The Salford author who hopes his kids’ books will open up new doors for disabled youngsters

Ben Andrews, who is registered blind, has been helping to make spaces across Greater Manchester more accessible for years and now wants to take his message to younger readers.

A Greater Manchester author hopes to get young readers thinking about how to make places more accessible for disabled people with a new series of children’s books.

Ben Andrews, who is registered blind, has created five stories, the first of which will be hitting the shelves early next year, which explore the barriers disabled people face in getting around their local area and enjoying activities with their friends.

The Salford writer has already spent years making spaces across the city-region more accessible through his organisation Beyond Empower, which has made such strides that Ben has been shortlisted for awards naming the UK’s most influential disabled people.

The launch date for Ben’s first book was announced to coincide with World Sight Day and he hopes the stories will help to engage young children and schools with issues of accessibility for disabled people.

How did Ben start writing the books?

Creating the books has been a three-year project for Ben, who has a degenerative visual impairment called retinitis pigmentosa which several members of his family also had. He originally started writing a longer book but then split it up into shorter stories for younger readers.

Ben Andrews
Ben Andrews
Ben Andrews

The series has now been snapped up by Stockport indie publisher Tiny Tree Books and the first volume, Nicky and Candy’s Street, will be out on 23 February 2023, though it is available for pre-order now.

The interactive story focuses on a young girl who is registered blind and uses a white cane, and looks at the challenges she faces to get to see her friends before on the way back home her journey becomes easier thanks to accessibility measures put in place by the reader. Further books in the Better Places series will include stories about a young person who uses a wheelchair and a girl who has autism..

Ben, 30, said: “I wanted to reach as young an audience as possible and I want to engage schools with the message too. It took a while to get to the point where I was comfortable sending it out to publishers and now Tiny Tree has picked it up which is brilliant.

“The books are all about the barriers these children experience. My hope is that Better Places will help children become more aware and considerate of access and inclusion for disabled people so that it’s just part of who they are, who they think and operate as they grow so that these issues aren’t being repeated generation after generation.”

What are the issues disabled people face and how has Beyond Empower tackled them?

Accessibility issues such as the ones explored in the books are a long-standing concern for Ben and something that before becoming a writer he set up the organisation Beyond Empower to help tackle. It all started when Ben got into fitness aged 17 and wanted to make places more accessible for disabled people.

He said: “I’ve been working in Salford for the past seven years making places like leisure centres more accessible. We find out what people want or need to access, then find places they can go, make them accessible and support them to start going there.

“For people with visual impairments that can be about things like bins, trees or signposts being in the middle of the walkway or problems with the kerbs. If they travel by bus there’s a lack of audio signposting on the buses and at the bus stops.

“If they want to go to the gym we might help to convert a standard visual programme into an audio format or create a more accessible route for them to access it. Cinemas might not be well lit or in other places there might be issues with staff attitudes or a lack of tactile guidelines to let people know where they are.

“We’ve also worked with council infrastructure teams on making streets, parks and green spaces more accessible and with the NHS on making communities broadly more accessible.

“Often people end up working in systems and processes and don’t always feel they can make changes. They became adults without thinking about access and inclusion for disabled people, but once you make them aware of the changes they could make they are usually quite receptive and often say they can’t believe they hadn’t thought of it.”

Ben now has a team of seven working across Salford, Trafford and Tameside, and Beyond Empower’s efforts were recognised earlier this year when Ben was shortlisted for the Shaw Trust’s Disability Power 100 list, which clelebrates the most influential disabled people in the UK.

What else has Ben said about the books?

Ben says that of the five books he has created for the Better Places series the first one has particular significance as it is dedicated to his mum Nicola Andrews, who was known as Nicky. She had the same visual impairment he has and who died in 2016 due to cancer.

He said: “My mum was a real force and overcame so many barriers as a blind woman. She was committed to educating others about the issues disabled people face but always did so in a really compassionate, caring and empathetic way. I hope that my mum’s work will live on through Nicky and the Better Places series.”