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Accessibility? - Just ask!


MDF accessibility tip no. 1

Our first tip for making sure that what your organisation does is accessible is a simple one. It costs practically nothing in itself.

Ask people what they need.

Do you know how many people left your advice session with leaflets whose printing was too small for them to read? Or didn’t ask a question at your Annual General Meeting because they couldn’t hear the speeches? If you had asked what they needed, wouldn't that be better?

  • People coming to your office, your event or your meeting might have a range of different impairments. They may have different degrees of impairment. Clues that they have access needs might be hidden.
  • People may come to you for your expert help with getting around – but they might also have a hearing impairment. Or the other way round.
  • People may not volunteer that they have an access need. Perhaps they "don’t want a fuss made". Perhaps when they mentioned it in the past it made no difference.

There are some general principles of good accessibility, of course, but it’s impossible to think in advance about every different access need. And if you don’t know what someone needs, you can’t do anything to help.

In practical terms what does this mean?

  • When planning meetings with people whose needs you don’t know, ask in advance.

For a formal event, make sure that your paper booking form or your online system asks people to say if they have any access needs.

For interviews, make sure your standard letter asking people to attend also asks if they have access requirements.

(You might need to warn people at the same time that some things  can be impossible to arrange unless you get enough notice - for BSL interpreters it could be two months).

  • If your first contact is face-to-face (like a drop-in session) make sure that the first person that they contact automatically asks about access requirements. That could be your advisor, or it could be your reception desk. Make sure that person asks everybody – not just people that they guess should be asked. You also need to make sure that they know what to do or who to ask if there is a particular access need.
  • If you have a casework system that records information about people who use your organisation’s services, make sure that you record their access needs (with the appropriate permission and safeguards under the Data Protection laws) so that next time you can be better prepared.

This is the first of a series of MDF tips on improving the accessibility of your services. Let us know if you think this can be improved, or if there are access issues you particularly want us to include in these tips.