Hopt and Inclusivity – How can Hopt Improve Venue Accessibility?

Hopt and Inclusivity – How can Hopt Improve Venue Accessibility?

The pandemic has highlighted many societal inequalities but we know that the disabled have been one of the hardest hit groups¹ . A combination of lockdowns, lack of access to care or appointments, inability to secure deliveries of food and medicine and shielding have been cited by many in the disabled community as barriers to living their life as they would wish over the last 18 months. How do I know? Well I write from experience. As a disabled adult who relies on social care, attends countless appointments a year and requires a level of non visible access support when out and about, even the simple things have fallen through the cracks.

But there have been some glimmers of real progress, and one of these is using app based purchasing in the hospitality industry. Initially, many companies bought in apps and contactless customer service as a means to communicate and serve their customers during the pandemic however many disabled customers are seeing this continue beyond the pandemic and it is a welcome addition.

There are apps on the market that will help disabled people find inclusive venues and explain their level of required support such as WelcoMe – those with ramp access, large print menus, hearing loops, personal assistants etc. These are fantastic tools for information sharing solutions as well as customer confidence, but apps such as Hopt are proving a really interesting and valuable addition to those who may wish to have a solution that requires less personal information about conditions to be divulged or can seamlessly be used with a mixed group of socialising abled and disabled adults.

Here is an example from my point of view. I have challenges with communication – I am occasionally non-verbal and I have difficulty in processing auditory information. What could be better than cutting out the need to place an order at a noisy bar or explain that I would like my burger without salad! Using an app like Hopt, I can make informed choices and feel confident knowing that it is clear to the staff what I would like. This makes me much more likely to choose a venue that has this kind of app service choice over one that doesn’t. Believe me, there’s nothing more embarrassing than having to hold up a queue at a busy bar because you can’t hear what the server is asking you. Some customers prefer the personal touch and enjoy the interaction or ability to explain their requirements in detail. The beauty of Hopt is that you don’t have to limit yourself to one or the other. Our most successful venues use a mixture of app and in person service to facilitate excellent customer outcomes.

Research conducted by Scope about disabled people asking for help in shops would seem to agree with this split in confidence in asking for help in person:

“Before the pandemic 67% of disabled people said they were comfortable asking staff for help. During lockdown this dropped to 46% and has only increased slightly to 51% since lockdown was eased.” Scope Opinium Poll May 2021

The Papworth Trust conducted a survey in 2019² that cited 44% of disabled people had issues moving around hospitality buildings which had  led to increased social isolation. Now that physical distancing is no longer as high a priority as earlier in the pandemic, many wheelchair or mobility device users are finding that they can no longer freely move around spaces again. Hotels and pubs may not naturally have lowered serving spaces or bars, especially if they are older premises. Passing food or drinks to customers who may already have hands busy with mobility device controls or a guide dog harness can also prove problematic. Most hospitality staff are more than helpful in supporting disabled people who need help to get from A to B but there is not always the flexibility of experience, time or staffing to allow this. More often than not, disabled people also value their independence and ability to use their own means to get things done. So what does Hopt offer that can help your business to include disabled people?

Firstly, the ability to see a menu in advance is fantastic. Those with allergies, sensory difficulties, restricted diets or health conditions that affect the digestive system can have a look and see what would suit them in advance. Adaptable menus – such as being able to add multiple choice products or notes to remove salad or sauces are invaluable when customers may not be able to do so verbally.

Cutting the crowds is the next boon with an app. I can book a table on the venue website, and order my gin and tonic directly using Hopt. No getting bumped and squashed at a bar. The reduction in anxiety about ordering is huge, thus I am more likely to order again. The handy ‘Order again’ button on Hopt allows me to find a round I have ordered before and simply tap to get it sent to the table again. Handy too for those with memory problems who may have forgotten an order between the table and the bar or who may have dexterity challenges and find it difficult to carry a tray of drinks.

In a seated environment setting such as a cafe or restaurant, the anxiety about communicating can still be very present. Masks prevent hearing impaired and d/Deaf people from lip reading and the combination of unfamiliar accents, clattering cutlery and excited children can render any communication attempts a failure. Having the freedom to process an order digitally facilitates a sense of control and independence while feeling more confident.

Georgia, a neurodiverse adult (and friend), said of her experiences of hospitality app use:

“My experiences of this are generally positive – not feeling pressured to make decisions quickly in a queue/in front of a person, takes away the anxiety about ‘getting it wrong’ in front of others, not having to get my words out verbally etc.”

 Anyone is highly likely to return to a venue that has given an individual those feelings as opposed to one where someone has felt distressed, anxious or marginalised and this can prove costly for businesses who get it wrong, The lost value of the ‘Purple Pound’, the spending power of disabled people, can be up to an estimated £163 million a month for pubs and restaurants who do not make their physical and digital environment inclusive – and that 75% of disabled households have left a venue at some point due to poor access or service.³

And it doesn’t even matter if I want to sit in my pyjamas and eat my meal at home with friends instead – Hopt also provides this capability too. Many restaurants preclude disabled people from ordering in advance because they insist on telephone ordering. Using Hopt, I can book a takeaway or delivery in advance with all of the advantages I have already mentioned. This allows those with fluctuating conditions the security of being able to arrange a social occasion and set out food without having to get to the shops, cook or even get dressed up! I was easily able to test out the inbuilt screen reader ‘VoiceOver’ on my iPhone successfully to allow my device to ‘read’ the Hopt app to me – ideal for those with barriers to reading text as well as the built in ‘Zoom’ tool to magnify the app.

Apps, websites, digital interfaces and user experiences are important. Hopt has a pared back approach with no advertising pop ups or banners in app and our support team offer help via telephone, live chat (currently by invitation) and email for our venues and customers alike. We recognise that there is a limit to our own experience and awareness however and have welcomed feedback and implemented changes based on user experiences and will endeavour to continue to do so.

Apps aren’t the entire solution and don’t replace good disability training, acceptance and venue accessibility. Hopt can’t solve all the challenges faced by venues and disabled people alike in improving accessibility as the scope is wide and varied. These are just some of my experiences and those from other disabled people that I know and won’t be representative of the whole disabled community. However in the current climate, they are an invaluable asset in providing inclusive and adaptive experiences for those who need them. There is an element of choice and independence with a reduction in stress and ‘otherness’ that can come from having to ask for adaptations or trying to seek support to ask for them in the first place. 

¹ https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/disability/articles/coronavirusandthesocialimpactsondisabledpeopleingreatbritain/february2021

² https://www.hgem.com/opinion/disability-access-in-the-hospitality-industry-are-disable-guests-welcomed

³ https://wearepurple.org.uk/the-purple-pound-infographic/