Virtual pub showcases skills of disabled community to patrons in lockdown

The Staying Inn hosts a variety of events that display the talents of disabled people.

Dr Amy Kavanagh, a visually impaired activist, has created virtual pub The Staying Inn
Dr Amy Kavanagh, a visually impaired activist, has created virtual pub The Staying Inn

A visually-impaired activist has opened a virtual pub that showcases the skills and talents of the disabled community.

Dr Amy Kavanagh, 30, from west London, initially opened The Staying Inn to her friends, telling the PA news agency: “I knew a lot of my disabled friends would be stuck indoors for a long time.”

Originally the virtual pub comprised of a sign, some glasses and board games to amuse Dr Kavanagh’s friends on video calls, but is now open to the public – with pub goers encouraged to donate the cost of a pint to help make it as accessible as possible.

A picture of The Staying Inn, a virtual pub
(Dr Amy Kavanagh)

The Staying Inn now hosts a variety of events for its visitors that display the skills and talents of disabled people who, according to Dr Kavanagh, “already have unreliable sources of income and are often ignored in the job market”.

She said: “We are hosting all sorts of different events and making them as accessible as possible.

“We’ve had bingo, a choose-your-own-adventure story session, an increasingly popular craft club led by disabled crafters, talks on interesting subjects, and of course our weekly pub quiz.

“Disabled people are sharing their skills. Last night we had an inclusive crafting session with a blind crafter and a disabled crafter who showed us how they use different tools, tricks and tips.

“We’ve had a talk from a disabled forensic psychologist all about true crime. It’s a space to share knowledge, skills and talents in whatever form they take.

“It’s also an opportunity to pay disabled people who are on the sharp end of the current economic crisis.”

Dr Amy Kavanagh, a visually impaired activist, who runs The Staying Inn virtual pub
(Kaye Ford Photography)

Dr Kavanagh was born with ocular albinism, which means she is partially sighted – her vision changes frequently, and beyond details at close range her sight is “like a blurry bubble”.

Her creation, The Staying Inn, is open to everyone – but Dr Kavanagh said it takes its inspiration from inclusive online spaces that disabled people have spent years creating.

“So often social spaces are inaccessible to disabled people, either through physical barriers like no ramps or accessible loos, or by negative attitudes towards disabled people,” she said.

“We are also fundraising to make the pub as accessible as possible including live captions and British Sign Language interpreters.”

Dr Kavanagh said she has plans for a deaf social club as well as an accessible technology class, while she hopes that a Paralympian panel might come to fruition, with Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson a regular at the virtual tavern.

Ultimately Dr Kavanagh would like the pub to continue bringing fun to people’s lives during a difficult time, but added that she hopes it will break down some of the barriers between disabled and society too.

Dr Amy Kavanagh, a visually impaired activist, at her desk where she runs most of The Staying Inn's events
(Dr Amy Kavanagh)

“Disability often makes people feel very awkward and I know from personal experience that non-disabled people will actively avoid conversations with me or only want to ask intrusive personal questions about my blindness,” she said.

“The pub is showing that disabled people are just like everyone else. We like a gin and tonic, we enjoy knitting, we have a passion for the music of the early 2000s, we have pets and families and jobs too.

“My hope is that this crisis will teach us the value of connecting even when we are far apart, and that by sharing a video call and a laugh, we might help break down some of the barriers between disabled people and a society which often excludes us.”

The Staying Inn pub is open every Saturday for a pub quiz, with an additional activity on a Wednesday or a Friday. To donate, a GoFundMe page can be found at www.gofundme.com/f/staying-inn-fund.

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