Ian Streets, managing director of About Access, takes a look at how online options take an inclusive approach to access training
Zoom, Teams, Skype. Not new words or products but all given greater profile and relevance during a year of tedious, costly and painful isolation.
These remote meeting tools have provided a lifeline for families and friends who have struggled to keep in touch, and they’ve proved essential in helping to push out vital information. The House of Commons caught on camera, and the prime minister himself taking to technology in an attempt to put people in the picture.
They have also been invaluable for businesses. Some sectors have found them more useful than others, and there are those who have gained no benefit at all. Our experience is somewhere in between – taking some of our access training sessions online enabled us to continue to meet the needs of some key clients who we couldn’t travel to see in person. But that interaction, however smooth the technology, is no permanent substitute for everything we do.
The world of remote meetings
Our first steps into the world of remote meetings came after we won a tender to provide access training to about 100 delegates from 11 local authorities in Northern Ireland on how to conduct their own access audits.
Ordinarily, we would have travelled over there and spent two days going through the procedures and practicalities face to face. The problem wasn’t just that we were prevented by the Covid-19 restrictions from travelling to Northern Ireland; the other element was that the delegates themselves weren’t allowed to get together.
So we spent the first couple of weeks of the initial lockdown checking through every element of the course and putting all the key messages into an online package of words and pictures. We tested it with the person who had commissioned the work and they liked it, so we went ahead.
Our approach enabled all the delegates to complete a basic course online and we followed that with Zoom sessions to go through any questions and clarification. Some also did a Zoom session before the training because they wanted to know more about the course in advance.
We provided additional support by phone and email, and by including a chat facility in our package. The system also enables people to go back when it’s convenient to them and revisit any points if they feel they need to clarify anything, something which isn’t always easy to do in a face-to-face training seminar.
We also made the training manual available for download. The only things we can’t replicate are the practical access training sessions, but we made full use of relevant images and we will top-up the training with site visits when circumstances permit.
The feedback we received indicated that the online option was a great help for our client because they were planning to proceed with the training anyway and the lockdown presented the perfect opportunity to do that when many of the delegates suddenly had time on their hands.
The flexibility of our system meant that the delegates could fit the training sessions around any other commitments they had at a time when uncertainty impinged more than ever on professional and personal schedules. It enabled people to use their time productively as they prepared for the return of colleagues, customers and visitors.
The detail of the course was specific to Northern Ireland, which still has the Disability Discrimination Act and operates under different legislation and guidance in other areas – such as the Public Sector Equality Duty – but we are able to amend these and indeed have already done so for a local authority client in England.
We are also able to introduce new content to reflect particular features of premises or a project, thereby ensuring the highest levels of relevance.
Such an approach also enables us to discuss other guidance documents that might not be used in a routine presentation because they relate only to certain sectors and activities, such as Sport England, health and education establishments and the Arts Council.
As local authority workers, the delegates in Northern Ireland covered a wide range of scenarios and included people from building control, architects, interior designers working on anything from schools, sports facilities, cultural centres, general offices, facilities managers and health and safety professionals.
By offering a system which can be delivered to groups or individuals we were able to ensure that the training was tailored to the needs of the audience.
We now know that this approach can work in other scenarios. It makes our own services more inclusive and we are exploring ways in which it can be developed, with the success of the Northern Ireland project providing us with the opportunity to showcase our services in a presentation as part of Disability Awareness Week NI – by Zoom of course!
Tel: +44 (0)1482 651101