One in five people in England are classed as disabled, but many tourism businesses fail to attract them by inadequately promoting their accessibility credentials. Elly Earls investigates the simple steps operators need to follow to produce a comprehensive access statement and capitalise on this growing market
It's a common misconception that the term disabled refers only to those in a wheelchair. In fact, wheelchair users make up only 8% of England's disabled population, which also includes people with hearing, visual and temporary impairments and amounts to 20% of the country's total population. On top of this, tourists with a health condition or impairment and their travelling companions spend more than £2b each year in England.
"It's a big number," says Brian Seaman, head of consultancy for Tourism for All. "You ignore those people at your peril. If you don't have facilities or you haven't described them sufficiently well, people are going to overlook you and that means you could lose out on substantial amounts of business. That's not good news for businesses; they need to shape up and get this information out there."
An access statement, which is defined by VisitEngland as "a description of a business's facilities and services to inform people with access needs", is a simple way to accomplish this.
"There's a great quote from a traveller with reduced mobility - ‘If I don't know, I don't go'," says Ross Calladine, skills, welcome and accessibility manager at VisitEngland. "People with access needs require detailed information so they can make an informed choice about whether a place is suitable."
VisitEngland requires any business that is part of the quality assessment schemes for accommodation and attractions to have an access statement and, according to Calladine, operators have really started to get on board with this requirement. Indeed, a survey conducted by the English tourist board in 2010 found that almost half of disabled people had noticed an increase in the provision of this information by accommodation providers, and of those who had read an access statement, eight out of 10 found the information useful.
"Now the focus needs to shift to businesses actually promoting the access statement," Calladine emphasises.
"A lot of businesses have done it but they haven't got it on to their website. We need to make them see the business point and see it as a marketing opportunity. They've spent all this time doing it, now they need to give it to the people who need it."
For both Seaman and Calladine it is extremely important that access statements are made as widely available as possible. "If you've got it on your website, people can find you by googling phrases such as ‘wheel-in shower' or ‘level access shower'; they will use those words to find the accommodation they're looking for," Seaman explains.
Last, but not least, it's important to remember that creating an access statement is absolutely free. "Having an access statement is one of the least expensive but most rewarding things businesses can do," Seaman concludes. "Not much is given away these days so there's no excuse for companies not to do it."
Questions an operator needs to ask themselves to ensure they can honestly assess their business
As the guidance offered to tourism businesses has improved, establishments that would previously have classed their facilities as completely inaccessible have realised that they are still able to give plenty of useful information to those with access needs. Here are a few of the questions you may not have thought to ask yourself.
â- Where is your nearest car park? Are there any restrictions? Are there sufficient designated bays? Which floor are they on?
â- What are the height restrictions at your establishment's car park or the nearest car park to your property? People with adapted vehicles need to know whether they will be able to fit.
â- Is there a telephone number people can phone in the car park if they need assistance?
â- What is the situation with public transport? Is it accessible? What is the frequency of buses? What is the distance of the bus stop from the property? Which stop do guests need to alight at?
â- Is your property on a hill? What are the surfaces like? Is it gravel or is it smooth? Is it level, is it ramped or are there steps? If so, how many?
â- Are there any ground floor bedrooms? Is there lift access? Have you got rooms that are specifically designed to be accessible? Have you got wheel-in showers?
â- How many steps are there up to the bedrooms? Is there a handrail? Do you have a narrow staircase? Can you help people with their luggage up the narrow staircase?
â- Have you taken colour contrast into account? Most blind people have some perception of light so it is useful to make sure that your towels are a different colour to your tiles, your door frames are painted a different colour to your walls and your crockery is a different colour to your table cloths.
A step-by-step guide to creating an access statement
In December 2010, VisitEngland launched a free online tool which guides tourism businesses through the process of creating an access statement. "This is sometimes an unknown area for tourism businesses," says Ross Calladine, skills, welcome and accessibility manager at VisitEngland.
"For example, large businesses need to understand that they need to do an access statement for each facility they have. It's not about coming at accessibility from a corporate social responsibility perspective and stating on your website that you take access seriously. That's policy, it's not an access statement.
"That's why we've spent so much time improving the guidance - it's a real step forward in ensuring the quality of access statements and makes things a lot easier because everyone is working to the same structure."
The tool can be found on www.visitengland.org/accessstatements and takes operators through the four simple steps necessary to produce a comprehensive access statement.
Step one: Create and print your information collection form
Operators are asked to fill in a simple form detailing the nature of their business, the name of their establishment, the facilities they have available and their postcode and eâ'mail address. VisitEngland then creates a bespoke form tailored to their business type.
Step two: Gather your information
Once the form has been created, proprietors are advised to walk around their business with a tape measure and a colleague, collecting information and making notes. It is important to remember at this point that operators are not required to follow every point, the form merely offers suggestions of which information to gather. There are some sections, however, which should be included in every access statement, such as:
â- Introduction If the property is a hotel or bed and breakfast, this section should include, among other things, a description of the establishment's location, the number of bedrooms, the number of ground floor bedrooms and a clear image of the property. Operators also need to consider if there are any bedrooms or bathrooms suitable for people with access needs and state whether their establishment is rated under the National Accessible Scheme.
â- Pre-arrival Information such as the name and distance of the nearest railway station, whether or not there is an accessible taxi service and a description of the local services for disabled people should be covered in this part of the form. Details about bus services and the streets surrounding the property also fall under "Pre-arrival".
â- Car parking and arrival Questions operators should ask themselves in this section include: Is there parking available on site or nearby? How many spaces are available? What is the distance to the front door? Are there ticket/payment machines where someone may require assistance? What is the clear door opening width? (Note: all measurements must be provided in millimetres and inches, taking into account any obstacles that may reduce the size of the opening.)
Depending on the type of business, other sections that operators are advised to cover range from "Welcome area" to "Bedrooms", "Bathrooms, shower-rooms and toilets" to "Garden" and even "Future plans". A new pub template is also set to be launched in October and will feature sections such as "Beer garden", "Bar" and "Dining area".
Step three: Complete your access statement online
Next, operators are asked to type up the information they have gathered. At this point, they are given several best practice examples, detailing how to phrase each part of the form. "The access statement shouldn't contain personal opinions," Calladine emphasises. "It should honestly describe the facilities that are offered. It is then for the person with the access needs to make a decision as to whether it is suitable for their needs."
Step four: Download your access statement
Once the form is completed, all that's left to do is download the final statement on to the computer, print it out and put it on the business's website. "Remember, it doesn't all have to be done in one go," Calladine adds. "It can be done over a month or longer and we're not asking for lots of measurements."