Euan MacDonald’s life changed after he was diagnosed with motor neuron disorder in 2003. Even though needed to use a wheelchair and ventilator on a everyday basis, it didn’t stop the 40-year-old from having fun with his friends and family in his hometown of Edinburgh, Scotland.
But there was one problem. Not all of the venues or bars that he wanted to visit had accurate access information for people with disabilities. That’s when he decided to create Euan’s Guide, a website with detailed user reviews about a venue’s disabled access information. MacDonald says more than 1,600 places have been reviewed so far, which gives users the freedom to go where they want and when they want.
“Spontaneity can be very liberating,” MacDonald told Not Impossible Now in an email interview. “Certainly some disabled people are used to a daily routine and often go to the same places over and over. In my case, there was a bit of a fear of the unknown — not knowing if a place can cater for my needs. If we do things right, we can maybe help people combat that feeling.”
Read more of Not Impossible Now’s interview with MacDonald below:
NIN: What inspired you to create Euan’s Guide?
Euan MacDonald: Ultimately, it was wanting to find out new places to visit with good disabled access and to share our experiences of visiting local places. There were a couple of key moments that led to the “lightbulb” moment:
Going to T in the Park Festival — with trepidation! This is an outdoor music festival in Scotland known for being muddy! We had won tickets at a charity event and went not knowing what to expect. The staff was amazing and the accessible viewing platforms were great. We’d had no way of knowing this or finding out about access before we went and we really wanted to be able to recommend this to other people.
[For] a concert in Glasgow, I’d bought what I’d been told were tickets for a wheelchair accessible viewing area. When we got there, there was a staff member who offered to carry me upstairs! I politely declined and, in effect, got paid to go away.
And we actually starting talking about the idea of a website when friends came from London to visit, and we were trying to think of somewhere new to go instead of our usual haunts. We just couldn’t find any reliable information on disabled access. A badge on the door or window simply doesn’t tell you enough!
How important is it for you to have your sister Kiki working closely with you on this project?
MacDonald: Having someone who is able and passionate about the issues is fantastic. I think sometimes the views of friends and family can be overlooked when often they feel more passionately about access than anyone. So it’s great to have that perspective and that of others in the office who I count as friends.
How many people have shared reviews on Euan’s Guide so far? What has impressed you the most about the reviews you’ve read?
MacDonald: The site has been live for a little over a year now, and we have over 1,600 places on there. I love reading other people’s reviews and I’ve been to quite a few places on the site because they’ve been recommended by others. The most interesting reviews for me are the ones of places that you would never think are accessible, but then you find they are. Examples include London’s Cutty Sark (a Tea Clipper that first sailed in 1869) and Scotland’s Edinburgh Castle that is also fairly ancient and perched on top of a large hill!
What kind of feedback have you been getting from your users?
MacDonald: Feedback has been very positive! Euan’s Guide is designed to be a positive site encouraging disabled people and their families and friends to talk about their own experiences. Some of our favorite tweets that we’ve received include:
Venues have also given us some great feedback. It’s a chance for venues that have put time and effort into their accessibility to show it off and also to learn from their visitors. We’ve also had venues tell us about improvements they’ve made following comments from our users.
Since the beginning we’ve also invited feedback from our users about the website. There have been some great ideas, and we’re constantly trying to improve the site for visitors. Some of the most recent came from a charity that works with young people who find writing difficult. They were really enthusiastic about the idea of the site but it wasn’t practical for them to use. So we’ve added the ability to submit video reviews and the ones that have been submitted so far are fantastic!
I was struck by the fact that Euan’s Guide helps make disabled people's lives more spontaneous. Please describe what disabled people’s lives are like on a daily basis and why Euan’s Guide makes such a big difference.
MacDonald: I can only talk about my personal experience. But spontaneity can be very liberating. Certainly some disabled people are used to a daily routine and often go to the same places over and over. In my case, there was a bit of a fear of the unknown — not knowing if a place can cater for my needs. If we do things right, we can maybe help people combat that feeling. I have loved being able to try other people's recommendations and nothing would make me happier than if I could make a recommendation that someone else found useful.
How much did it mean to you that JK Rowling and Professor Stephen Hawking endorsed Euan’s Guide?
MacDonald: In a word, brilliant! We are absolutely delighted to have their support.
What advice do you have for young people who have an idea that they hope can make a difference in the world but don’t know where to start?
MacDonald: I think just remember that attitudes are more important than facts! By that I mean if you approach things with the right attitudes like desire, determination and willingness to learn, you will make your idea work. Go for it!
Learn more about Euan’s Guide by visiting the website and by watching the video below:
Top photo courtesy of Euan’s Guide