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The Caterer

How to… offer an accessible welcome

18 May 2012
How to… offer an accessible welcome

As a permanent wheelchair user, I am always showing taxi drivers, porters and receptionists how to open, close and secure a wheelchair so that I can sit in it. This can be extremely difficult from the back seat of a car or while trying to get out of a taxi and standing on one leg.

Having someone that knows how to put a wheelchair together with the cushion the right way round would mean so much to me and many others. It would give me a huge amount of confidence about the hotel I was staying at or the restaurant I was visiting for lunch.

A guest arriving in a wheelchair is likely to need some help. If reception has done its job properly at the time of booking, then the porters should be expecting the guest in the wheelchair at an approximate time and know their method of transport to the hotel or restaurant. In this way, the porters can assure a warm and timely welcome provided they can open a wheelchair confidently and safely.

It is also important to know which way round a cushion goes as, if the person has an above knee amputation, the cushion may have a support that needs to go under the stump of the amputated leg. If a porter is not sure about something and needs help they should ask the disabled person immediately rather than guess at how to do something. A disabled person will appreciate being asked about something provided the answer is listened to.

I was visiting a leading London five-star hotel a couple of years ago and was asked if I needed assistance with a push over the carpeted area. I said no thank you but despite that the member of staff pushed me anyway. That really annoyed me and I am sure it annoys others.

I accept wheelchair users are only 7% of the disabled persons market but they are clearly visible. It is vital that staff see the person in the wheelchair rather than the disability such as an amputation.

So, how else can porters ensure that a warm welcome and great start is provided to all people with disabilities?

There are an estimated two million people in the UK who are blind or partially sighted. Hotels and unfamiliar places can prove challenging for visually impaired people. Many can and do find their way around on their own but some will require assistance. Before giving guidance, make yourself known to the person by saying hello. If you don't, then the blind person will not know you are there.
Arnold Fewell is a director of AVF Marketing and a permanent wheelchair user

four things that should be considered by porters in order to help disabled guests

1 Many blind people rely on their dog for assistance. Don't forget to have a dog station with fresh water and clean towels that are regularly checked, especially in warm weather.

2 Keep corridors free of trays and other impediments at all times. I realise that guests order room service and then put trays outside their door. But if you know there is a disabled person in a room nearby, this tray needs collection and should not be left out until a night porter comes on duty or does a fire round. Yet again this goes back to reception telling all departments that a person with a specific disability is staying that night or is booked in the restaurant.

3 A few years ago the winner of the Accessible Catey had learnt how to say "welcome to our pub" in sign language. This is something that some deaf people will appreciate but it is quite acceptable to have a pad of paper and pen so that you can communicate that way.

4 If your porters check the state of the downstairs toilets, then make sure they check out the accessible toilets as well.

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