Wheelchair access may not always be possible, but that's still no excuse

17 October 2014
Wheelchair access may not always be possible, but that's still no excuse

You might have been concerned about a recent letter to the editor from Ted Hill, chief executive of the British Polio Fellowship. In it he said how disappointed he was that so many visitor attractions were not fully accessible to wheelchair users.

He quoted research by Vitalise that also had extensive coverage on the BBC. Having conducted a considerable amount of market research myself, I believe that the results are misleading and inaccurate because the research questions were poor.

The survey covered 52 of the UK's top 100 attractions. There are well over 500 attractions. It suggested that attractions are not fully accessible to wheelchair users.

The survey found that 63% of the attractions were not fully wheelchair accessible. But I'd question whether this is fair when many of our top attractions are heritage properties, such as castles. Is your hotel or establishment fully wheelchair accessible? I suspect many will not be, but that does not mean I would necessarily have a bad experience as a wheelchair user. I might not be able to access all rooms, but as long as I can stay in one room that meets my needs, I am happy.

We must also consider that the prime purpose of castles was to keep people out, not let them in, so is full wheelchair access always realistic? I don't think so, but I am delighted to see that I will be able to go up to rampart level when Lincoln castle, built in the 11th century, reopens next year. With such a fantastic example such as this, I find it insulting when a Grade II-listed building says it can do nothing about accessibility To me, this is nothing more than an excuse that the business wishes to hide behind.

Only 13% of places said all their staff had received disability awareness training. Would you be able to say all your staff had received such training? I very much doubt it.

But in my opinion the most disappointing statistic is that over a quarter (26%) didn't have essential accessibility information on their websites. This is a simple, cost-effective way of marketing to people with disabilities and something hotels are poor at.

I recently undertook some research with Springboard UK with the aim of finding out about the employment of people with disabilities. We sent it to over 2,000 hoteliers, did extensive research online and off, used social media and, after four weeks, we had 12 responses. Springboard wanted to see if it should provide help and support to the industry in this area. Will we never know.

What I fear is that if few hoteliers take up the benefits of employing a person with a disability the industry is left far weaker.

Meanwhile, even if a business isn't fully accessible, owners need to be realistic and honest about their facilities. Right now, too many have their head in the sand.

Arnold Fewell is managing director of AVF Marketing and AccessChamp, the online training resource for hoteliers on accessibility

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