Accessibility: an inclusive Games, a better legacy?

September 8, 2011

Introduction by Shaun McCarthy (Chair)

Today is International Paralympics Day, and tomorrow, the London 2012 Paralympics tickets go on sale. The perfect time then to talk about accessibility at the London Olympic and Paralympic Games. The Commission sees accessibility as a fundamental sustainability issue – it is vital that the London Games are everybody’s Games. So far, we’ve seen some great examples of improved accessibility, but there are also areas where we think more can be done. We are lucky to have our Commissioner Andrew Shipley on board to provide advice – Andy specialises in inclusive design, equality and diversity.

The greatest accessibility achievements can be seen in inclusive venue design. The ODA have been extremely rigorous in ensuring that accessible design features were implemented and audited regularly by contractors. Along with the ODA’s environmental sustainability work, this has set a standard which hopefully others in the construction and design industry will now follow.

The area where I would hope to see more improvement before 2012 is upon us is ensuring that transport for people with disabilities is made as easy as possible.  London is both a big city and an old one: neither is particularly conducive to accessibility and we recognise that there are some things that no-one can change! However, ensuring that people who might not be familiar with the city know the most accessible routes is vital. We are very pleased to see that this information has been included in the spectator journey planner, but we need to know that this information is accurate and helpful, so we’d like to see it tested in advance.

As Andy points out below, there is still a long way to go. We had hoped to see more permanent improvements to the borrowed venues, and it remains to be seen whether travel information will be clear enough to help people navigate the complexities of London’s transport network. We will be pressing hard for clear auditing and sufficient testing to ensure that the Games have the best accessibility standards possible.

Interview with Andy Shipley (Commissioner - Inclusive Design, Equality & Diversity)

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I’m very keen to ensure that the Games leave behind a legacy which includes an improved travelling experience for disabled people – that would be a great accessibility success story. One example of improvement is enhancements being made to pedestrian access on the South Bank. This is something that will provide long-term benefit for both Londoners and visitors.

One area of concern however is around ‘borrowed’ venues – these are existing venues, such as Wimbledon, which are being used for selected Olympic and Paralympic events. The organisers have less than 12 months in which to ensure that these borrowed venues are fully accessible. The Commission has consistently made the case for these venues to be audited for their accessibility. We are hoping to improve their accessibility on a permanent basis – to rely on temporary fixes during the Games means no lasting legacy and, also runs the risk of diminishing the experience for disabled people during Games-time as well.

The point about legacy is worth stressing: we would like to see an inclusive legacy for both the Olympic Park and the new communities which are springing up around it. OPLC needs to put measures in place to ensure that this promising start is continued and developed.