Arnold Fewell, managing director of AVF Marketing and AccessChamp, explains why accessible premises don't need to cost the earth
I speak to many hotel managers about making their premises accessible. One claim that always annoys me is that nothing can be done because a particular building is Grade II-listed. This is a nonsense. If Lincoln Castle, built by the Conqueror in the 11th century, can accommodate wheelchair users on its ramparts when it re-opens next month, why can't a hotel make changes?
Or take the Accessible Catey winner from 2013, One Great George Street. Wheelchair users were not able to access the business's front entrance because the stone steps, built in 1906, were immovable; its solution was to have the steps slide back into the building to reveal a wheelchair lift beneath.
It wasn't cheap, but it helped the London conference venue hugely boost its profitability as it won the bid to host the International Media Centre for both the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The winning factor for its bid was that wheelchair users could get through the front door.
Hoteliers can get fixated on wheelchair users, but only 7% of all people with disabilities are wheelchair users. Hotel managers forget there are a wide range of people that either may require a few adaptations or even none at all. What is often needed is good staff training and some changes to processes, such as booking. These might include showing a receptionist how to guide a blind person or creating a welcome letter for a deaf person.
If you think there is nothing you can do, think again. As an absolute minimum you need an accessibility statement and to be able to provide information about facilities you can't deliver - like a wheelchair-accessible room. An accessibility statement needs to clearly show the barriers to entry or usage. So if your lifts are small or narrow, give the dimensions. A manual wheelchair user with a standard-width chair may well
be able to access the lift or room, while an electric wheelchair user may not.
And where it's not possible to provide something like a wheelchair-accessible room or one with a hoist, you should establish where you can refer the customer to.
It may be another hotel in your group or marketing consortium, or even a nearby competitor - strike a referral agreement.
Surely it is best to keep the business within your area and control. And by giving the guest some help and advice, it may encourage them to visit you for lunch or afternoon
tea and also recommend you to a friend.