We recently invited Alex from autismadventuresabroad.com to experience 24 hours in Birmingham, highlighting some of the great accessible venues across the city. Hear all about his trip below.

Birmingham isn't your typical tourist destination, but it could be argued that it adds to the charm. That was certainly my feeling during my recent visit. While it is the second largest city in the UK, it is often overshadowed by other popular destinations in the country. That doesn't mean you have to follow the usual crowds though. Sometimes the road less travelled can leave you pleasantly surprised.

Situated in the West Midlands, Birmingham is often regarded to be the cultural, commercial, and financial heart of the Midlands. Historically a mere market town with a heavy focus on agriculture, the city grew at an unprecedented pace during the 1700s during both the Industrial Revolution and the Midlands Enlightenment, which saw rapid advances in scientific and urban development.

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Today visitors can enjoy a rich wealth of both history and modernity, seamlessly blended through the city's diverse streets. Head over to the Bullring & Grand Central - the UK's largest city centre shopping centre or make your way over to the sleek new Library of Birmingham - which is the largest regional library in Europe and offers 2 breathtaking rooftop gardens which offer unparalleled views over the skyline. If in need of a change of scenery then make your way over to the canals and enjoy the gorgeous scenery of Gas Street Basin or Brindleyplace - while maybe grabbing a pint or a bite to eat along the way in the areas countless eateries which line the canal front, then perhaps consider strolling over to the Jewellery Quarter - a historical hub which is home to more than 100 jewellers.

Birmingham really has it all for visitors. But what sets it apart from other destinations of a similar calibre? Well, as the focus of my visit was the city's accessibility, I will take a look at what the city and its businesses and attractions are doing to remain at the forefront of inclusive tourism.

I planned my visit in collaboration with AccessAble's handy Detailed Access Guides, which contain comprehensive and easy to understand information on accessible venues across the UK. They are frequently reviewed to provide you with the most up-to-date information around to give you complete peace of mind for your travels. This, in turn, allowed me to know exactly where to go and what to expect from each venue I visited.

The Midlands Art Centre

Let's begin by heading south of the city centre, to the Midlands Art Centre (affectionately known as MAC) - which forms part of the larger Cannon Hill Gardens. This arts complex has no shortage of options for both residents, as well as tourists, hosting theatre, dance, music and comedy performances, in addition to its own cinema, café, revolving art installations and a variety of workshops.

For me, though, what really stood out was just how endeavoured the team are to provide guests with a truly accessible experience. Accessible toilets are abundant throughout, the entire building has been designed to be wheelchair accessible, and even while the older wing was not built with accessibility in mind, the staff demonstrated that they can still assist wheelchair users to access the old theatre room. Indeed, the MAC was the choice of local group 'Propel Dance', the UK's first all-wheelchair dance entourage.

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The entire building felt very wide and spacious, and while MAC has now started using their corridors as exhibition spaces, they do not obstruct the way of visitors. The sense of space present throughout, certainly helps add to the relaxed atmosphere, while a lot of natural light flooding into the building and neutral/easy colours used throughout contribute to that feeling too. However, should a visitor feel in some kind of distress, staff can direct them to an impromptu quiet space with discretion.

All written information present inside the building is available in large print, braille, and can also be requested as an audio recording. Those with auditory issues can find Fixed Induction Loops present in the bar, café, sales and information desk, and Pinsent Mason 1 and Deloitte meeting rooms. Infra-red Induction Loops are also available in all indoor performance venues and studios, the Bryant, Saintbury, Cole and Roughley meeting rooms, and the Painting and Drawing, Textiles, Sculpture, Pottery, Jewellery and Weston studios.

In addition to the various accessible practices in place, staff are flexible in their dealing with customer requests, and described to me past instances in which they were able to successfully adapt their setting to accommodate the needs of guests who had accessibility requirements. So, if you do find that there is no explicit mention anywhere of how the MAC might accommodate your needs, then do not hesitate to reach out to them! Lastly, make sure you spare some time to explore the tranquil gardens in which the MAC building sits - you won't regret it!

The Clayton Hotel

After a full day of exploring this wonderful city, I made my way back to the Clayton Hotel for my check-in. Located in a prime city centre location - a mere 5-minute walk from the Bullring - this hotel is also doing a lot to provide all its guests with an inclusive experience, regardless of disability.

With a sleek modern design, I felt immediately welcomed by the interior alone when I arrived.  Of note is the dimmed lighting and floor to ceiling windows throughout the ground floor, which is great for autistic guests with light sensitivity. The colour schemes used were not to my taste personally, but were neutral, and thus, not overpowering nor overstimulating. The design throughout can be described as modern. Guests can also find a hearing assistance system installed here, which staff are trained to use and is on a fixed loop.

