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Wheelchair Challenge December 2018

A participant of the wheelchair challenge presses the "open door" button before trying to open the double pull doors. Another participant watches through the glass panes in the doors.

Image description: A participant of the Wheelchair Challenge presses the green “unlock door” button before trying to open the double pull doors. Another participant watches through the glass panes in the doors.

In early December, 13 Estates staff members attempted the “Wheelchair Challenge”, an eye-opening series of tasks set by Access Auditor, Jenny Wheeler, who is a wheelchair user herself. Participants included Project Managers, Surveyors and Engineers from departments across Estates. Tasks included using the lift, making a cup of tea in the kitchen and moving around spaces within the building, the majority of which proved tricky for participants.

As discussed in Christine Ennew, Provost’s blog the Wheelchair Challenge is a fantastic tool for aiding non-wheelchair users in their understanding of the everyday difficulties faced when navigating campus in a wheelchair. An aim of the Wheelchair Challenge is to give non-wheelchair users the opportunity to try to manoeuvre around a space in a wheelchair. Participants can then use their experience to appreciate the extra effort it takes to get around campus as a wheelchair user, some things that help wheelchair users and other disabled people and apply this knowledge to their work.

The tasks in the Wheelchair Challenge were carefully structured to highlight issues around accessibility for wheelchair users, for example if the lift breaks down within Argent Court. 54% of participants were aware of alternative routes into the upstairs office, if any (the answer: there are none!).

A common problem for users of accessible toilets is the location of the pull cord and whether or not it’s tied up out of reach, something which several participants commented on. Pull cords were tied to grab rails or looped up (deliberately) during the Challenge, highlighting the importance of keeping these free to hang down close to the floor. This is something we can all look out for.

Coffee and tea is a must for many people in the working day, but how would you transport the hot drink back to your desk in a manual wheelchair without burning yourself? This task was only completed safely by one participant, who adopted the strategy of pushing one wheel at a time whilst swapping hands to hold the drink, guaranteeing lukewarm tea when finally getting back to the desk…

Doors in general were a significant obstacle for participants and a real eye-opener, including double doors and the heavy manual glass door to the lift. One unlucky participant took 10 minutes to get through a set of double doors due to the complicated access control set up. Luckily the Security Systems Team also took part in the challenge.

Despite the tricky tasks, feedback at the end of the Wheelchair Challenge was very positive. Participants found the Challenge an informative and useful experience both for their personal development and for their roles as staff members within Estates. Many commented on how they would use the experience to improve aspects of accessibility within their work where they could and would encourage their colleagues to give the Wheelchair Challenge a go. The Estates Senior Leadership Team are also due to complete the challenge in early 2019 and further dates will be announced soon.


Image description: A picture of two happy participants of the Wheelchair Challenge sitting in manual wheelchairs and Accessibility Officer, Jenny Wheeler In the middle.