Portsmouth, NH

Contact Name
Anne Weidman
Project Dates
October 2016-present
Workshop Leader
Creative Communities Exchange (CCX) 2017
Tags
Marketing, Design
When residents and travelers with disabilities have an accurate resource for accessibility information, it increases the likelihood that they will choose Portsmouth as a destination, becoming an economic driver for cultural attractions and restaurants.

Access Portsmouth helps people with disabilities, as well as their families, friends and colleagues, know what to expect when they visit Portsmouth. We visit local businesses to determine the accessibility of the front entrance, the usability of the seating/surroundings, the ability to use a rest room, and the most convenient place to park. We call this ‘access-friendly’ not necessarily ADA compliant.
Project Goals
What were the specific goals of this creative economy project? Describe the community development challenge or opportunity that your project was designed to address:
Access Portsmouth's overall goal is far reaching: to raise awareness where it's lacking, inspire a spirit of inclusiveness, and influence other communities to do the same throughout New England and beyond. The site was designed with an eye to simplicity knowing it would become a template for replication in other communities.
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
This was always perceived as a great thing to do for people living with disabilities, but at its heart this can be a powerful economic driver for cultural institutions and businesses. For a traveler with disabilities, visiting a town with unknown challenges is stressful. Knowing what to expect and being able to plan ahead makes a huge difference in the desirability of the destination.
The original goal was a simple, easy to replicate website. The expanded goal now includes a GPS enabled app for smart phones and tablets, and replication across New England and beyond.
Who was involved in this project and what did they do? (be sure to include the partners from outside of the creative sector and how local voices were included):
The Access Portsmouth team is led by Todd Hanson, a healthcare architect who lives with a neuromuscular disease, causing him to use a wheelchair for mobility and an iPad for speech. Anne Weidman does the business assessments and writes the reviews, William Tucker provides the IT support. All three are colleagues at JSA Inc Architects in Portsmouth NH. The stakeholders include 153 bars and restaurants in Portsmouth NH as well as dozens of cultural institutions and attractions.
What really gives Access Portsmouth its merit is that we have done this with just three people, at almost no cost, in only a few months. It’s simple. And it’s powerful.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
Upon launch in the fall of 2016, Access Portsmouth caught the attention of organizations across the region. It is recognized as an economic driver. The Southern New Hampshire Regional Planning Commission has been trained in assessments and hopes to replicate the effort in the fourteen towns they serve. University of New Hampshire’s Occupational Therapy program is considering using teams of interns for evaluations. The Governor’s Commission on Disabilities is helping us brainstorm on growth possibilities. The Institute for Human Centered Design featured Access Portsmouth in a learning series. Plan New Hampshire and AIA New Hampshire have both hosted programs on universal and accessible design and Access Portsmouth. Our site crossed the path of a board member of NEFA, resulting in founder Todd Hanson being invited to join the newly formed NEFA Accessibility Committee.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
The Open Doors Organization, an accessibility advocacy organization, published a nationwide market study of adult travelers with disabilities showing that in 2015, American’s with disabilities spent $17.3 billion on travel. This led to the easy assumption that if travelers knew what to expect in historic Portsmouth, they would visit.
Open Doors also created an extensive site of accessibility information for the City of Chicago, ‘Easy Access Chicago’, that became an inspiration for this effort.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
We tested various interfaces and settled on a blog-style scroll knowing that a site with few ‘clicks’ was best for a population with various levels of abilities. Then we ‘took to the streets’ and developed an interaction style that was transparent and allowed the business owner to see this as a business driver, not a ‘wall of shame.’
If the project steps changed over time, please describe how:
Our original score sheet was complex and we were mistaken, in an unpleasant way, for the Board of Health or some other regulatory official. We ditched the clip board and narrowed the inspection points to those details a visitor needs to know. By including a link to the business website for additional information, we positioned Access Portsmouth as the advocate of the business owner. We also help business owners with details that improve their listing.
Obstacles
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
We feel that all accessibility information must be accurate & reliable, no matter who is hosting the report, as it all becomes an economic driver for the city, and a reflection on our hospitality. We found ‘alternative facts’ about accessibility on the Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce website. The chamber database allowed restaurants to self-report on accessibility. Restaurants with no accessible entry reported themselves as accessible resulting in highly inaccurate information for users.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
We offered to become the accessibility experts for the Chamber. It took months, but as a result, the Chamber no longer accepts self reporting on accessibility from member businesses. Instead they link visitors to Access Portsmouth for one central site with reliable information.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
Establish friendly and helpful repoire with the business owner. Check and re-check the assessment details with a responsibility to be 100% accurate. Although this is not an assessment for ADA or strict state accessibility code compliance, be knowledgeable of the requirements of the ADA & state code and offer business owners link or handouts to ADA information.
Project Impact
How has this project strategically connected arts and cultural activities to social, economic, and cultural issues in your community? What is different in your community as a result of this project?
The response to our project was immediate and overwhelming. Business owners began contacting us for inclusion. We expect when tourist season comes into full swing we will see unusual numbers of visitors with disabilities enjoying what National Geographic calls ‘USA’s greatest small town.’
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
We are poised for replication. The Southern New Hampshire Regional Planning Commission has been trained, and hopes to replicate the effort in the fourteen towns that they serve. University of New Hampshire’s Occupational Therapy program is considering using teams of interns for evaluations. The Governor’s Commission on Disabilities is helping us brainstorm on growth possibilities. The Institute for Human Centered Design featured Access Portsmouth in a learning series. Plan New Hampshire and AIA New Hampshire have both hosted programs on universal and accessible design and Access Portsmouth.
How did you measure this success or progress?
Success is when we see businesses making modifications to ensure a better listing on Access Portsmouth.
Success is replication to other communities.
Success was hearing from a resident that only days after our website launch they hosted friends with an adult son in a wheelchair. They scrolled our list, chose a restaurant, and took a party of ten to dinner. The restaurant was thrilled, as was the family.
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
The unexpected ‘one-off’ use of our site is that it is the easiest site to navigate for dining and attractions in Portsmouth. Able bodied visitors & residents alike are using it for a fast scroll and quick & easy link to restaurants and attractions in town.
CCX Workshop Handout