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Check-in was a simple straight-forward process that simply involved giving my name and a form of ID - which is what I like, there is nothing worse when things that should be simple end up being convoluted. I was then introduced to Kiera - a member of the management - who kindly offered to show me around the hotel to acquaint me with the hotel's key features and amenities. Elevators are present on all floors along with stairs - all which feature voice announcements, raised printed characters, and braille. Guests can also find accessible restrooms on the ground level of the hotel, not too far from reception. Our mini tour first took us up the spiral staircase in the reception area to the bar and restaurant. This area was my personal favourite in the whole hotel - the aura was unmatched, and it was the perfect place to sit and decompress during my stay, as the seating was wide and spacious. Full table service is provided here, so no need to go to the bar. We then went on to explore the gym, patio, conference halls, and most importantly, one of the accessible rooms.

The hotel is fitted with a total of 10 accessible rooms. Each room has wide-fitted doors, has all switches placed within reachable vicinity from the bed, inbuilt low hanging rails within the wardrobe, wide spaces between furniture for full mobility around the room, and a visual beacon fire alarm. The bathroom features a fixed shower seat, handrails present throughout the room, adjustable shower head, alarm cord and button for emergency usage, lever tap handles, a lower mirror height, and clear space below the sink area. Kiera was quite versed in all the features present in the rooms and the hotel's accessibility features overall, and eloquently answered all my questions with regards to the hotel and its accessibility. For example, I was made aware that staff onsite receive disability and equity training to better equip them in helping guests with a variety of different needs.

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At the end of our short tour, I headed up to my room. Signage was present at various points, and the layout was simple, which made things quick and easy for finding where I needed to go. My suite room was located on the 6th floor and can be summed up in one word - suave! The room overlooked the Bullring and its surroundings, offering a view over Birmingham. As well as a shower, the bathroom includes an extra deep bathtub - a bonus in my book, a long soak in the bath is a great way to decompress! Other amenities include a climate control system, phone (for room service and direct lines to the concierge) and a lounge area with a spacious sofa. This was another perfect space to unwind and retreat after a long day.

Asha’s Indian Bar & Restaurant

When I started to feel peckish in the evening, I made my way over to the well renowned Asha's. This delightful Indian restaurant has attracted its fair share of celebrities over the years, including the likes of Ed Sheeran, Jay Sean, Keith Urban, Charles III and Tom Cruise. It is not all glitz and glamour inside, however. The ambience is subdued, with relaxed lighting and music being played in the background at minimal volume. It certainly seemed like the ideal location to eat out for those who have sensory processing issues. Additionally, the tables were quite spread out - so I didn't feel like I had to worry about being too close to other guests (something that is quite anxiety-inducing to me as an autistic adult). Private dining options are also available within the enclosed glass area in the main dining area. It's worth noting that while the main entrance to the restaurant is up a short set of stairs, there is an accessible entrance located round the back of the building on Edmund Street, which features a heavy set of double doors that staff can open from the inside to allow guests easy access. The public areas inside the restaurant are all spread across the same level and there are no steps or changes in gradient. An accessible toilet is located beside the other restrooms towards the back of the restaurant.

Staff were attentive, yet not overbearing - it was what I would describe as the perfect amount of service. Moreover, I never needed to wait long when ordering or had to fight to catch a server's attention (something I have experienced too often in the service industry). While handheld menus are available, digital versions are not. Large print and braille versions are not available either, though staff were happy to walk me through the menu and explain anything that I was not sure of.

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Everything I tried from the menu was delightful. Fish Amritsari pakora for an appetizer, Kadhai crab curry for the main course, coconut kesar pista kulfi for dessert, and a saffron and pistachio lassi to drink. Portion sizes were average/manageable, and the presentation was clearly made to match the rich tastes of each dish.

Despite being somewhat of a fine dining experience, there were plenty of other solo diners around the restaurant, and no judgement from staff or other diners - which helped me to feel completely at ease and enjoy my meal in peace. This place should also be on every visitor's list.

So why Birmingham?

So, there you have it - Birmingham has a lot to offer inbound visitors - particularly with regards to accessibility. While my short stay barely scratched the surface of this intriguing destination, I am interested to make a return visit sooner rather than later and see more of the new advances in accessibility and inclusivity the city has taken. Be sure to keep up to date on AccessAble's website for accessible venues located throughout Birmingham - and further afield, to plan your perfect accessible adventure.

Check out more of Alex's accessible adventures here.

Disclaimer: Although Alex was gifted his visit to Birmingham, all opinions are his own.