Why funerals should be accessible to all

accessible funerals

Four Minute Read

One in five people in the UK describe themselves as disabled. That is over 14 million people who may face barriers in their day-to-day lives — barriers which may have nothing to do with their impairments, but exist because we don't make services truly accessible to all.

When it comes to funerals, you might hope the situation would be different, but sadly this is not always the case.

Grief and lack of familiarity with the process of planning a funeral, can make it harder than usual for people to explain their needs and discuss adjustments. They might assume that they cannot, or won’t be allowed to, do something, when actually, with some creative thinking, it would be possible.

What are we doing to improve accessibility?

At Poppy’s, we believe that everyone should be able to have the funeral they want and need. No one should be excluded from playing a full, meaningful role, whether it’s speaking at the ceremony, planning the order of service, carrying the coffin or any other part of the funeral.

This is why we’re working with the Centre for Accessible Environments to review all of our activities for accessibility and with design studio Studio Suss to put some of those changes into practice.

What is accessibility?

We often think of accessibility in terms of buildings — ramps, toilets and handrails — changes that can be costly and difficult to implement in old buildings. While this may be true, it's not the whole picture — or even necessarily the most important part.

Teresa Rumble from the Centre for Accessible Environments explains, “Attitude and training really matter. Often fear of offending someone, or using the wrong language, means that disabled people aren’t asked about what they need or those needs are ignored. It’s all about seeing what’s possible, thinking flexibly and above all, listening to what people say they need.”

How does accessibility make a difference to clients?

Hannah, one of our funeral directors at Poppy's, explains how small adjustments can make all the difference. “When I helped a recently blind husband to organise his wife's funeral, I met him at home and stayed in touch with phone calls rather than emails.

“He chose to help carry the coffin, so we practiced in his front room, where I could touch his hands as I was describing things, so he understood what was required. On the day, a member of our team was alongside him at the graveside, to ensure everything was done safely. Helping him do this was very rewarding, as I knew how much it meant to him to carry her on her last journey.”

What is inclusive design?

While improving accessibility helps disabled people directly, it also has a wider impact.

“Inclusive design is so important,” continues Teresa. “This helps all of us, whether we see ourselves as disabled or not. As we get older, many of us struggle with hearing or mobility. The use of face masks during the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed how much we rely on lip-reading, clear speech and facial expressions to understand what is going on. This is also a consideration for including non-native English speakers.

"Designing areas to be wheelchair accessible also helps people of larger build or those who are pregnant. Everyone can benefit from changes to improve accessibility.”

Hannah knows how flexibility, and tailoring to a client’s specific needs, can overcome barriers, whether someone is permanently or temporarily disabled:

“I arranged a funeral for someone whose mum had broken her ankle the evening before and couldn't leave hospital. I arranged with the amazing ward nurses to wheel her outside. We stopped with the hearse on the way to the crematorium, so she could still see her son’s coffin.”

Where next for Poppy’s?

At Poppy’s, we’re starting a journey to adapt our beautiful 19th century Gatehouse and mortuary to be more accessible for disabled clients and team members, without losing their character.

We know this will be an ongoing process and will require investment, creative thinking and a long-term approach. But we are determined to do it, because it is the right thing to do. Not just to meet the needs of some of our clients, but to ensure our Tooting HQ is a welcoming space for everyone.

In future Talking Death blogs, we will profile the voices of disabled people, as they share their experiences and their views on how funerals could be made more accessible and inclusive for everyone. We’ll also be keeping you up-to-date with changes we’re making at Poppy’s.

We need everyone’s insights and would love to hear your experience and ideas too on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Don’t miss our blogs on how to plan a dementia-friendly funeral and our journey to doing business better by becoming a B Corp.

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