Mum's mission to make attractions more suitable for those with hidden disabilities

  • Video report by ITV Wales journalist Ian Lang

Nikki Carlo's son Charlie is eight years old. He has autism, learning disabilities and struggles with anxiety.

When Nikki takes him for a day out things can sometimes prove difficult but it is not helped by the fact that people often don't try to understand.

"If Charlie is having a meltdown or he is overloaded people can just stare - they judge really. You can get a lot of nasty looks," she said.

"We don't want people to feel sorry for us or our kids, we just want people to try and understand us"

But one woman hopes she has come up with a solution which the tourism industry in Wales will support.

Mum-of-three Davina Carey-Evans, whose 27-year-old son Benjamin has severe autism, said she had spent a lifetime visiting leisure attractions with her son only to realise on arrival that they were unsuitable for his needs.

Davina helped launch access cards, which aim to help leisure providers quickly and discreetly identify the support holders may need.

Davina is determined to help businesses improve accessibility so other families – especially those with hidden disabilities - can enjoy the full range of north Wales’ excellent leisure facilities.

Davina, who hails from Criccieth and is now Anglesey-based with event and marketing experience, set up PIWS (Welsh for purple) as a Community Interest Company to help businesses tap into the spending power of disabled people in the UK.

In partnership with the national charity Nimbus Disability, she has launched a new campaign to boost awareness and registration of the Access Card among the hospitality and leisure industry in north Wales.

The card informs leisure providers quickly and discreetly about the support holders may need when accessing their attractions and services through a range of disability or impairment symbols.

The card can display a range of disability or impairment symbols, signalling what support the holder might need.

The card acts as a ‘Disability Passport’ and highlights sensitively the barriers visitors might face and the reasonable adjustments business owners may need to make to welcome them.

Davina said: “I’ve had a lifetime of trying to visit locations where people have only catered for wheelchair users. This is one of the reasons why I set up PIWS which represents the so-called ‘purple pound’ – the spending power of people living with disabilities in the UK.

“Accessible tourism is worth an estimated £15 billion per year in the UK alone and yet only 10 per cent of businesses in Wales - if that - are targeting that audience.

“There’s a fear among businesses of saying they cater for a disability because they don’t want to get it wrong but instead find it easier to do nothing."

Davina added: “Leisure businesses need to offer more than just a policy or mission statement on their website with no real understanding of what it means. This is not about giving anyone a hard time. Attitudes need to change.

“What we are trying to create with PIWS is an opportunity for businesses to start their journey in a realistic way that they can manage without huge expense and to use the tools we are putting together.

“As they gain that confidence, both PIWS and people with disabilities will constructively support them.”

Davina has been running a pilot project on Anglesey for the past year which has involved the launch of a PIWS Holiday Club, providing quiet safe spaces for families with additional needs at popular venues and events - including the annual Anglesey Show.

The Club has registered more than 100 families already and the number is growing.