When was the last time you encountered a stranger on the train? One that you actually knew but had not seen for several years perhaps.
This is an inspiring story about accessibility and the 2012 Olympic legacy. It started over two years ago and culminated in a random meeting on a train.
How it all started
Picture the scene. I’m standing on the platform. It’s a cool autumnal morning and my early train to London Waterloo is just coming to a stop. The door in front of me opens. I step into the carriage. No seats as usual. Oh well, at least I have a good book to read.
And then I started to scan the carriage, as I normally do, to see if I recognise any faces. To my great surprise, sitting just two rows away from me, is indeed a face that I recognise. Two minutes go by, me wracking my brain to recall her name. Then she looks up.
To my delight and surprise, her face lights up with a beaming smile. Good, I was right. She is the person I was thinking of and what is more, she recognises me.
“Excuse me please”, I move over to where she is seated and apologise to the guy sitting next to her hunched over his laptop working.
For the next thirty minutes or so my former colleague and I reminisce on our time working together. That’s now two years in the past we realise. Gosh, how the time flies.
You see, Gill was the Communications lead on the Accessibility project I led during my last eight months or so working at Virgin Media, a leading UK Broadband, Cable TV and telephony provider.
Back in 2013, in the UK we were still ‘coming back down to earth’ after the amazing 2012 Olympics and Paralympics in London. There was a lot of pride and excitement in the air. At the time, we in Virgin Media undertook a project to raise awareness amongst our staff about the needs of elderly customers and people living with disabilities. In essence it was a cultural change initiative.
My role was to lead that programme. Together with the Head of Sustainability, Katie and our small but merry band of colleagues across the company and a couple of partner organisation, (Digital Accessibility Centre, MPH Group and Scope,) we took on the challenge.
We were immensely proud when Paralympic Gold Medal winner Richard Whitehead agreed to work with us as our Accessibility Ambassador. That year, Richard ran 40 marathons in 40 days from John O’Groats all the way down to Land’s End.
En route, he called in at several of our offices and retail stores around the country. Over the course of our initiative to “Help Everybody Live an Independent Digital Life”, we made a real and material difference to the attitudes of our people throughout the company.
We tapped into real human issues and personal stories came to the fore. We unlocked creativity and made meaningful changes to products, training and processes alike.
The legacy lives on
I remember how passionate I felt about the topic at the time. All those emotions and deep feelings came flooding back as we stood there talking. How amazing it had been to tap into the rich vein of human spirit and caring of the great staff we employed.
I was privileged to work with such amazing people both inside and outside the firm. My ‘Stranger on the Train’ told me that this year a whole new raft of diversity and accessibility initiatives are underway.
As we parted at Clapham Junction, I asked her to give Katie a massive hug from me. Later on in the evening Katie reached out to says she had received the hug and the best part – she wrote, “the legacy lives on!”
I could not feel more proud and rewarded knowing all that hard work WAS indeed worth it and that I’d played some small part in making a real difference in the lives of our customers.
Have you been affected by impairment or disability of some sort? Does your business know what its obligations are in this regard? Maybe it’s time you paid closer attention to the needs of all your customers. You can make small changes that make the world of difference to people without spending a ton of money too!
Do please leave a comment below…
Until next time friends 🙂