I was invited to speak at the Naidex’s conference at the N.E.C in Birmingham in March.
Naidex; innovations for the future of the independent living industry.
Naidex is Europe’s biggest and most far- reaching trade, professional and consumer show dedicated to the care, rehabilitation, and lifestyle of people with a disability or impairment.
The topic of my presentation was ‘Inclusive technology and how to make it more mainstream’ along with snippets and referrals to my own story.
Knowing the nature of this event I had imagined not only a variety of people presenting and showing equipment but also a mix of people with all different disabilities and needs interested in digital innovation available or becoming available in the future.
On arriving with my guide dog Unis and my Dad who kindly took time out of his own schedule to drive me to Birmingham.
The NEC Conference Centre is huge and for me somewhere I am unfamiliar with so glad my Dad could safely direct Unis and I to the building.
I had been registered as a speaker online and had tickets for both myself and my Dad to attend. I was also told that I would be presenting between 1pm and 2pm in an area of the conference hall called NGAT.
The whole area was very crowded, crowds are very challenging for me.
Thankfully my Dad was able to distinguish two queues amongst the crowds, there is no way I would have done that alone! One queue was for tickets and one for collecting lanyards. Dad told me there were a few staff loitering around, seemingly watching the crowds, none offered any assistance, having a guide dog with might have been a clue that the offer of help would be appreciated!
On getting in the building I headed towards the first official looking lady I spotted and asked where NGAT was as I was due to speak there. Her immediate response was ‘You need to register for this event.’ I continued to tell her I had registered online and that tickets for both myself and my Dad were to be collected on arrival. This woman seemed uninterested and anything but helpful which was unnecessarily frustrating. Thankfully another lady appeared and considerably more helpfully found our lanyards, however,
on heading toward the entrance where NGAT could be found, her response was hand me a map, totally inaccessible, guide dog Unis might have been a give away that I am blind or visually impaired! In disbelief I immediately handed the map to Dad who ironically could not read it either, he had forgotten his reading glasses!
This unacceptable series of events made me feel very anxious and that was before realising there had been a mistake with timing and that on eventually finding NGAT my Dad spotted a noticeboard stating the event I was there for had already taken place! I was distraught.
Dad found me a seat and sat me down with a glass water and went to read the board. The board has displayed the times of the presentations and mine stated an hour before we had arrived, it seemed I had missed my slot according to the board which I could not access. I can only be grateful that my Dad was there to assist me however he could not help or understand why someone had got the slots mixed up. Had I of turned up with Unis alone, I would not have been able to find NGAT or see on the screen the mix up of presentation times.
Thankfully someone came to help and apologised profusely about the mix up.
There was an arrangement made for me to deliver my presentation on camera and to broadcast online. From feeling anxious I felt a little disappointed I could not present as many, via social media, had informed me they would be there to hear me present.
After the presentation Dad and I had an opportunity to take a look around the conference itself.
Many stalls included motor scooters and various digital innovations for physical disabilities. It was a very difficult environment for me, in fact, I had never seen (through a LOT of scanning,) so many wheelchairs, I was so concerned about the safety of Unis amongst the wheelchairs of all shapes and sizes, manual and motorised I found a secure area for Unis and held on to my Dad for dear life so I could check out any digital innovations for those with sensory impairments. It was exciting to see how much technology has progressed for those with physical disabilities however sadly I did not note any digital innovations that could/ would benefit myself or the many others with sensory impairments.
This event is advertised as ‘Europe’s biggest and most far- reaching trade, professional and consumer show dedicated to the care, rehabilitation, and lifestyle of people with a disability or impairment.’ I asked Dad if he could see any stalls for me to look at that could help me as a DeafBlind person. He struggled - Naidex you are missing a huge group of people here. Sensory impairment is a huge area especially in our ageing society, we too need access to enabling technology.
We did however find the Barclays Bank stall where I met some of their accessibility team which was great. They informed of some of the digital projects they have been working on for visually impaired customers to inspire confidence and independence when banking.
I have since been invited to be part of a webinar and to provide a keynote presentation for Barclays talking Accessibility and digital innovation.
It would appear of the many stalls at Naidex (predicting around 100) the only one of importance and interest to me directly was Barclays Bank.
As an attendee I had hoped to see more digital opportunities for people like myself or similar.
I was later told that SENSE one of the deafblind charities were at the event however I did not find them. It would have benefited people like myself to have stalls for those with sensory impairment all close to each other to enable easier navigation and safety from the many wheelchairs.
Whilst I understand the event was for all with disabilities, and the majority who attended were physically disabled and to me there didn't seem to be any rhyme nor reason to the overall set up bearing in mind mobility was an issue to most in attendance.
Sadly, I did not feel comfortable asking for assistance after the treatment at the start.
I did not feel I had got as much out of the event as I might have because of the poor accessibility and poor assistance which was disappointing, hopefully these things will be addresses and much improved next year.
Disability is a strong reference and many people dislike it- however in the Oxford dictionary is defined as: ‘a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses or activites.’ Majority of the stalls were for physical disabilities rather than covering the whole plethora of conditions.
As an accessibility and usability consultant I was disappointed with the set up of things for Naidex right from the beginning.
Firstly their website advertising the event was not accessible, I did point it out to them and not until a friend on social media told them what was required did it become accessible - not a good start considering the nature of the Naidex Conference! Then at the venue I felt that the set up and layout had not been well thought out, again making it inaccessible for attendees with sensory impairments or blind. For example a charity such as SENSE, a charity supporting those who are deafblind would attract those with the combined sensory loss like myself, I did not come across or ‘see,’ (from what I could see 5 degrees) where they were located. Even my Dad who is sighted could not see where they were even after we were told. Each stall did have it’s own logo and sometimes colours to display/ advertise however SENSE where not anywhere in sight.
Positively the pathways all around the conference were wide allowing wheelchairs and assistant dogs room to navigate fairly safely.
Dad told me there were signs to toilets however the ‘disabled,’ toilets were rightly positioned to be most accessible whilst other toilets were not sign posted very well at all.
I have been to conferences where they have labelled arrows/ instructions on the floor directing people to toilets, canteen etc this is a very useful way of enabling people to navigate independently. Again I could not find the toilets without my Dad’s assistance.
At the end of my visit it became very clear that having my Dad with me was more of a blessing than him simply just chauffeuring me - it should not be like that but sadly it was!
In pointing out the above I was made aware that this year this conference was run by a different organisation for the first time and so hope lessons will be learnt and next year will run much more smoothly, be far more accessible and will have more stalls and information for all disabilities and impairments.