TEA News

07 May 2019

TEA SATE led a London attraction operator to think differently about accessibility: Owen Ralph reports

On the eve of TEA SATE Europe 2019 (8-10 May at Parc Asterix) and with TEA SATE Asia coming up in a few weeks (14-16 June in Shanghai), here's an example of how what they learn at a TEA SATE conference can make a difference in the way operators think about the guest experience.

The discussion at a prior SATE  conference (in 2017) not only provoked thought and brought people together from different walks of life, it also made a tangible difference to the way a major visitor attraction - Hyde Park Winter Wonderland, London - is run.

Story by Owen Ralph, TEA Europe & Middle East Division.

The Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) SATE conference series convenes annually in Europe, Asia and North America. SATE is the definitive conference on Experience Design. The SATE acronym denotes Story + Architecture + Technology = Experience. #TEAsate


Cultivating empathy at TEA SATE Europe

Since its founding in 2007, Hyde Park Winter Wonderland has entertained millions of festive fun seekers in London. But at last year's Christmas-themed event in the British capital, an even wider range of guests was able to experience a greater range of activities than ever before. And this was due in large part to an introduction made 18 months earlier during SATE Europe 2017 in Beaulieu, England.

This followed a presentation designed to raise awareness of accessibility to visitor attractions and inspire interested parties to give these consideration during the design phase of projects. Furthermore, the session sought to demonstrate how sensory storytelling is used to enrich experiences for people with impairments and show how such techniques can enhance the experience for everyone.

Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

“The feedback was great,” recalls TEA EME Division Board President Matt Barton of 7thSense Design. “We had a lot of positive comments about raising awareness of the issues and doing so in a fun way. Inclusion and accessibility are best served from an empathetic view of the matter.”

One of the presentations at the conference was given by Barton with Liz Platt in their role as leaders of 2nd Chailey Scout Group based at Chailey Heritage, a British school for children with special needs. Platt said, “The most important thing when ensuring that people with special needs have a great day at theme parks is the attitude and understanding of the staff.”

SATE Asia 2019 takes place in Shanghai, 14-16 June

Following Platt & Barton's presentation at SATE, Suzy Griffiths, senior director of Arts & Entertainment Events at Winter Wonderland organizer IMG, approached them, and this began a great relationship between IMG and 2nd Chailey Scouts. “It wasn’t long before we as a team started to discuss total inclusivity at the event and what changes – both big and small, simple and challenging – could be made before the next Hyde Park Winter Wonderland,” says Griffiths. “This was a massive shift in our planning process and put these issues at the forefront of our minds.”

“Our first and most significant step,” adds Griffiths, “was to make one of our senior operations managers – Dan Ellis – an Accessibility Ambassador. From that moment on, we knew that one dedicated person would always be addressing issues of inclusivity at the event, and would be committed in implementing as many changes as possible.” Dan and his team visited Chailey Heritage to learn more and even spent a day with the Scouts on their Annual Scout camp.

When Winter Wonderland returned to Hyde Park, a number of changes were put in place. These included:

  • Adding a HDU (High Dependency Unit) in addition to existing disabled facilities across the site.
  • Introducing additional ride token booths around the site with wheelchair accessible dropped counters and also adding a dropped counter at the Skate Exchange by the ice rink.
  • Designing and building a ‘Food & Chill Space' as a calm haven for anyone who may struggle with sensory overload.
  • Recruiting two dedicated customer service team members who were able to act as concierges to anyone with accessibility issues. 
  • A complete rewrite of the accessibility pages on the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland website. 
  • A relaxed performance of one of the event's circus shows.

In the wake of these improvements, the event's independent ride operators began to think more carefully about their communication and customer services in terms of inclusivity. However, adds Griffiths, “I think people sometimes forget that there are a lot of things to do at Winter Wonderland beyond rides. Things like playing the games, singing karaoke in Bar Hütte, riding a gentler attraction like the Giant Wheel (with its wheelchair-accessible gondola) or exploring the Magical Ice Kingdom.” In addition, the event features wheelchair accessible food & beverage outlets and all five of its pre-bookable shows provide free PA (personal assistant) tickets on request.

“Theme parks and visitor attractions are packed with sensory experiences,” observes Barton. “These can be enjoyed not just on the attractions themselves, but also by walking through the venue. Sometimes these can be a little overwhelming of course, but generally they can provide a very entertaining experience even when not all of the attractions can be accessed.”

Platt adds, “When telling a story, such as in The Snowman Experience at Winter Wonderland, touch is an important medium for understanding, especially for people who are visually and/or hearing impaired. Even though many elements of the Snowman story were visual and perhaps could not be experienced fully by our young people, the changes in temperature, the use of sensory effects and of course the ability to reach out and touch the life-size snowman at the end of the story made for a full sensory experience.”

Looking at the issue of accessibility within our global attractions industry, there are still numerous challenges, according to Barton, who says, "On the one hand we have seen more designs for accessibility, inclusion of ramps, adjustable height exhibits etc, on the other hand, accessibility improvements mean investment, as well as stricter health and safety legislation. Since raising this issue at SATE, I have spoken to many people who have a strong interest in making our industry more accessible. My mission now is to bring these people together so we can share our experience and figure out more ways to help attractions become fully inclusive."

SATE Europe 2019 takes place at Parc Astérix near Paris from May 8 to 10. Final tickets can be booked here.  



Posted by Judy Rubin



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