It was great to work with blind radio presenter Peter White again this week. He has done a lot for disabled people over the years and I admire his work. Peter frequently presents mainstream Radio 4 programmes such as “You and Yours” but my most recent contact with him was in his role as presenter for “In Touch” which he has presented since 1974 with a particular focus on blind and visually impaired people. Just this week I was involved in a debate with a blind Olympic and Paralympic Games Maker called Terry and a visually impaired spectator called Robert who had been to a wide variety of venues.
LOCOG has placed a great deal of emphasis on the diversity of the workforce, volunteers and their supply chain. Their aim to have 6-10% of these workforces made up of disabled people was well on track to be achieved when we checked before the Games and I am confident that the final analysis will show this to be a success. It was great to hear Terry’s story, how he was trained and supported by LOCOG and how inspiring he found his role as a Games Maker. He said that he couldn’t wait for the Paralympics to start and was heading off after the radio show was recorded to begin his first shift.
Robert’s experience was a little more mixed. He said he was enthusiastic about the Games but found facilities for visually impaired people confusing. When he asked for an audio headset he was bought a hearing loop on more than one occasion, which is for deaf people. His huge German Shepherd guide dog should have provided a clue here. Peter’s advice was to take a radio and follow the action on Radio 5. Although Radio 5 is excellent, it does not necessarily cover the sport you are watching. We all agreed that Games Makers are great and that they can’t be expected to know everything. However, the information should be available for them to find out. Our own visually impaired Commissioner, Andy Shipley, called the London 2012 customer helpline to enquire about this. After waiting 10 minutes he was told that audio descriptions are available at all venues and he should ask any Games Maker for help. This does not accord with Robert’s experience.
We talked about legacy too. The Olympic Park will clearly be a great place for disabled people to visit in legacy and possibly to live and work, but will the great work done by the ODA and LOCOG be replicated for other projects and other events? I hope so.
The ODA did a great job of creating an accessible built environment by engaging directly with disabled people, and LOCOG should be congratulated for their work in encouraging disabled people to get involved with the Games. There are clearly some operational improvements needed for the Paralympics though and it is not too late to act on Robert’s feedback.
During the warm up to the show we talked about guide dogs. Terry’s Labrador had tried to steal somebody’s sandwich while visiting the BBC. Robert’s German Shepherd does not steal food. It reminded me of a story Andy told me about his now retired dog Gabby sneaking across a train carriage to nick somebody’s Cornish Pasty. Gabby was particularly keen on raiding the buffet trolley at our Commission meetings too. This prompted Peter to suggest they should do a programme about the food guide dogs steal, which was instantly rejected by his producer… but producers, what do they know…..?