Are you aware whether your operation really is accessible to all guests? James Stagg joins an accessibility audit at the Four Seasons Park Lane hotel to see what a big difference small steps can make
Do you know how easy it is for those with accessibility requirements to reach all the areas and facilities at your operation? With an untrained or inexperienced eye most people will believe they have done all they can to welcome every customer; but by putting yourself in someone else's shoes you may find that there are a number of improvements that can be made at little cost.
The incentive is compelling. Those in a wheelchair or with hearing, visual or temporary impairments amount to 20% of the country's population. It is estimated that the market for catering for those with disabilities and impairments is £2b, so operators can open up a new revenue stream by examining and improving their accessibility provision.
One way of assessing your site is to conduct an access audit. These are usually undertaken by professionals who will make recommendations for reasonable adjustments that will improve the customer experience for those with particular needs. And they don't have to be expensive or time-consuming. For example, moving a cupboard in a disabled toilet could improve the turning circle for a wheelchair, making a real difference to a disabled guest.
To highlight what can be done, our accessibility champion, Arnold Fewell, of AVF Marketing, and 2012 Catey Special Award winner, visited London's Four Seasons Park Lane hotel to conduct an audit. The hotel, shortlisted for the 2012 Accessibility Catey, is already a fantastic example of how to welcome all guests regardless of requirements. Here, Fewell shares some observations that could be applied to any hospitality operation across the country.
As many questions as possible should be asked at the time of booking. Hotels should have procedures in place that collect information about various impairments such as mobility, hearing and sight. A series of open questions should be developed that establishes the needs of the guest with a disability at the time of booking as this will enable the hotel to set up the room in advance, saving the guest having to ask for changes after they have checked in.
Staff should have the relevant guest information to hand so as to understand their requirements as soon as they arrive. This is particularly important if a guest requires assistance from their car. At check-in, all relevant facilities in the hotel and its rooms should be pointed out.
Porters should know how to open up a manual wheelchair and also be trained in communicating with those with visual impairments.
A mirror should be fixed to the back wall of the lift as this helps a wheelchair user reverse out at busy times. The volume of the floor announcements should also be high enough to be heard at busy times by someone with a hearing impairment.
The room should be well lit, comfortable and accessible. Alarm cords in the bathroom should never be tied up as they would be difficult to reach if a guest fell. Controls in the shower should be easy to read - remember, a person with a disability might not be able to move quickly out of harm's way if the hot water is accidently turned up. A large-key telephone is very helpful.
If your guest is in a wheelchair, less can be more, particularly with furniture, which can impede the wheelchair's turning circle. Also, an accessible room without a carpet is much easier for a wheelchair user.
Ensure the accessible toilet does not feature unnecessary storage equipment as this reduces the turning circle of a wheelchair. Grab rails on doors should run horizontally so that a wheelchair user can close the door more easily.
The accessible toilet should have strobe fire alarm lighting to alert those with hearing impairment of an emergency.
The bar and restaurant
Wheelchair users should be directed to a table from which they can easily access the toilet. Tables should have no impediments underneath so that it is easy to bring a wheelchair close.
Websites should include an accessibility statement that explains the facilities available, so any person with a disability knows what to expect on arrival. Users should have the option of altering the font size and there should also be a black-and-white option.
Arnold Fewell's 10 Tips for improving accessibility
1 Understand the market opportunity - it's worth more than £2b. For more information download the At Your Service booklet from www.visitengland.org/busdev/bussupport/access/buscase.
2 Create an accessibility statement, which is a description of your business's facilities and services to inform people with access needs.
3 Make a promise to guests about accessibility. This should detail your offer to people with disabilities and how it will be delivered, when and where.
4 Experience your business as a disabled person. There are three main disabilities that you can experience: mobility, hearing and sight impairments.
5 Train reception staff to ask questions at the time of booking. When a person with a disability makes a booking they are likely to say they have extra needs or they will ask for an accessible room.
6 Stop the abuse of accessible car parking. It needs to be monitored and those abusing the system punished. If you are going to clamp, then make sure you tell customers about the charge and that it will go to a local charity.
7 Look at low-cost improvements. There are dozens of low-cost ideas, such as putting a table and chair in reception to deal with the arrival rather than cutting a low access point into the reception desk.
8 Join Tourism for All. This is a national charity that promotes Open Britain and provides a way for you to create awareness of your accessible business to people with disabilities (www.tourismforall.org.uk).
9 Set up a system of accessibility champions. Give one person overall responsibility for accessibility and then create a series of supporters in other departments.
10 Check your fire procedures. Ask guests about their requirements in the event of the fire alarm sounding.
Arnold Fewell is a permanent wheelchair user who works with hotels to provide access audits and accessibility training. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Accessibility Awareness Day
Caterer and Hotelkeeper is holding an Accessibility Awareness Day on 1 October to provide operators with the collective chance to assess their own accessibility provision and see their business from a different perspective.
We will be encouraging all hospitality businesses to take part and see how they can make a difference, both to the impression they give to those with disabilities and to their bottom line.
In the coming weeks we will offer practical advice on getting staff involved - with suggestions like taking a tour of your operation in a wheelchair to understand the limitations - ideas for running accessibility-awareness sessions, and guides for ensuring you get the most out of your efforts.
So put the date in your diary, enthuse your teams and look out for the Ramp It Up logo in the coming weeks for more advice on how to participate.
Watch the video
See what makes the Four Seasons Park Lane's accessibility provision so special by clickinghere.