Disability. That's about people in wheelchairs, right? Wrong. Wheelchair users represent just 600,000 of the 8.7 million disabled people in the UK. There are numerous disabilities, and as someone running a business you need to know about them, either as far as your guests are concerned or as an employer of someone with a disability.
But before you groan and think you'll just add it to the burgeoning to-do list, remember that being disabled-friendly is good business practice. Disabled people have an estimated spending power of £50b and are often accompanied by others who will be equally keen to line your coffers.
It's also important to bear in mind that catering for disabled people needn't be an onerous or expensive task. It might, for example, be as simple as vibrating pillows for deaf and hearing-impaired guests, training staff to explain to a visually impaired guest where food is situated on a plate or having low-level spyholes in bedroom doors for wheelchair users. Training is the key to getting things right. By involving your staff and seeking their opinion on how to deal with the issues facing disabled people you'll begin to break down barriers. Why not contact a local disability group and get someone to come and road-test your facilities?
In the meantime, read about the experiences of a deaf guest who did the rounds of some hotels as an AA judge.
Dealing with deaf guests
- Look at people while talking.
- Don't obstruct your mouth while speaking.
- Slow down to give the other person a chance to lip-read.
- Use clear mouth movements in speech.
- Set up a system to make a guest aware of a fire alarm, for example a vibrating pillow or pager, or a system whereby someone will enter the guest's room in the event of a fire.
- Consider televisions with subtitles, which will greatly enhance the experience of a deaf guest.
- When changing shifts, make sure the duty manager knows there's a deaf person staying in the hotel.
AA Accessible Hotel Award This award goes annually to an establishment that has gone the extra mile to accommodate the needs of disabled guests. Last year it was won by the Castle hotel in Hereford, which showed its mettle when dealing with the needs of a blind guest.
This year the AA sent deaf judge Rebecca Tadman unannounced to put several hotels through their paces. Excerpts from her diary from three shortlisted hotels follow. Tadman, 32, is an employment adviser at the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID), a charity representing the nine million deaf and hard of hearing people in the UK. She is also a television presenter for Channel Four's Vee TV, a magazine programme for deaf people.
The winner will be announced by the AA at a ceremony in September and will be reported in Caterer.
De Vere Daresbury Park, Warrington, Cheshire
My first impressions were very good, as this hotel had a huge car park and disabled parking. I approached reception and was greeted by two very friendly and deaf-aware receptionists which came as a pleasant surprise. They were very easy to lip-read and I felt very comfortable checking in.
The female receptionist asked if I wouldn't mind her taking me through the fire evacuation procedure, much to my surprise, as I've never been asked that before. I accepted gratefully and she said she would come to my room in a few minutes. I told her I would leave my door open for her to enter.
The spacious room was about three doors away from reception, which was very convenient. There was a teletext TV set with a normal remote. The bathroom was quite big.
The receptionist entered my room and explained that normally they would give me a vibrating pillow which would alert me while sleeping in the event of a fire. Unfortunately, they didn't have one available, and so instead she said that reception would enter my room if the fire alarm were triggered. Top marks for being very proactive.
Walking around the hotel I found there were hardly any steps, lots of lifts and wide corridors. The pool and gym also seemed accessible from my point of view.
I went back to reception and enquired whether the room's pay TV facility had subtitles so that I could watch the latest movies. Pay TV isn't connected to the teletext system, nor has subtitles installed. This is something the manufacturers of pay TV could rectify.
In the evening I headed over to the Looking Glass restaurant and bar. The service was very good, with the numerous waiters adopting a deaf-aware attitude.
Meudon Hotel, Mawnan Smith, Cornwall My first impressions were that this was a lovely "homey" hotel set in a huge garden. The only drawback is the steep slope leading down to the front entrance and reception.
I introduced myself to the receptionist, who looked a bit panicky when she could hear from my speech that I was deaf. She then asked me to sign the guest book. I bent down to enter my details and felt conscious that the receptionist was talking to me while I was writing, so I looked up and asked her to repeat what she had said. She seemed embarrassed and asked if I would like a paper in the morning.
The porter then asked me to follow him to my room and took my bags. He was really friendly and showed me around, stopping to face me when explaining the facilities around the hotel.
