An accessibility consultant shares his thoughts

A sympathetic ear works wonders

The less you notice him, the better. It's like a football match where you sometimes forget there's a referee on the pitch. The comparison is apt, says Tom Buntinx. "It means I’m doing my job well and am managing the disruption." Meet our accessibility consultant.  

Are you able to sit back and relax, Tom? 

In spite of all the efforts made by builders and contractors on a daily basis, I generally still have to get involved somewhere. Can work be carried out on the ring without disruption? Unfortunately, that is impossible. This may be due to, for example, noise, homes or shops that are difficult to reach, additional traffic and so on. It's often unavoidable. We literally and figuratively have to eat dirt to see results. However, we all do our utmost to reduce inconvenience and maintain quality of life during roadworks.

And how do you do your bit? 

In the first place, through good site communication. People want to know what to expect, and want to be correctly, timely and fully informed. When will the work start? And how long will it last? With what disruption? I think it's important to offer perspective to residents or traders. And I want to be honest about it. If we're expecting disruption, there's little point in disguising it

“Be attentive to everyone's situation and constructively devise solutions”
Tom Buntix

What channels do you use to spread the message? 

I communicate mainly by leaving a letter in the resident’s letterbox. In this way I can respond to very local issues and immediately reach the right target group. A letter remains highly effective, even in the digital age. The communication team also translates the information from the letter to other channels, such as the website or a digital newsletter. I'm also always available by phone and regularly visit people in their home or shop.

What do you think makes a good accessibility consultant?

In addition to his communicative skills, he must also simply be pragmatic. I look at the works from a different perspective and challenge the people working on-site. Is it logical to steer cyclists via that diversion? Is the pedestrian corridor safe enough? And is the signage fully in order? In other words, what works on paper, doesn’t always work in practice. Each site is different and requires a different practical interpretation and approach each time.

What's your workday like?

A personal approach is tremendously important to me. I don't think the job of an accessibility consultant is something to be done from behind a desk. You should mingle with the locals, that includes both the contractor and the workers on-site. I attend site meetings to stay up to date and then pop in to a local shop for a chat. This is often about the work and the accessibility of the shop, but can just as well be about the weather or football. Sometimes a sympathetic ear works miracles, don't underestimate that.

Which sites are you working for today?  

At the moment about five sites. For example, I am working on the redevelopment of the Sint-Annalaan in Vilvoorde and Grimbergen. There we are constructing bus-only lanes in preparation for the Ringtrambus. The other sites are mainly focused on the development of bicycle highways in Vilvoorde, Diegem and Sint-Stevens-Woluwe.

What exactly are you doing there? 

The thing common to them all is, I think, mobility solutions. For example, I study appropriate local access for residents or I look for parking alternatives. I also pay a lot of attention to the accessibility of shops and popular spots such as sports grounds. I then work out an alternative signage or suggest a safe bicycle and pedestrian passage.  

People often have very practical questions. What can they consult you about

A variety of things. For example, if you have planned a move or if you are expecting an important delivery as a trader, and it conflicts with the work, then I will look for solutions together with the contractor. It’s true that most people worry about everyday things, such as the garbage collection or the accessibility of the driveway and house. It's my job to reassure those people.

Could you, in conclusion, give an example of what you have experienced recently at the site? 

Electric cars are on the rise. It’s a new phenomenon which we will have to take into account more and more. You can’t just place a car like that outside the site zone for a few weeks because you won't be able to charge it there. We will therefore provide a charging point at the site shed on the Sint-Annalaan. In this way we ensure everyone's mobility. This is typical of De Werkvennootschap: having an eye for everyone's situation and constructively devising solutions.