Making People With Disabilities Feel Welcome

Pollstar spoke with Gavin Neate, founder of Neatebox, a company that has created an app called Welcome that helps people with disabilities to communicate with a point of contact at shopping centers, theaters, airports and venues of all kinds and receive a bespoke service when arriving onsite. 

Neate used to work with guide dogs for the blind, learning everything about the requirements of the visually impaired.

His work made him realize how hard it can be for people with disabilities to get the right kind of service. “For example, if you are visually impaired, and the person servicing you doesn’t introduce themselves, you have no idea who you’re talking to,” Neate said.

“It doesn’t sound like much, but a simple ‘Hello, my name’s Mark, I’m the cashier, how can I help you today’ can make a world of difference to somebody who cannot see. The person that’s visually impaired can then go: ‘Hi Mark, my name’s Mr. Smith, and I need to withdraw some money, or open an account, or upgrade my phone.’”

Or find my seat in a venue. Welcome helps the person in need to communicate and build a relationship with any given shop, bank or venue operator, even before the initial face to face contact. 

Gavin Neate
– Gavin Neate

“The initial couple of minutes are probably the most important part of any relationship. And if people don’t even introduce themselves, it’s very hard to go from there, because they obviously did not take into consideration that you might have challenges.

“It’s tough enough for people who have an obvious disability, where they use a wheelchair, guide dog, cane or mobility scooter. But when somebody’s got autism, epilepsy, diabetes, MS or any other impairment, it makes it impossible. Because the last thing you want to do is walk into a shop and say: ‘Hi, my name is John and I’ve got autism.’”

Welcome enables “John” to inform his point of contact about his needs in advance, and the people working the shop or venue to go: “Hello John, I’ve seen you want to upgrade your phone, let’s go over to my desk and sort you out.”

Neate thinks the app is “incredibly useful” when it comes to the majority of venues, because the person who welcomes the impaired guest at the venue actually knows who they are, how they should interact, what the overview of their disability is.

Thus, the application also functions as a training tool. Any person with a disability using the app inputs the basic information: when they want to visit and what they want specifically.

“The moment you press send that pops up on my screen, and I can see what you look like, what your name is, what area you like assistance with, and the top five tips on how to interact with any given impairment.

“When you then travel to my location you eventually hit a GPS or geo fence. As soon as you hit that geo fence I get another alert to say that you’re nearly there,” Neate explained.

This mechanism gives the venue operator enough time to make its way to a particular entrance point and meet the person upon arrival, and also put out a ramp or make sure a certain gate was open.

The app also communicates with beacons, a Bluetooth technology that works within a range of up to 60 meters, although it is most accurate on short distances.

This would enable venue operators to notice when a person walks through a particular door. An autistic person who is afraid of large crowds could be greeted at a secluded entrance, taken through the less frequented parts of the venue to more spacious place to watch the gig.

“If you have multiple entrances, like in stadiums, and you place a beacon at each entrance, not only do you know if somebody’s arriving, you also know which entrance they’re at. You can look at your tablet and find out about their particular condition. You can say: ‘Hi John, I’m Mark, I’m with customer service, and I’m going to take you to your seat,’” Neate said.

“Of course you cannot have an infinite amount of customers turn up and expect VIP treatment. What we’ve been saying to people is that all your doing is managing the person’s expectation of the service they will get. If somebody turns up at a tram station or a bus stop, they instantly receive a message saying, the customer service team has been notified that you have arrived at the tram station and somebody will be with you within a certain amount of time. It takes away a huge amount of stress. You know that if you just stay where you are, you’re going to arrive where you want to get.”

Neate is already speaking to theaters, supermarkets, train stations, airports and other facilities. He is looking for venue operators who want to try the Welcome app and help him understand the specific idiosyncrasies of the venue business. The current cost for providing the app and its services to venues would be no more than £1,500 per year. He can be contacted at [email protected].