Dementia is a disability too!

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Dementia is a disability too!

Philly Hare from Dementia Without Walls has written a guest blog explaining how venues can be dementia friendly in preparation for Disabled Access Day. Find out more below.


Have you ever avoided meeting up with friends because you know the pub has terrible acoustics; left your hands unwashed because you can’t work out how to turn on a tap; or had a ‘near miss’ because of a poorly signed toilet? I bet you have. And if you are one of the 800,000 people in the UK who are living with a dementia, you may also have teetered nervously at the edge of a bold pattern on a carpet because it looks like a cliff edge; taken fright at your own reflection in a mirror; or risked scalding yourself because you find it hard to judge water temperature.

Saturday 12 March is Disabled Access Day, a day to highlight and promote the access needs of all disabled people. Yet people who are living with dementia are still routinely excluded from accessibility planning. This is in spite of the fact that those in mid–late stage dementia (and some in the early stages too) fall under the definition of disability underpinning the Equality Act 2010 – as highlighted by two recent papers funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. So they should receive full protection against all forms of discrimination based on their disability, including ‘reasonable adjustments’ by employers and the providers of goods and services’. The UNCRPD (United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) also gives them the right to access - on an equal basis with nondisabled people - to environments, transport, information, services, the judicial system, mobility support, rehabilitation, re-ablement and support services, work, an adequate standard of living, participation in civic life, culture, recreation and sport. That’s quite a comprehensive list of access rights!

So what’s important access-wise to people with dementia? Well, like all others with disabilities, they are first of all individuals – so no one thing applies to everyone. However, the work of experts such as Mary Marshall and Ricky and Annie Pollock has given us a good understanding of some issues that many have in common. We know that simple signage can be very helpful, as can the judicious use of colour contrast. Good acoustics; air quality; bright, even lighting (to reduce shadows); glass fronted cupboards; personalised doors; and clearly visible steps and handrails are all examples of simple adaptations that can make people with dementia feel more able to join in and to navigate their way around communities.  The more recent body of work on dementia friendly communities has highlighted the urgency for such measures to be standardised.

Recently people with dementia themselves have started working together to raise awareness of access issues. A group of over twenty from five countries has highlighted the sensory challenges that many face. Their booklet includes many practical suggestions such as:

  • Using prisms or coloured overlays to assist with double vision
  • Designating quiet areas in cafes
  • Using ear plugs to reduce noise
  • Fitting special taps

The SURF group in Liverpool are working on accessibility with shops and transport companies. The Torbay Dementia Leadership Group recently conducted a local GP surgery walkthrough and produced an Expert by Experience document. And ‘Mystery shoppers’ from the Memorybilia group have also helped to make Rochester’s Huguenot Museum more dementia friendly, highlighting the need for clear, unambiguous directions; easier to read text size with high contrast; headphones to add information and remove distractions; and clear explanations of interactive exhibits.

Andy Tysoe, campaign lead for NHS Change Day (#dementiaDO), uses the term ‘cognitive ramps’ to draw a parallel with such interventions, which are just as necessary for inclusion as ramps are for wheelchair users.

What is particularly needed now is a) greater public awareness and b) some mandatory evidence-based guidelines for builders and planners. Let’s use Disabled Access Day to get this ball rolling!


If you’re interested in taking part in Disabled Access Day find out more on our get involved pages.