Access Rating trio
Access Rating Founders (from left): Jignesh Vaidya, Mark Esho & Richard Copson

With the goal of becoming the TrustPilot of the accessibility space, start-up app Access Rating has recently received a boost of expertise as well-known industry entrepreneur Martyn Sibley joined its board earlier this month.

The app is the brainchild of three Leicester-located wheelchair users; Mark Esho and his business partners Rich Copson, the founder and director of Access Rating, and Jignesh Vaidya.

Free to download, the app aims to empower the disabled community to review venues’ accessibility. The goal is two-fold: Provide disabled people with more information about the businesses and places they plan to visit for better experiences, as well as encouraging more business owners to improve accessibility.

Co-founders Mark Esho and Rich Copson discuss the motivations behind the app in more detail, alongside the impact that the coronavirus lockdown has had on the two entrepreneurs.

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Each of you are wheelchair users – full or part-time.  Is this what made you start the process of creating this app? 

Rich: “I am a part-time wheelchair user; I use crutches around the house and then my wheelchair when I am out and about.  Over the years I have become more reliant on the world, in general, being accessible.  Once you get in a wheelchair, your world changes; as does the attitudes of others and the amount of barriers you have to overcome to enjoy the simple things in life, such as a meal with friends or a trip to another city.”

Mark: “The key motivation, for me, is to create a more accessible environment for everyone. Access Rating plays a significant part in everyday life such as access to education, work and social events. By improving access, we can significantly change life.  As I like to say: ‘Being disabled is easy, it is society that makes it hard’.”

There are three of you behind Access Rating; how did that come about and who does what?

Rich:I met Mark at a charity ball after having a conversation about a shared interest in wheelchair tennis.  We became friends and often meet for a pint down at the local pub.

“I met Jignesh through Mark and, together, we decided to come up with a way to use our own experiences of disabled access to make improvements to help others in our community.

“Mark is the businessman due to his many years of experience as an entrepreneur.  He is also the go-to-guy for the technical stuff and strategy.

“Jig is a qualified disabled access auditor, so is the main person involved in the ways we support businesses to improve access to their venues.

“And, I am the PR guy who likes to talk a lot, go out in the community and make connections. I have lots of personal experience in social media and networking.”

What motivated you to launch?

Rich: “My main motivation for us to launch was my experience of working with teenagers at a local disability school.  They often have exceptionally low expectations due to so many barriers in their way. I felt a sense of responsibility to help build a better future for young people and my disabled friends.”

Tell us about the Access Rating app?

Mark:The Access Rating App enables users to submit access ratings on over 100,000 hotels, bars and restaurants in the UK.  We have a long-term goal of expanding to enable ratings of music/sports arenas and airports. The app gives us real-time ratings that we can then use to assist venues with improving the access experience of their customers.  But we do need the disabled community to get involved, so the app truly reflects our shared experiences and views.”

If you had to summarise how the app could benefit the consumer, how would you do it in two-three sentences?

Rich: “We would use our slogan: ‘The power to improve disabled access, one rating at a time’ and I’d tell them we live with disabilities ourselves, so we know just how important it is to get their voice heard by the business owners to drive a positive change to access.”

There are other apps in the marketplace, why is this different or better?

Mark: “Unlike other apps, Access Rating is all about the ratings and giving the disabled community a voice.  We have also added features that give users the ability to use this as a guide (down the line) should they wish; things like geolocation to discover places near you; changing places icons that can tell you locations that have toilets with extra space and hoist systems, and there’s an ability for users to filter and see ratings from people with similar mobility needs to them.”

Access Rating app image

Why is it important that your app is powered by real customer reviews?

Rich: “The Access Rating app is fully user-led. We felt that symbols from businesses telling you somewhere was accessible only help so much – and do not always give the truest picture – but it is the real experiences of customers that businesses need to hear about.”

Presumably, the more people get involved and leave their reviews, the better the app becomes?

Rich: “This app is all about the community.  We want more and more people to submit disabled access ratings to not only support venues to make changes, but also to support others in their community that may want to see the ratings of others before attending a venue.

“We feel this is a huge chance to drive a positive change and we hope others can support us with that, as it will be truly life-changing to so many.”

Where can we download the app and is there a cost to do so?

Rich:The app is available across both Android and iOS platforms, and is completely free to download!

Is Leicester a city with good access, in your opinion?

Mark: “Every city has good and bad elements to their access. Leicester has made some good improvements over the last few years, particularly the pavements around the city centre, but it really is the business owners that can drive the bigger changes going forward.

“Being open to having that discussion on access is a great starting point and we hope our ratings can be the beginning of those conversations and improvements. Most venues still have a long way to go in understanding the true experiences of the disabled community – and they’re missing out on a loyal potential customer base.”

Aside from what goes on within venues, what else needs to be done in our city centres to improve access or the visitor experience for people with mobility issues?

Rich:As wheelchair users ourselves, the journey to anywhere starts right from the doorstep.  We have to take into consideration things like transport facilities, which from my own personal experience of taxi services, need to be drastically improved. The hidden fact is that a lot of taxi firms will charge a wheelchair user more for a taxi than an able-bodied individual.  But sadly, this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of issues with transport for disabled people.

“Then, once we arrive, we are thinking about pavements, parking facilities, lifts, entrances to buildings, toilet facilities, floor space inside the venues…and the list goes on!

“This is all before you have even started to enjoy your day out. Being disabled is exhausting and causes huge anxiety, so we’re hopeful that, with support, Access Rating can drive some real changes that help improve lives.”

How has lockdown affected you personally?

Rich:Due to my health condition, which is Becker Muscular Dystrophy, I have been shielding since the begin of lockdown. My mental and physical health has been impacted by all this isolation, but my employer has been incredibly supportive and that has made the world of difference to me. I was just about to begin meeting some friends outside for a long-awaited catch-up and then the extended Leicester lockdown was announced. For everyone, COVID-19 has been a huge lesson, but the impact on the disabled community has been tremendous and my story is just one of many that unfortunately will read a lot worse than mine.”

Mark: “At the beginning, I did feel the impact of lockdown, but soon found ways to turn a negative into positive. For example, keeping fit and using my spare time to work on Access Rating.”

The app can be downloaded from Apple and Android Stores – search Access Rating (Disabled Access Review App).

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