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A space that works for me: Jess Long shares her views of an accessible design

As a charity, Livability focuses on tackling barriers in people’s lives so they can enjoy a fuller life in their community. We are also challenging the perceptions and attitudes surrounding disability and those that have them.

My role at Livability is as a Service User Engagement Officer. As one of the three Service User Engagement Officers, our roles are about being a bridge between Livability and those that use its services. We ensure that the needs, wants and voices of its Service Users are heard and acted upon, but we also help the charity to tell stories. Stories of the impact that we have on people’s lives, stories of our good practice and the stories of the Service Users. All of these stories demonstrate the difference that Livability makes to both its Service Users and its staffs lives.

It was great to be The Princess Royal Livability Awards and see our Patron HRH The Princess Royal officially open our national office. As a person with a physical disability I am delighted by the new office space that was developed with Morgan Lovell. It’s accessibility, slick design and open nature are just a delight to come to and to work in. Since acquiring my disability, I have noticed that there normally appears to have to be a choice made between a building being aesthetically pleasing or accessible. However, bucking the trend, Livability put accessibility at the heart of its design brief and it’s got beautiful results.

If we just look at the basics, there are five lifts! And they all work, all of the time! The open spacing of the main floor and lack of walls not only means the whole office is easier to navigate from a wheelchair users point of view but is a creative space which encourages collaboration.

Details make all the difference

All the little details have also been thought of as well. From being able to make my own coffee without holding the entire kitchen up to being able to open doors on my own. These may be minor things for most people, although maybe not from the logistics point of view, but they change the entire office experience for me.

I must admit, even I didn’t know what a difference a decent carpet could make. I must be health and safety’s worst nightmare when I’m around, and I’ve been told several times by different people that there is a speed limit in the office. However I claim minimum responsibility of my speed as the carpet offers little to no resistance which isn’t something I’m used to. So that combined with a nippy wheelchair just means I get around with minimum effort exerted and I must say its fabulous. Plus, it fits with Livabilitys branding and colours so the theme hasn’t had to be sacrificed for my ability to speed.

The plethora of bathroom facilities options, whether accessible or changing room, is also a delight with its variety of grab rail options. The changing room has also opened up an opportunity for people with more complex transfer needs to come, take part in or work for Livability and take advantage of our beautiful surroundings.

Those that know me well, also know how much I fight to be totally independent in all things, whether that’s to my detriment or not. Admitting I need help and then having to ask for it almost pains me. However even the most of the adaptations mean that something I crave and value so much is essentially handed to me on a plate. That I can feel a more equal and valued part of the team and not another thing someone has to help with.

Livability (and I) can now proudly say that it’s National Office is truly accessible and mean it and it’s a wonderful thing to be part of. I’m not saying the office is perfect, but the open attitude for constant adaptation and learning means it’s as close as anything ever will be. Not everyone knows everything about access needs, I only know what works best for me, but when the accessibility and design combination is done right, no one knows anything is different unless those differences are important to you.

Watch what it took to create a fully accessible national office:

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