Euan’s Guide – Making Heritage Accessible

Paul Ralph, Access and Inclusion Director at Euan’s Guide, tells us about the powerful and empowering tool, Euan’s Guide, from a user’s perspective.

I want to take this opportunity to talk about Euan’s Guide from a user perspective. By doing this I hope it will help to unfold the link between a modern 21st century website and the history, archeology and buildings of the past.

Let’s go on a journey…

If asked I would describe Euan’s Guide as a powerful and empowering tool for many disabled people, their families and friends.

You see for me it’s simple:

For me to do what I want to do, in the way I choose to do it I rely on the support of other people. A PA facilitates and enables me on my adventures. So people are very important in my independence.

I don’t just exist in a box and so it’s important for me to be able to get out and about. To visit the places I want to go but also the places I need to go. So in my world places are very important.

Thirdly, possibilities are an important part of my life. I like to think that anything is possible. You see it’s like this – I may not actually do something but it’s a great feeling to know that I could if I wanted to. That’s what I meant by possibilities.

For me to take part in community life and to enjoy many of the things others take for granted I need people, I need to know about the places I can go, and I like to be aware of the possibilities open to me.

The obvious question is where does Euan’s Guide fit? Let me continue my journey with you.

I started using Euan’s Guide to find out about the places I wanted to, or sometimes imagined I might like to, go. It was great to be able to get more details than just a wheelchair symbol or the curious statement of “disabled facilities” or “wheelchair accessible with assistance” – not that helpful to me.

It’s not just for me, as I could find out about places that were going to be welcoming for my friends. Friends like Ian and Kev who are visually impaired or Phil who is deaf.

Often Euan’s Guide reviewers talk about the experience on a people level – what were the staff like, what happened when you rolled up. Tips on what to look out for, ways to go, what to ask for. To many people they sound like small things but for me they make the difference whether I can make and enjoy a visit.

To be able to read what another powerchair user has written about visiting the Riverside Museum in Glasgow, going on a History walk here on the Royal Mile, or staying for a break in an old croft are a very empowering experience for me.

You see these are all places I had a fear of visiting as I didn’t know what might happen; Euan calls this the “fear of the unknown”. I am happy to report that as a direct result of reading what others had written on Euan’s Guide I’ve done all of these things! and some I’ll do again; perhaps not in the cold and wet of February though!!!

So you see, Euan’s Guide; for me has opened doors. But there’s more…

The places people visit get great feedback. Often they don’t know how good the experience they offer is. The museum that had a wheelchair height display book that I loved, the old tower house that offered me a video link to browse the inaccessible rooms and the curator who brought exhibits out from beyond the barriers for my visually impaired pal to touch and explore.

For me as a disabled person it was striking to watch the progress as the website was growing from grass roots of disabled people and venues working together and felt good. It’s driven by disabled people helping disabled people.

Here was the gift of spontaneity, in that I could take out my smartphone, open Euan’s Guide and press the ‘near by me’ button. I could see where to grab a coffee, find places I wanted to visit, and decide a visit would work for me. I could visit towns I didn’t know so well, if at all! I could find new places and I could feel part of my community.

That’s what I mean by empowering. It’s a great time in that we are seeing the coming together of so many technologies in a way that is enabling people. For Euan’s Guide it’s the availability of mobile data and wifi, the ability of GPS services to pin point where I am, and of course the many places that list and share their access information. Sometimes a permanent building, often a pop up place like an event or exhibition.

At last there’s a disabled access information web site that works fantastically well with my speech controlled computer or Ian’s laptop that reads to him or Euan’s eye controlled Tobbii. There’s a companion app that goes on the road with me and works to help me find places, tell me what I need to know, and is very much a working tool.

I want to end by sharing an ambition … I want Scotland to redraw the map, to call out communities, to people and get them involved in reviewing what’s in their local area and to share the access information they find. It doesn’t have to be complicated and could be as simple as telling people their local store has an accessible loo, the bank has level access or the archeological dig has an accessible viewing platform.

I want to extend this to imagine that the rich history of Scotland’s buildings, stories and places can be shared with everyone by opening up doors to disabled people.

Can you help Euan, me and my friends achieve that?