There is now an EU award – the Access City Award – that highlights cities that are building accessibility into the heart of their work and their new developments. To develop the conversations on access for the Castle Gateway project, this blog pulls out some inspiring and practical ideas from just two (of the nine) the historic cities who have won this award: Breda (The Netherlands) and Chester (UK). Both prove that heritage is no excuse and will help us generate further discussion and a firm commitment to ensure whatever happens in Castle Gateway accessibility questions are considered. Thanks to Mick Phythian for sharing the links!
Getting in the centre of town
In Breda they have plans to create a tactile navigation line from the train station to the city centre.
Getting around – no need to comprise on aesthetics for smooth paths
Breda, like York, has a lot of cobble stones. What Breda did was pull up all the cobblestones in the centre, turned them upside-down and sliced them widthways. ‘The result: a flat surface for those with mobility impairments, while keeping Breda’s streets just as photogenic as they were before’.
Making heritage accessible: Visitor experience and interpretation
In Chester the city walls are wheelchair accessible and museums and other visitor attractions there are multisensory experiences for visitors with visual impairments and advice for those on the autistic spectrum (such as guidance on finding quieter times to visit).
Getting into all shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants
Breda’s shopkeepers lay out portable threshold ramps when they open in the morning, ‘encouraging business from customers of all abilities’.
Places to stay: Hotels
In Breda accessible hotel rooms have lowered wardrobes and mirrors, wheel-in showers and seated baths. There is need to open the main door to enter the hotel: a camera detects your arrival and the door opens automatically. As part of the planning permission for part of Chester, hoteliers were required to provide two rooms with ceiling track hoists.
Crucial issues: toilets
In Chester they have seven Changing Places toilets, which include hoists and a changing bench for disabled people who can’t use standard accessible toilets. In York we have nine – but this needs to also be considered for Castle Gateway.
Finding out about access accessibly: Information
In Breda, more than 800 shops and bars have been checked for physical access and this information is shared.
The main tourists websites in Chester are designed to be fully accessible for all, including those with sensory impairments and accessibility improvements were made to another 25 websites that aid residents and tourists.
What makes the difference?
In the article on Breda, Karel Dollekens, a civil servant working on accessibility, says he believes a willingness to collaborate has made the difference. “We have a wide network of university professionals, city staff and disabled people working together. Sometimes we have heart-to-hearts, sometimes we get angry about the reality of projects and the limitations we face, but the conversation always continues. The network has now become a movement.”