Why hotels get accessibility so wrong

According to the Huffington Post, there are 14 million people with a disability in the UK. That means disabled people now make up 22% of the UK population – more than one in five and often these individuals will need extra help around the house. It is therefore understandable that these people don’t want to have to worry about having to be faced with substandard facilities and equipment when they have to stay in a hotel, yet this is the reality faced by many.

The debate in the House of Lords around thousands of hotels breaching basic access, heard from disabled peers Baroness [Celia] Thomas, Baroness [Jane] Campbell, Baroness [Sue] Masham and Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson.

According to the article “Baroness Thomas, a Liberal Democrat peer, who tabled the question that led to the debate, said there was “no doubt” that thousands of hotels around the country were not meeting “basic” access requirements laid out in Part M of the building regulations.”

Staying in a hotel should be an exciting, luxurious treat, but for someone with a disability, finding and staying in a suitable hotel can often be a daunting task. It’s not just about having a comfortable bed and better water pressure in the shower. It’s knowing that you can get onto the bed, that there is a suitable wet room with correctly placed grab rails and knowing that the basin won’t be too high so that you can wash your hands. Those are only a few of the considerations that need to be taken into account.

Although some hotels do offer standard accessible rooms, the bathrooms generally resemble bathrooms you would find in a hospital. In addition, accessibility is often not well thought out and does not cater for individuals with significant mental and physical disabilities. It’s therefore not surprising that some people will rather stay at home than be daunted by staying somewhere that doesn’t fully meet their needs.

So why do some hotels get accessibility so wrong?

Lack of accessibility information online

The 2019 Access Survey by Euan’s Guide found that 93% look for disabled access information beforehand. 77% use a venue’s website to check disabled access before visiting and have found the information misleading, confusing and inaccurate, while 79% experienced a disappointing trip or had to change plans at the last minute because of poor accessibility. Those are not encouraging statistics!

As part of the above survey, people were asked ‘Is website information ever misleading?’

Sometimes the information is wrong, usually it is absent.”

“A general lack of detailed information e.g. how many stairs?”

“Fully accessible tells me nothing.”

“Venues’ websites often fail to mention that the lift is out of order and no alternatives are available.”

“Many venues don’t include access information asking you to call instead (which is hard when your disability affects your hearing and speech too!).”

“Sometimes a site may say its accessible, but don’t mention that access is via a completely different street entrance to the main entrance. Or I find that only part of the venue is accessible.”

If it takes more than a few clicks from the website homepage to find a description about accessibility, it gives the impression that disabled access isn’t important. Ideally a dedicated page should tell people what provision has been made for disabled access and who they can contact to find out more specific information. Don’t forget to describe details such as door widths and bed heights.

Accessible booking system

One problem many with disabilities face is booking a room that meets their individual requirements online. It would make life so much easier if a booking system included an option to book an accessible room, also highlighting the features and detailing whom the room will suit. In turn, this will save guests and employees time, rather than the guests having to phone the hotel.

Location of accessible rooms

Let’s face it, some hotels are like a maze and finding a room can be tricky. Not being able to find your room due to lack of signage or not being able to get into a lift with a wheelchair can prove super stressful.

Ideally, accessible rooms should be located in a convenient location. The ground floor may be ideal in as far as convenience goes, but being on holiday is also often about having a nice view from the room. Rooms on higher levels are best located near lifts and not at the end of long corridors.

Bedroom design

All accessible bedrooms must have adequate clear floor space on both sides of the bed, as well as the foot-end. Often rooms are not large enough to provide the required clear floor space. Even in layouts that are designed to provide adequate clearance, the clear floor space is often obstructed by elements like desks and dressers when rooms are fully furnished. 

In specifically adapted bedrooms, there are more ways in which access can be made easier for guests. Sufficient door widths, as well as space around the bed are key. The height of the bed is important so that wheelchair users can transfer from their chair into the bed. This can be difficult and sometimes impossible if the bed is too high. In addition to height, ample room on either side of the bed is required to allow for an easy transfer.

Fittings around the room must be kept at a reasonable height, including temperature control and wardrobe fixtures. Appliances should be within easy reach and with large-print instructions should they be required.

Bathroom design

The en-suite bathroom is one of the most important features of adapted rooms, yet often hotels get accessibility so wrong when it comes to design.

Examples are:

Toilets placed in awkward spots. If a toilet is placed in a tightly spaced area or separate little room, it makes it impossible for wheelchair users to safely transfer on to and off the toilet.

Flush handles placed incorrectly. Accessible toilets are supposed to have the flush handle on the side away from the wall so that the handle is easily reached to flush from your wheelchair. Frequently this is not the case, so a wheelchair user will have to remember to flush before transferring off the toilet.

Shower seats or benches placed incorrectly. If a fixed shower seat or bench is placed opposite the shower taps, it can make switching the water on and off very awkward. In many cases a portable seat won’t be available either.

Space is key in adapted bathrooms. There needs to be enough space so that a wheelchair user can easily enter and manoeuvre around the toilet and into an easily accessible shower. A spacious, well thought out wet room with correctly placed toilet, flush handles, grab rails and shower seat are essential. Toilet and basin height needs to be taken into consideration too.

Conclusion

The ultimate root of the problem is that not enough hotel chains have disabled consultants who actually work with the room designers when a new hotel is being planned. We believe that hotels should engage with specialists in the accessibility sector as well as bringing in a consultant who lives in a wheelchair full-time to go through room plans and designs for new construction, as well as existing accessible hotel rooms, to advise them on the practicality of their design decisions for accessible rooms.

If you are interested in turning your bathroom into a more functional wet room that meets your accessibility needs, you can contact us on 01784 440 333 or send us an email via our Contact Page.