Hospitality and disability: how hotels can improve access

Disability access in 2018

Disability access in 2018 is a hot topic – especially for the hospitality industry. According to the Equality Act 2010, if your service or premises is not accessible – you may be in breach of the legislation. In the UK, 1 in 5 have a disability – including visual, hearing, motor or cognitive. To ensure your hotel is available for all, you must think about accessibility from the start. Doing so will, of course, make sure that no one is excluded, but alert you to issues within your hotel and areas that aren’t accessible, enabling you to correct as soon as possible.

    Today, governments worldwide are attempting to combat the struggles those with disabilities face. For instance, Japan has been told to increase the number of wheelchair-friendly hotel rooms ahead of the 2020 Olympics. Under the new rules, hotels with over 200 rooms must have, at the very least, three accessible rooms. While there is still a way to go with wheelchair access, we can see the wheels are in motion for improvements. However, hotels must act fast with accessibility – particularly with a rise in competition…

    Competition for the industry

    Long term rival to the hotel industry, Airbnb, only recently acquired Accomable. This site is dedicated to those with disabilities, featuring thousands of properties from around the world that are completely accessible. Accomable, currently, lists more than 1,100 properties, with a team continuously working behind the scenes to update the listings. The two companies will merge, to include all houses, apartments and more on the Airbnb website. As the merger takes centre stage, it’s likely more people will turn towards the brand if hotels do not do more to cater for all.

    How hotels can improve access

    The above point neatly takes us into how hotels can improve access. For instance, imagine checking into a beautiful hotel room, but you are not able to hang up your clothes, make a cup of tea or even phone reception for help. This is the reality many face, and it’s time to begin the change.

    Share necessary information online

    Before we all book our trips, we need to read up on the place we are staying, as well as the reviews and the key facilities. As a general rule of thumb, if it takes more than a few clicks to find your disability information – we can assume it is not a priority. As such, you should have a dedicated page on your website, highlighting your access and specific, relevant information to using the facilities and getting comfortable in their rooms. Remember, a hotel is a home from home for everyone.

    Accessible booking system

    One problem many with disabilities face is the lack of an accessible booking system. If possible, include an option to directly book an accessible room, also highlighting the features and as to who the room will suit. In turn, this will save your guests and employees time, rather than the guests having to phone into the hotel.

    Map out the accessible rooms

    Are they on the ground floor? If not, are the disabled rooms easy to get to via a lift? Some disabled guests may require more equipment, or a larger powerchair, so try and position your accessible rooms in the most convenient locations. The ground floor is ideal, but guests always prefer a view, and it shows compassion if guests have a range of options to choose.

    Design the bedrooms

    The bedroom should be completely accessible. Include grab rails in the en-suite, telephones with large-size buttons, even the option for vibrating pillows for those with hearing impairments to alert them to any alarms. Similarly, consider the height of the beds as some will need to transfer to the bed directly from their powerchair, and the same goes for fittings. Keep everything in the room at a reasonable height to ensure all have access to the features.

    As technology improves, so does the increase in touch screens. However, touch screens can prove a challenge for many, so always include features with large buttons and clear instructions.

    Disability training

    Your staff must be confident when assisting those with disabilities. It’s important to understand that not all rooms will be perfect, and guests may have specific requirements regarding pillow types and personal requests. Therefore, your staff should be able to identify the best rooms for easy access.

    You should also look into the possibilities of opening your spa or gym, as well as the restaurant. Everyone is a paying guest, and must be treated as such. Ultimately, we are heading in the right direction, but there is still some way to go before the hotel industry is completely accessible. Similarly, think about the ‘purple pound’…

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