mandatory requirement such as RIDDOR or building regs, and train your staff,” she concluded.