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English Heritage

While changes to a venue’s architectural environment may enhance its appeal to those with disabilities, organisers are urged to consider more than the physical features when assessing accessibility.

There is much that a venue can do to improve the way staff interact with customers with disabilities, and ensure the service quality they receive is of the same high standard as would be expected by any of their customers.

Welcome to Excellence is one national service provider offering a customer training programme aimed at raising awareness and improving customer service quality for individuals with specific needs. Its one-day Welcome All course was created in accordance with the Equality Act 2010, and is backed by VisitEngland.

Sue Gill (pictured right) is Training Services Director at Welcome to Excellence and says there is a powerful business case to ensuring that your events are made accessible to guests with additional needs. “If organisers and venue providers want to attract more business and create new markets then they need to make sure their staff have the skills to personalise their service and meet customers individual needs,” she says. “Some staff can often be unsure and nervous of how to react to disabled customers, worried they may be using the wrong terminology to address them. By choosing a venue which has invested in training, organisers can be confident that staff will have the ability to communicate effectively with a broad spectrum of customers.”

Welcome All offers simple learning based around effective communication such as:

  • Don’t shout when communicating with those with hearing impairments as it may reduce the customers’ ability to lip read through distorted lip patterns
  • If you change a topic of conversation, ensure your customers can follow. Use sentences or phrases rather than single words to aid understanding
  • Avoid background noise in areas where presentations may be taking place
  • Don’t make assumptions about customers who may have a disability or impairment. Treat each customer as an equal
  • Use appropriate language; speak clearly with relevant body language
  • Don’t be afraid to offer help, but wait for your offer to be accepted
  • Let your customers speak and ensure you talk back to them directly rather than to carers. Allow adequate time for a response.

Providing a quality service to those with disabilities can do much to enhance your reputation and encourage repeat custom. Disabled clients can become loyal ambassadors for you. Gill adds: “Soft skills are not a substitute for a lack of technical knowledge, but they are vital for those in front facing roles.” English Heritage, owner and steward of some UK historical sites, worked with Welcome to Excellence to formulate a Disability Equality Scheme designed to ensure the best possible interaction. Conferences and private events are a growing segment of business across English Heritage, with 14 of its sites available for hire.

The introduction of Welcome All training programmes across English Heritage’s hospitality division helped the group raise its reputation in responding to the needs of all delegates. Neil McCollum, Chair of the Properties Access Group at English Heritage, says: “Venue choice is a reflection of the reputation of the organiser, and our careful consideration to accessibility and customer service gives organisers the necessary confidence during the selection process".

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