Exhibition heights for viewing

There was once a time when all model railways at exhibition could easily be viewed by children, little people and those in wheelchairs. I suppose that model railways started as things you ran on the dining room table, or indeed on the carpet. So layout height was more or less kitchen table or work surface height. No one questioned this and everything was right in the world.

Then some person in the USA began to preach eye level viewing height and a number of Brits immediately followed America's 'initiative' and many model railways, rather like 'Alice in Wonderland' began to grow and grow in height.

There just seems to be a group of Brits who believe everything that the USA does is always right: (form an orderly queue behind Tony Blair please). I am sure they are the same sad people who go to gatherings at Country and Western festivals wearing toy six shooters and cowboy hats!

The concept is inherently flawed. These days, up to 50% of model railways on display at exhibitions are too high to be viewed by folks of shorter stature. Indeed, one N scale layout shown at Wigan in 2008 was so high that two of my helpers (at 5'6") could not see it at all! The operators stood on big boxes!

I have to point out that this article addresses a problem that faces all who are 'vertically challenged'.

More and more layouts seem to use what is called Proscenium display. In simple terms, it means putting a model in a box which heavily restricts viewing angles in order to camouflage poor modelling techniques. This system can be shown at a reasonable height but as often as not, they are set at an  'average height of a male'.  Even more conventional layouts have grown in height to the extent that they are effectively invisible to those in wheelchairs.

Many excuses for this are used. Such as back problems, " my model is 'art' " or just simply, "I will show my model as I choose". Of course, this is absolutely fine in your home but once a decision is made to exhibit to the paying public, certain legal requirements must be respected.

This layout takes the biscuit for inaccessibility. Inappropriately displayed at the Stoke Mandeville Sport Area for disabled athletes. The layouts behind are themselves marginal for accessibility. I just hope that this 2mm layout was not worth looking at!

a 2mm model railway that really takes the piss! The damn thing is so high that the owner actually has to stand on a box! There is absolutely no excuse for a layout to be this high!

The law is clearly stated in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and 2004.

Putting it simply, any event open to the public, whether is is commercial, club or private has to comply. Should model layouts be too high to be viewed from a person in a wheelchair, the owner of the layout and the exhibition organisers can be taken to County Court.

Visiting a model railway exhibition can be an expensive business. There may be some distance to travel, food to buy and accommodation may be needed at a hotel. The costs of entry to the exhibition represents a very small fraction of the overall cost. Some disabled folks may also have to pay to bring a carer to help them visit the locale.

Disabled people do pay the same ticket price as the able bodied, although some clubs kindly allow the carer in for free, yet only too soon, they may become very disappointed that many exhibits cannot be seen at all. A phone call to the exhibition manager prior to going does not help at all. They have no idea how many layouts cannot be seen by someone in a wheelchair. This is something that is not asked when booking layouts.

So what can be done? Before exhibiting, SIT in front of your layout on a normal chair at the exhibition viewing didtance. What can you see?  If the display is nothing but curtain and sky, the layout is not legal and you can be prosecuted. Simple as that. If you do not wish to lower your display, the solution is also simple....don't take it to exhibitions. Don't forget that if a barrier is in front of the layout, the viewing is from further away and that will help with height.

One question should always be asked by exhibition managers:

"Can your layout be seen by someone in a wheel chair?" If the answer is 'no' don't book it.