Flintshire tourism businesses are being urged to sign up for a major campaign to help them capitalize on the spending of visitors with disabilities or additional needs.
Mum-of-three Davina Carey-Evans, whose 27-year-old son Benjamin has severe autism, said she had spent her life visiting leisure attractions with her son only to realize when she arrived that they weren’t suited to his needs.
As the new High Sheriff of Gwynedd, Davina is determined to help businesses improve accessibility so that other families – especially those with hidden disabilities – can take advantage of the full range of North Walesexcellent leisure facilities.
Davina, originally from Criccieth and now based in Anglesey with a background in events and marketing, set up PIWS (Welsh for purple) as a community benefit company to help businesses harness the purchasing power of people with disabilities UK.
In partnership with the national charity Nimbus Disability, it has launched a new campaign to raise awareness and register the access card with the hospitality and leisure industry in North Wales.
The card quickly and discreetly informs leisure providers about the assistance cardholders may need to access their attractions and services through a range of handicap or impairment symbols.
The card acts as a “passport for people with disabilities” and sensitively highlights barriers visitors may face and reasonable adjustments business owners may need to make to accommodate them.
The campaign was unveiled at M-Sparc Science Park on Anglesey is supported by families with additional needs who will benefit from greater access to North Wales‘ leisure attractions.
Davina said: ‘I’ve spent my whole life trying to visit places where people only cared about wheelchair users. This is one of the reasons why I created PIWS, which represents the so-called ‘purple book’ – the purchasing power of people with disabilities in the UK.
“Accessible tourism is worth around £15billion a year in the UK alone and yet only 10% of businesses in Wales – if that – target this audience.
“Companies are afraid to say they take care of a disability because they don’t want to be wrong, but it’s easier to do nothing.
“Leisure companies need to offer more than just a policy or mission statement on their website without really understanding what it means. It’s not about giving anyone a hard time. Mindsets have to change.
“What we’re trying to create with PIWS is an opportunity for businesses to start their journey in a realistic way that they can manage without huge expenses and using the tools that we put in place.
“As they gain that trust, PIWS and people with disabilities will support them constructively.”
Davina has run a pilot project on Anglesey over the past year which has involved the launch of a PIWS holiday club offering quiet and safe spaces for families with additional needs in popular locations and including the show Anglesey Annual.
The Club has already registered over 100 families and the number continues to grow.
“PIWS represents a safe space for families, but it’s also important to reach out to businesses and help them understand that they need to cater to these audiences and become more inclusive,” Davina said.
“Our families visit places all year round and it’s important for me to understand and listen to their challenges and whether it’s still as bad as when my kids were growing up and sadly it seems to be.
“I’m a family of five and you wouldn’t think there were two members of my family with additional needs. You couldn’t tell them from a photograph.
“My son has autism. He doesn’t speak and has dual care. It was very difficult for him growing up, but you wouldn’t know how to look at him.
“I have another son, Oscar, who has ADHD and really struggled in school. He ended up with a condition called ulcerative colitis where the colon becomes inflamed. He then contracted diabetes from type 1 and had to have his entire colon removed Interestingly, when he asks for a sugar free drink he rarely gets it which has serious life threatening consequences for a diabetic.
“As a carer, I only visited certain places because of the accessibility factor, whether it was helpful staff, toilets or whatever. I kept coming back to the same places because it’s actually too scary to go to new places.
“What I’m saying is if businesses are successful, you can grow that audience and they’ll keep coming back. It’s as simple as that.”
Davina said businesses need to stop thinking that wheelchair use is the only form of access restriction.
The Access Card helps educate hotel and leisure providers about the variety of disabilities and accessibility issues their guests may face, allowing them to make small adjustments to enhance the visitor experience and respect their obligations under the Equality Act.
“There are so many different campaigns, it’s very confusing and intimidating – even for me, a trained accessibility champion,” Davina said.
“Our aim is to break it down into a five-year plan starting with raising awareness and encouraging companies to register for free and encouraging people with disabilities to visit these places by giving their constructive opinion.
“If they just accept this card, it’s a start and a step in the right direction. It’s about giving them the tools and helping them support their customers.
“It’s coming from the bottom up – from people with disabilities who want everyone to make a difference and change attitudes.”
The campaign, which has already won support from Visit Wales and many leading tourist attractions, aims to raise awareness among businesses of the information they need to provide to visitors to make their experience enjoyable. It could be as simple as a video uploaded to their website informing visitors of their location and facilities.
PIWS also wants businesses to maintain any existing facilities they have to improve access and ensure their staff are fully aware of what they need to do to help visitors with disabilities.
“It’s ridiculous how many people don’t realize they already have a quiet space they can provide for families or enough toilets for some but not all, it’s about giving that information and getting expand based on customer demand,” Davina said.
“We have a training program ready to create a cohort of accessibility champions who can return to their businesses and pass on their training and skills to their colleagues. This will be the next stage of the campaign.
“If a company tries to make a difference and slowly improves, that’s a good start.”