Euan’s Guide is a website and app that allows people to share reviews about the accessibility for disabled people of shops, restaurants or any community location. Its most-reviewed areas include Edinburgh; London; Glasgow; York; Sheffield; Cardiff; Birmingham; Aberdeen; Newcastle-Upon-Tyne; and Cambridge. In July, the website won the People’s Choice award in a BT Infinity Lab “Connected Society” competition seeking solutions to social issues, and celebrity supporters include J K Rowling and Professor Stephen Hawking. Here, the site’s founder Euan MacDonald speaks to E-Access Bulletin about the inspiration for his project.
- What motivated you to create Euan’s Guide?
I was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease 10 years ago, and then when I started to use a wheelchair five years ago I realised how difficult it was to find good disabled access information. It got myself and my sister Kiki thinking that we would like to share our favourite places that we had discovered had good disabled access, and learn from others about their favourite places too.
My family and I have funded the service’s development ourselves, and we have set it up as a not-for-profit organisation.
- Did you have any experience creating websites or apps?
Not really! Certainly one of our biggest challenges and one of the most interesting for me was making sure that the site and the app is accessible for everyone. For example, I use eye gaze technology with a hands-free system, which can make some websites tricky to navigate, so we have worked hard to make the navigation clear to follow and easy to use. Some areas required the creation of bespoke functions such as the buttons to move around the maps. We’ve also developed the site and app to exploit the native accessibility functionality of smartphones such as voice input and output.
- What are the main aims of Euan’s Guide?
The main aim of the website is to empower disabled people by giving them information that will give them choices and confidence for getting out and about. I call this “removing the fear of the unknown”, which is something experienced by many disabled people.
Success stories for us are getting reviews from places that we would not have thought were accessible and being told that they’re great! Edinburgh Castle, T in the Park Festival and London’s Cutty Sark are prime examples of this.
There are a whole host of related things that we hope will follow, such as businesses realising how much of a demand there is for their services to be accessible. There are more than 11 million disabled people and more than 6.5 million carers in the UK alone. We’ve already had venues that have contacted us saying that they have acted on what our reviewers have told them and made improvements. It is also worth mentioning that not all changes have to cost lots of money – there are some really simple things that some businesses can do to improve their accessibility and staff play such a huge part in this too. And of course, making your venue or service more accessible will not only help disabled people but will also aid the elderly, infirm and parents with buggies too.
We also hope that Euan’s Guide may encourage more disabled people online. There are stats to suggest that in the UK, disabled people are a third less likely to have used the internet than non disabled people.
- Do you think new technologies such as smartphones, apps, GPS and mobile social networking have a liberating potential for people with disabilities?
The combination of accessibility, portability and mobile data have created fantastic opportunities when out and about. It is now possible to ask your phone verbally where you are, have your location read aloud to you, receive directions and find places of places of interest that are near to you, all combining to give people spontaneity in their daily lives.
As for the future – who knows? From turning your phone into a magnifying glass to becoming a telecare tool, a portable health monitor and AAC device, there are apps that can already do so much to help people live an independent life… and these are just apps that we’ve heard about in the last couple of weeks!
We’re starting to see emergence of disabled people working with talented technically minded people to identify problems and create the solutions.
- How important is digital accessibility?
Digital accessibility is critical as it may be the only means a disabled person has of independently engaging in a timely fashion with service providers.
A classic example of this is a friend of mine who is registered blind. Digital accessibility allows him to read his post and check his bank statements, and therefore to run his business and earn a living. Just 10 years ago much of this was not possible and he had to employ a PA to manage these tasks, which often took much longer and encroached on his privacy.
However, one of my pet hates at the moment is where organisations have attempted digital inclusion but have not ‘connected the dots’. Regularly I come up against this when trying to buy tickets for events and accessible tickets are not available to buy online. There is inevitably a phone number to ring and as I can’t use the phone I have to get other people to do this on my behalf – frustrating is an understatement!
- What does the future hold for Euan’s Guide?
Of particular interest to me is what people think of the site and how we can improve it and we regularly make changes to the site based on their suggestions. And we would always like more reviews, by more reviewers!