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Accessible Somerset – The Importance of Co-Production
We are now a good few months into the Accessible Somerset Project, an ambitious new project in collaboration with Somerset County Council to make Somerset more accessible for Disabled people across the region. With 18.7% of residents across the county classed as Disabled under the Equality Act, we need to listen to these voices in this community to make real change. The project will ask Disabled residents about the barriers they are facing, which will allow us to identify key areas to work on alongside the local authority and businesses to make productive and lasting recommendations to improve accessibility.
Co-production is at the heart of Accessible Somerset. This is a collaborative process in which different stakeholders, including community members, experts, and authorities, work together to design and develop spaces, services, or initiatives that cater to the needs of everyone. This approach ensures that the end result is not only inclusive but also reflective of the needs and perspectives of various individuals. In the context of designing accessible spaces in towns and cities, co-production becomes essential as it creates a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by Disabled people, the elderly, and other marginalised communities. By involving these people directly in the planning and decision-making process, co-production helps identify barriers, prioritise improvements, and implement solutions that enhance accessibility and inclusivity.
As a user-led organisation with services designed by Disabled people, for Disabled people, WECIL have been operating in this way for years to enable choice and challenge barriers. Our established relationships with the Disabled community in the South West, as well as our experience working with both public and private sector organisations since 2016, means that in collaboration with Somerset County Council, we can help make co-production central to our work. We want Disabled people who live, work or visit the region to identify the barriers they are facing which are preventing them from living the lives they choose.
But, to make this happen, we need your help! The Disabled community plays a central role in the project, and for businesses and local authorities, the resources and webinars being delivered will help you embrace the benefits of co-production within your organisation.
Share your experience
To ensure we focus on the most important areas, whether that is accessing your local high street, visiting a hospitality venue, transport, or attitudes, we have launched a public survey and are arranging focus groups for the Disabled community to feed into this project.
Your input and experience is paramount to the project’s success, with the feedback received so far we have been able to identify some key topics for our training webinars; Access to Outdoor spaces, Hospitality and Public Realm.
This project will be supported by WECIL’s Access and Inclusion Team (WAIT), a group of Disabled people who volunteer their time to improve the quality of life, inclusion and access for all people.
We know that accessibility barriers cannot be solved within one year, but we are on an exciting and evolving journey. Cllr Adam Dance, Lead Member for Public Health, Equalities and Diversity at Somerset County Council, said “the ambition is that the work will make physical accessibility changes for Disabled people in Somerset and will improve people and organisations’ understanding of accessibility. Not everything can be resolved within 12 months, but a lot of small changes can begin to make a big difference.”
If you are a business owner or manager and wish to register your interest to attend a webinar please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
The role for businesses in Somerset
Local businesses are an important part of ‘Accessible Somerset’, as the project aims to help organisations across the region we hope to improve knowledge and help to implement accessibility improvements that will benefit all.
Businesses have a legal obligation to be accessible. As well as protecting businesses from claims of disability discrimination, becoming a more accessible organisation actually opens up a whole range of benefits and opportunities that can help your organisation thrive:
- Increased staff retention
- Increased income from the spending power of Disabled people, estimated to be £274 billion per year for UK business according to We Are Purple. This is called the Purple Pound
- Minimised complaints
- Increased customer footfall
- Customer retention and loyalty
However, it can be tricky to know exactly how to become a more accessible and inclusive organisation in practice. ‘Accessible Somerset’ will help to change this, and provide valuable support for businesses to make the right type of improvements.
By using a co-production approach, where the Disabled community are involved right from the outset to identify the areas of need and priority, this means that the information and guidance that the engaged businesses will receive from the project will help them to make improvements that are well received and needed by members of their community. Not only will businesses improve their knowledge of accessibility, but the Disabled people in Somerset will have a better experience of accessing their local amenities and employment opportunities. It’s a win-win for everyone!
In-person Access Audits
Another key part of the project are in-person access audits. These are in the process of being strategically identified through our survey. Access audits are conducted by WAIT. We will work with building owners, organisations, developers, Local Authority and service providers within the private and public sector to understand the barriers faced by Disabled people and ways to improve accessibility and inclusion.
These audits will be of physical spaces such as buildings, offices and shops, and the public realm, which includes whole streets, proposed plans etc. Access audits will allow organisations or the local authority to identify areas of improvement, and help put the measures and procedures in place to make physical changes. If you are interested in learning more about access audits for your organisation or if you are interested in joining our WAIT team, please get in touch.
‘Accessible Somerset’ is a project that will have a lasting impact on the county, residents and beyond. We want to see real lasting change and long term impact by embracing co-production, and set an example of success for future projects. We hope this to be the start of an ongoing journey toward positive change, not only in practical terms but in mindset and attitude.
If you are a Disabled person living, working or visiting Somerset and have come up against accessibility barriers, please share your experience in our survey or contact Kinny Chinangwa or Alison Browning at Disability.Inc@wecil.org.uk
Or, if you are a business owner or manager and wish to register your interest to attend a webinar please register your interest here.