Does he take sugar? Clichés are clichés for a reason

By Gavin Neate, CEO and Founder of Neatebox Limited (Creators of the WelcoMe App)

Whether you are a family member, friend, carer or practitioner you will have heard these words or indeed witnessed any number of variations on this theme on a far too regular basis.  For some reason the person you have approached finds it nearly impossible to recognise the disabled person you are with as capable of communicating for themselves or even hearing what they are saying, no matter what their apparent disability.

Even when faced with the facts i.e. your disabled friend has asked a question, handed over a card for payment and actively made eye contact, the staff members brain has short circuited and they have ignored your friend and then focussed on you for any interaction or ongoing conversation.

I don’t know about you but when this happened to me and my friends it made me mad.  I was frustrated and the red mist came down which made me shoot back sharply at the staff member with, “it’s not me that’s buying it, it’s my friend” whilst gesticulating towards the person I am with. 

It’s easy to get angry and feel like the staff member or business is wholly to blame here and of course if they haven’t had training or ignored the training then they are but in that moment of anger, perhaps if, in some small way we can help them learn by embarrassing them then perhaps it’s all worth it..

..but it isn’t.  In fact, in this situation no one wins.  The staff member doesn’t win as in the moment, as they realise their mistake, they more than likely want the ground to open up and swallow them and might even do their best to avoid any interaction with disabled people in the future.  Your friend doesn’t win as they are reminded that society finds it hard to see them as an equal and they have once again found themselves to be the centre of negative attention and you don’t win as all you have ever wanted is for your friend to have an independent life and for others to see them as you do and of course on top of this your frustration ensures that this interaction is the topic of conversation for the next 30 minutes. 

As a Mobility Instructor with Guide Dogs for the Blind my job was to observe how my disabled clients interacted with staff from a distance.  Yes, initially I was on their shoulder and found myself in many situations like the one above but towards the end of the training and with experience I would remove myself from the situation by distance or by just looking the other way at the moment of any interaction.  It forced the staff member to focus on my client and also enabled my client to take control of the situation.  Yes, sometimes we needed to discuss what might happen before we walked through the door but this practice was empowering for my client who was then in a position to support the staff member to learn best practice “on the job” from a real subject matter expert.. them.

Of course, this wasn’t fool proof.  Some staff members just don’t get it and will discriminate consciously and unconsciously whether being provided with “training” from the expert in front of them or not and this is what led me to come up with WelcoMe 

However, my top tip, is when you know or feel that this type of situation is likely to happen, have a plan.  Talk about it before you arrive and work out how  best to avoid the situation or deal with it once it has happened.  With this plan in place whilst we wait for all staff everywhere to get with the program perhaps all three parties can walk away without it ruining the rest of the day.


Gavin Neate 


Read more from Gavin and about Gavin...


Changing Society With Solutions

National Diversity Awards - Gavin Neate Awarded “Entrepreneur of Excellence”

Working from “home”

What Next? WelcoMe Hits The High Street


This is how I (Mary Fickling) got to know Gavin....

Back in July 2021, I was editing an article entitled  “Hidden Disabilities” by Nichola Ebbern, Head of Health and Safety at Shepherds Bush Housing Association.  I put out a request on social media for some help to source the origins of an image I wanted to include in the article.

One of the first people to come forward to help was a guy called Gavin Neate, who sent me a direct message on Twitter.  Further chatter ensued and he was very helpful in sourcing other disability references that I needed. This kind of social interaction, we concluded, was ‘one of the better uses of the medium of Twitter!”

I vowed to look up exactly what Gavin did with my next available research time.

It turns out that this very helpful guy at the other end of my Twitter inbox is one helluva entrepreneur and globally acclaimed digital innovator.  Gavin Neate, is the CEO and Founder of Neatebox Limited. Gavin sees a problem and finds a solution.  I asked Gavin if he had a CV, he’d never been asked for that before, he said, “left school, 10 years in the military police, 18 years working for Guide Dogs for The Blind and then I set up my own company”.  I said “that’ll do for me Gavin!”

It was his experience of a blind customer being left to stand for 20 minutes in a well-known department store with no one coming to help him that led to the development of his latest innovation “WelcoMe”…  a Disability aware customer service solution

At recent UN World Summit Awards, Neatebox were described as ‘global champions for inclusion and empowerment' for their latest innovation which helps disabled people get better customer service. It is both a mobile and web-based app which:

  • enhances customer experience

  • raises staff confidence around accessibility and

  • improves the interactions between staff and disabled people 

  • provides instantaneous accessibility training, hints and tips

  • builds lasting relationships

Users of the free disability app create a personal accessibility profile of themselves and their condition and tap which assistance is pertinent to their needs and which is not.  It takes about a minute. Then when they plan to visit a WelcoMe signed up facility (and there are many high-profile organisations on board) their details are passed on.  This enables customer fronting staff at the shop, cafe, bank, hospital or entertainment provider to ensure the correct assistance is ready and waiting for them.

Did you know that

19% of the UK Population have a disability and that

80% of disabled people have ‘hidden impairments”?  


Facts and Figures from Purple Pound (August 2020)


Where there is inaccessibility we need accessibility. Where there is unfairness we need change and as Gavin says in the 30 minute video interview below ‘under x-ray, we all look the same, we are the same and we should be treated the same”. 

Gavin’s way of thinking encourages empowerment and self-care through choice, which is exactly the way it should be.

I really am so glad our paths crossed and I do hope to keep in touch with Gavin and relay to our readers just how the trial of WelcoMe is received at NHS Golden Jubilee Hospital. who are currently trialling the app, the NHS would be a perfect organisation to flagship this for the UK.


John m Griffin of asks Gavin here all the questions I wanted to..


Take a look at this too, this is how easy and effective it is..