My room was spacious and I could imagine there being enough room for a wheelchair user to freely move around. The bathroom was accessible and had handrails. So far, so good, especially when I turned the television on and found it was a teletext TV with subtitles.
Then I went down to the bar for pre-dinner drinks. The lounge area was full of sofas and big antique chairs which might make it hard for a wheelchair user to get through, particularly when it's busy. Couldn't spot a wheelchair ramp to the bar area but they do table service. The bar staff were friendly, communication was good and I ordered my drink with no problems. I was given a menu and ordered my food from the lounge before being escorted downstairs to the restaurant.
Throughout the night, the service from two waiters was fantastic and they were very deaf-aware, making a lot of effort to make themselves understood. I thoroughly enjoyed my evening and meal.
Marriott Hotel, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire Immediately to the left of the hotel entrance were disabled car-parking spaces, which gave it a favourable first impression. I entered reception and was greeted by a friendly receptionist. I checked in and enquired what their fire evacuation procedures were, and they informed me that they would enter my room should the alarm go off.
The room was quite big, as was the bathroom. There was a teletext television and pay TV facilities.
The bar was very spacious, and the bartender was very friendly and co-operative when I placed orders for me and a local friend who joined me.
We were taken through to the restaurant and ordered our drinks and meal. After about 20 minutes, we enquired whether our drinks could be served. The meal and service were rather disappointing and I placed a complaint with the restaurant manager.
Next morning I tried out the leisure facilities which were excellent, coupled with a disabled chair-lift to lower a person into the pool.
Overall, this is a very accessible hotel for wheelchair users. But there's plenty of room for improvement for deaf customers, for example, proper fire evacuation procedures; provision of vibrating pagers/alarm clocks and textphone facilities.
The law: DDA as a legal imperative
Since 2 December 1996
It has been unlawful for service providers or employers to treat disabled people less favourably. A reasonable adjustment must be made.
Since 1 October 1999
Service providers have been required to take reasonable steps to:
- Change policies, procedures or practices in order to provide a service to a person who is disabled; or
- Provide auxiliary aids to enable service provision; or
- Provide services by other means.
From 1 October 2004 The law will apply to ALL employers, however small. Where a physical feature makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled people to make use of services, a service provider will have to:
- Take reasonable steps to remove, alter or avoid that feature (considering those options in the order listed); or
- Where that is impossible, provide the service by a reasonable alternative method.
Etiquette and language
What do we mean by people who are disabled? Someone who has a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial, adverse and long-term (12 months or more) effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. The DDA also covers people who have previously had a disability.
Dealing with disabled customers Disabled people want to be treated as customers without drawing unnecessary attention to their disability. Therefore, give individuals any information you feel they might need, eg, location of accessible toilets, allocated parking spaces etc, without making any more of their disability than necessary.
Language to avoid The disabled: Disabled people are not a tribe or in any way a homogenous group. Referring to "the disabled" is often deemed offensive, so try "disabled people" or "people with disabilities".
Handicapped: this word has extremely negative connotations and should be avoided. Disabled toilet/parking: You've got to be realistic with political correctness, but current etiquette dictates you use the term "accessible" to describe disabled-friendly facilities, eg, accessible toilet, parking, bedrooms, restaurants, etc.
- Disability affects everyone differently, so don't make assumptions.
- A wheelchair user might be able to stand and walk a little, or they might not.
- A person who is registered blind might have some residual vision, or none.
- A deaf person might use sign language, a hearing aid, both or neither.
Source: IndividuALL Solutions pack for Hospitality
- There are more than 8.7 million disabled people in the UK, of whom only 600,000 use a wheelchair.
- They nearly all have families and friends - one in four of your customers either has a disability or is close to someone who has.
- 92% live in their own homes and only 8% are born with their disability.
- Only 3% of blind people read Braille.
- Of more than eight million people who are deaf or hard of hearing, only about 150,000 are profoundly deaf, and less than 75,000 use British sign language (less than 1%).
Source: IndividuALL Solutions pack for Hospitality
English Tourism Council's National Accessible Standards
National Register of Access Consultants
For brief details on guide dogs and the law, visit www.guidedogs.org.uk/access, or call 0800 131717 (freephone).
IndividuaLL, a non-profit-making organisation to help people in the hospitality business interpret the DDA