Story shared 21.07.2021

The Glasgow Access Panel (GAP) is a registered charity who's aim is to improve the accessibility of services, buildings, facilities and information across Glasgow for all disabled people. 

What difference has the pandemic made to the communities you serve?

Over the course of our project, we have held a number of Zoom meetups specifically discussing COVID and its impact on disabled people, receiving a lot of feedback on this issue: naturally, ‘isolation’ was a common theme.

One of our blind participants discussed not leaving his home for 9-10 months, and the mental strain caused by this, in addition to the increased anxiety he was experiencing as a result.

Many members reported that they had missed being able to attend groups as they usually did before the implementation of lockdowns.

We discussed problems with social distancing for blind and visually impaired people who have struggled to navigate frequently-altered routes around shops and so on. Similarly, maintaining contact via apps such as Zoom has been difficult for many people with sensory impairments.

Many of our members are older and have long-term health conditions which require frequent healthcare appointments. Naturally, during the pandemic these services were drastically reduced. Telephone consultations were necessary for a number of people, which created new obstacles and a great deal of frustration for many people with sensory impairments (this also extended to other services such as banking, which had previously been easier to handle in-person at a branch).

Overall, there have been a number of challenges for disabled people during the pandemic, which we have found it worthwhile to discuss over the last number of months.

What impact did you see on your services as a result?

We have not been able to meet with groups as we previously had in our projects. In recent years, we have aimed to hold events and training that are educational and help to develop skills, but at the same time prioritise the social aspect of these days. We have also had to make adjustments to our working habits, setting up procedures for working from home which have allowed us to keep our service in operation during lockdowns.

This has enabled us to assist our members and project participants over the course of the pandemic and to help maintain the valuable connections in this community.

What has the NET funding enabled you to do for those people you help?

Firstly, NET funding helped to keep our organisation in operation through a difficult time in our funding, having recently lost our main funder of a number of years (Glasgow City Council) due to their Integrated Grant Fund being replaced and their criteria altered.

We feel this has been extremely important, as the community we aim to serve was already disproportionately affected by issues of isolation and social inclusion.

As a result of our funding, we have been able to host online meetups discussing issues such as: heating belts for disabled people (we were then able to secure additional funding to provide these to 50 disabled people), 20-Minute neighbourhoods, and accessible venues to highlight as part of the ‘green map of Glasgow’ ahead of COP26.

We discussed new developments in Glasgow, such as changes to Queen St and George Square and its potential impact on disabled people. We were also able to use one of our online sessions to offer direct feedback on a current development in the planning stages (Carmyle-Westburn Viaduct project).

We have found that some people were not able to use Zoom initially, but we were able to accommodate them via telephone. One of our members is Deaf and struggles to follow the conversations on Zoom, however we were able to accommodate her by typing much of the conversation to her in real-time to allow her to participate more fully. Another participant is blind and has her own issues with Zoom - disembodied voices, which she finds harder to follow than when communicating in person. Over time we were able to overcome these issues, with many of our participants gaining skills and confidence in using this technology which will help them to stay connected with others in future.

We are pleased that we were able to meet online and help to connect local disabled people with planners and service providers to ensure their views are heard and accessibility is treated as a priority.

What challenges/opportunities do you see ahead?

In the immediate future, ongoing lockdowns and restrictions are likely to continue to present difficulties for disabled people, who are faced with a greater number of obstacles relating to mobility/social distancing and frequent changes in procedures/guidance. This could continue to have a negative impact on individuals’ health and wellbeing.

However, as a result of this, we have seen more of our members and other local disabled people becoming more comfortable and confident in using technology such as Zoom to maintain contact and continue working towards a more accessible and inclusive society.

As many older and disabled people have variable health conditions, the ability to participate in events and meetings remotely may prove to be extremely useful in the longer term, and this is something we hope to continue to assist with.

We have also received positive feedback on the idea of developing Virtual Reality materials which will offer immersive experiences to disabled people who would otherwise have difficulty in accessing certain locations we visit, and we believe these could provide a valuable insight into the experiences of disabled people in our promotion of accessibility in society.

The future of DPO’s - Why DPOs are important and why we need to invest in them and protect them in the future?

We believe that consultation with disabled people is the only way to an inclusive society, and that this is a valuable role fulfilled by DPOs. Early consultation with DPOs in the planning stages of new projects and developments can help to identify barriers before they are built, which creates a better and more inclusive environment, in addition to being more cost-effective than having to retrofit and rebuild inaccessible structures in the future.

With this in mind, investing in DPOs provides a net benefit to society as a whole, not only in terms of accessibility but also economically – an important consideration in the years ahead as the extent of the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is better understood.

Statistics also show that the UK population is ageing, which will likely bring with it greater numbers of people experiencing long-term health issues and disability.

DPOs have a clear role to play in society going forward, helping people to live more independently and providing service providers with the information necessary to be more accommodating to facilitate this.

Read more about the Glasgow Access Panel