Erinma Ochu – The Red Chair (previously ‘The Ability App’)

Award Received – Try It – £500


Background

Participation in the arts serves to enhance our societies’ artistic and cultural heritage whilst at the same time enriching people’s lives. Indeed the DCMS’s Taking Part: The National Survey of Culture, Leisure and Sport Adult and Child Report 2011-12 confirmed there is a significant relationship between ‘cultural engagement and subjective happiness’. However, disabled people face significant challenges in accessing culture compared to those without a disability.

According to The Office for Disability Issues, there are over 11 million people with a limiting long-term illness, impairment or disability in the UK alone. This percentage is set to increase considerably over the next few decades, as UK demographics shift towards an increasingly older population. Globally more than a billion people (or 15% of the global population) live with some form of disability.

A Government report in 2013 stated that ‘disabled people’s spending power in the UK was estimated to be at least £80 billion a year’. This highlights the potential financial benefits to improving the accessibility of culture. With global attention on London for the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, there is an opportunity to leverage a commitment to accessible cultural provision for Disabled people.


The project

With a £500 HEFCE Unltd Try It Award, The Red Chair set out to enable Disabled people to highlight the challenges they faced on cultural visits by scoping out and co-designing a ‘TripAdvisor’ style ratings application that would crowdsource the opinions of Disabled people in order to encourage cultural organisations to improve or re-design their cultural provision to be more accessible. And, importantly the goal is to improve disabled people’s everyday experiences and strive to help disabled adults to maintain independence.

The award paid for four ‘secret cultural shopper’ visits by disabled people attending either alone or with a carer or as a family group in Greater Manchester. Each participant picked a cultural venue to visit, discussed any needs to arrange the visit, and in return, gave a report on their experience from booking tickets to travelling to and from the venue and the cultural content itself.

Using these secret cultural shopper visit reports, we designed a paper prototype of the application using free prototyping software, POP (https://popapp.in/). Additionally we:-

  • Searched for and evaluated several competitor applications (Euan’s Guide http://www.euansguide.com and The Accessible Events App)
  • Consulted with two cultural venues (one in London and one in Manchester) on whether such an application would encourage them to change their practices
  • Consulted with the Equality and Human Rights commission in Manchester
  • Looked at digital accessibility figures and requirements
  • Co-wrote a business plan with mentoring support from KPMG and UMIP social enterprise sessions
  • Presented the idea at events in Lancaster and Sheffield
  • Participated in a FutureGov hackthon at Scope in London to meet disabled developers

Outcomes

  • Discovered and was advised that Disabled participants wanted to have their own experience and not to meet up as a group in a workshop with people with different disabilities – the secret cultural shopper was a better approach than hosting a workshop
  • Participants enjoyed visits to The People’s History Museum, The Cornerhouse and the Palace Theatre – each venue scored highly 4/5 on the cultural content experienced
  • Staff at the three venues were friendly and helpful
  • Participants’ did not always want to pre-plan visits or be accompanied but instead expected the same rights as non-disabled people who can just turn up
  • Participants encountered a range of access challenges during their visits.
    • café tables and gift shops did not cater for wheelchair users and a lone wheel chair user was reliant on others to open doors
    • online bookings did not allow people to buy Disabled tickets over the internet – a phone call or a visit in person was needed which is inconvenient and inaccessible to deaf participants
    • for those with mobility challenges, crowded venues posed a problem, as are venues without seating in the waiting area
  • Participants suggested a range of improvements and solutions to help solve the above challenges
  • There could be provision of cultural content to people’s homes, or to hospital bedsides at times when people are unable to make a physical visit and also to game consoles
  • Participants enjoyed being involved in identifying the challenge, reporting it and coming up with ideas for a solution
  • To ensure the app is accessible it is important to have a web version of the application, not just smartphone – significantly lower numbers of people with a disability possess a smartphone
  • The two cultural venues (Wellcome Collection and the Whitworth Art Gallery) that we visited were very interested in the idea and getting feedback from such an app, with one of the venue’s regularly checking Tripadvisor views to improve visitor experience
  • We discovered that Euan’s Guide, does effectively what the Red Chair planned to do. And, with significant backing from J.K Rowling and endorsement from Stephen Hawking, we decided to get behind Euan’s Guide rather than compete with it
  • There might still be scope to produce an application that could be specific to healthcare and workplace settings.