Profile Blog: Fiona Jarvis | Blue Badge Style
Doing Disability In Style
Blue Badge Style is all about making life stylish and accessible to people of all different abilities. They have developed an online search facility to help you find venues that they have rated using their own 3 Ticks system for ambiance, accessibility and facilities. They now have a mobile app and an interactive virtual tour system for businesses and venues to add to their own websites, giving an idea of what the venue is really like before they decide to go.
A change in life’s circumstances doesn’t mean you have to change your approach to life
Blue Badge Style founder Fiona Jarvis explained to New Pathways editor Kahn Johnson and now to us. As anyone who has ever had mobility or accessibility issues will tell you, planning an evening – or even a lunch – out can take military-levels of planning. You need to do your research. You need to know that it’s fully accessible. That the toilet facilities are up to snuff. And this can take several phone calls. What you need is someone who has done the work for you. Someone who has done the research, rated the venues and then put all the information in a handy app which tells you what is available near to where you happen to be. What you need, is Blue Badge Style.
Fiona Jarvis, now 61, was working in the city when she was diagnosed with MS (Multiple Sclerosis) some 25years ago. As the condition progressed, she found herself needing a walking stick, then two, then being in a wheelchair.
In 2012, she decided that for her own benefit she had to work from home. “I was working in IT sales,” she recalls as we chat on the phone. “I first realised I might have multiple sclerosis when I kept falling off my high-heels, without being drunk. “Things were getting harder and harder, and I needed more and more help. Which is when I decided to start up Blue Badge Style. I realised that there was little or no information on style with disability, especially when it came to going out to cool places. You always have to make at least three phone calls to ascertain whether you can be accommodated at a venue and even then there’s usually a surprise waiting for you, like a flight of stairs or a disabled loo with no grab bars.
“Just because you’re in a wheelchair, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to go somewhere fabulous for a meal!”
From such thinking, Blue Badge Style was born. After gaining investment, Fiona hired someone to write reviews of places around UK & Europe. The aim was to be both informative and helpful, but also with the added benefit of sustaining the product of Blue Badge Style. After all, there’s no point having a review site if you can’t review anything. And the reviews didn’t stop there. “We also look at stylish equipment. Yes, you may have to have a walking stick – but you want a nice one!” Alongside the reviews, the website has the BBS Gallery – where you can actually journey through a building and get a real sense of just how accessible a venue might be. And now, there’s the app too – which, when used with your phone’s location settings switched on, can tell you how many accessible venues are nearby and how highly they are rated (out of three blue ticks).
The aim of the whole project is to try and make life simpler and easier for anyone with a mobility or accessibility issue – from severe disabilities to a broken leg.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that ‘wheelchair access’ means nothing,”
...chuckles Fiona ruefully. “And everyone’s needs are different. If you have a stick, your needs are very different to those of a person in a wheelchair. The same if you are deaf or have eyesight problems. “It can be bad enough planning a journey without getting a big surprise when you get there! Suddenly going out can become a distressing event. And people prefer to go out! Stay ing at home the whole time isn’t good for you and people can treat you differently. “And I’ve done that. I’ve stayed home because I’ve thought ‘oh, I can’t stand the hassle’. If you stay in, it’s not good, but going out can be hard too. It’s a double-edged sword but both are negative! “That’s why we try and present things in a positive light.”
How Accessible Is Accessible?
We’ve all heard stories – or had experience ourselves – of how inaccessible somewhere accessible can be. Door handles too high for wheelchair users, emergency chords tied up safely out of ‘harm’s way’ and so unusable in an emergency, steps that people have forgotten to mention – the list goes on. And on… “It still happens today,” admits Fiona. “I rang a restaurant in Victoria not an hour before you called to find out if they were accessible. It was a new building, so should have been. ‘Are you accessible?’ I asked. ‘Yes’. ‘And the toilets?’ No. when I asked why they had to go and get the manager. “Turns out they did have disabled loos, it’s just the staff didn’t know. It took me two phone calls and half an hour of my time to find that out!” Sadly, such situations are not uncommon to Fiona, but things are improving. Especially when you consider where we’ve come from. People are more aware now, they’re more aware that they have to do something. “Things aren’t perfect, and a lot of venues don’t change things despite being criticised – and although the planning laws state that a unisex disabled toilet should take precedence over two regular toilets. That rule is often flouted.
The Purple Pound
As the conversation ambles on, an interesting figure is brought up. Disabled people have, according to Government findings, £249bn of disposable income a year. That’s a lot of the power in the market place. In 2017, BBC business reported that the Purple Pound is worth something like £249 billion to the uk economy. Businesses would be wise to adapt their premises and advertise their accessibility to increase their disabled customers!
“We always look for stylish places, because people like to go to them. People want a nice evening out. “And equipment is also important. People are desperate to look nice! Scooters in particular – I’ve seen one guy who had really pimped his up. Things like this can make a massive difference to self- esteem and manufacturers are missing a trick.” Looking good, and getting around easily are both important messages from Fiona, and ones she is keen to spread far and wide.
Tomorrow The World!
Fiona is still seeking investment as she looks to turn Blue Badge Style into a global brand. “We always need money,” she laughs. “We’ve had a lot of positive feedback. Now I want to take BBS across the world. We could help so many people. I’d like to do it now, if we can get the money, but if not… Hey, it’ll still happen. It’ll just take a little longer.” In the meantime, there’s the BBS Awards ceremony, the BLADES, every year, for those who have done sterling work to make life better for people with disabilities.
ADDITI+ON New brand – ADDITI+ON collection of accessories for ‘people who have their hands full’. Launched in the spring of 2017 and supported by The Design Council, it also includes an online SHOP selling both ADDITI+ON items and products that make a difference. The first of the brand is DRINK an inclusive glass holder that fits most sizes of glass and attaches to almost anything – wheelchair, buggy or deckchair. It’s the ‘Chanel’ of glass holders.
Blue Badge Style Access Gallery
An Access Gallery is a multimedia journey through a venue for people who are less able. It highlights the facilities and notes any potential obstacles. Businesses can create their own BBS Gallery and have them up and running within hours.
Showing accessibility or otherwise up front saves embarrassment and reduces anxiety for potential customers. It can also be used as a permanent training/information aid for staff. They won’t need to spend time explaining their accessibility, they can just direct you to the gallery instead. Do you have a favourite venue with excellent access? Encourage them to get a Blue Badge Style rating and an Access Gallery installed on their website! Here's the link: Make Your Own Blue Badge Style Access Gallery
“Quality of life is all about style,” enthuses Fiona – and she and her Blue Badge Style team are here to make that happen.