Discover WelcoMe, a system that allows disabled people to notify venues of their access needs prior to their arrival, ensuring that their specific accessibility needs are catered for in a timely manner, reducing anxiety and increasing the confidence of the user. Gavin Neate is the creator of WelcoMe and he explains how this app can transform the lives of users
Mike walked through the door back out onto the street, paused and turned back to me:
“Gavin, could you do me a favour please?”
I took a step forward and he leant into me obviously wishing to keep what he was going to say confidential.
“Could you pop back in and find out the name of the person I was talking to lad? I’m pretty sure they wear a name badge but if you could find out who they are it would be really helpful.”
Mike instructed his guide dog to sit, rested the harness handle on its back and continued:
“It's just that I’ve been coming here for five years and they know who I am and know I’m blind, but always presume I know who I'm speaking to. I'm now too embarrassed to ask.”
I head back into the Post Office, introduce myself to Derek, who is wearing a name badge, and explain that I am just going over some new routes with Mike and his new guide dog. I return to Mike, let him know Derek’s name and we go on our way.
Mike’s experience is by no means unique and is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how staff members interact with disabled people in general.
Not introducing yourself to a blind person, being unaware of a bright light behind you when talking to a person who lip reads, or talking to the person standing next to the wheelchair user instead of the person themselves are all mistakes which can easily be avoided, but seldom are.
As a mobility instructor my job was to support my clients through these challenges, but this experience and others like it led me to think more about the disability awareness training staff members received, whether it was as effective as it needed to be and ultimately whether it could be improved.
Traditional staff training relies on a monumental level of information retention and its recall, impossible to achieve with even the very best training environments. Add to this that the vast majority of disabled people are living with “hidden” conditions and it is unreasonable to expect staff members to “get it right” every time.
As a mobility instructor working for Guide Dogs for the Blind I would address this at the moment of, or after an interaction, and where possible I would do my best to meet with staff ahead of a visit and carry out awareness training. I was very aware that this was far from efficient or considering a high turnover of staff in many businesses, far from a long-term solution, but what if I could automate this process, how much better could I make it? What if instead of providing the training myself I was able to empower my clients to do this themselves?
It wasn't until 2018 that my company launched WelcoMe, but the answer had initially presented itself in 2006 when one of my clients had pulled out a mobile phone and, through their use of Apple's Voice Over, interacted with it.
If I could connect each disabled person's mobile phone to the venue they were visiting, a pre-populated disability profile could trigger training prior to a visit and empower the disabled person to take control of the level of service they required. In addition, I could provide the tool for use by other professionals who could introduce the service to their clients or even set up profiles on their behalf and use the tool to enable them to take a step back from any interaction.
Now WelcoMe is growing and available in an increasing number of venues across the UK and Republic of Ireland. Its use in health services, government, hospitality, retail, transport, leisure and tourism is fundamentally changing the relationship between service teams and their disabled visitors. It is empowering disabled people to actively take control of each interaction and creating an environment where disability professionals can focus on increasing the independence and confidence of their clients.
How can OTs assist? We would encourage OTs and other professionals to incorporate WelcoMe into their mobility training and associated services, however we are also looking to develop the platform to be used in proxy where a client is unable to access technology themselves. If you would like to be involved in this development or learn more about WelcoMe please check out wel-co.me and get in touch with Gavin at wel-co.me/gavin.