AT‘s wheelie traveller, Vanessa Waller, points out a few common mistakes the tourism industry makes when it builds wheelchair-accessible accommodation.
Many people in the tourism industry seem to think that a wide door and a ramp are all that is required to make a property wheelchair-friendly. How wrong they are! It is certainly not a deliberate oversight: most people working in hospitality genuinely want to be hospitable but are simply ignorant of the needs of their clientele in wheelchairs. Some of the biggest "wheelchair nasties" I’ve encountered stem from poor communication and a lack of information.
Anyone who travels and uses a wheelchair or other mobility device knows that you can never, ever trust what you read when booking accommodation so it is imperative that you speak to someone at the property before you make a reservation. Even so, you are still relying on staff members who are not necessarily experienced with wheelie travellers and through no fault of their own provide misleading or incomplete information.
On one occasion, I was assured by a receptionist that the "physically challenged" (!) apartment I was booking was most definitely suitable for my scooter as it had extra-wide doors and had only just been completely refurbished. As it turned out, the extra wide door was the only useful wheelchair-friendly modification in the entire place. The tiny ramp into the bathroom was very steep and my scooter only just managed to scrape up it. There were no grab rails in the shower, there was no shower seat and the shower was fixed to the wall rather than hand-held on an adjustable rail. There was no knee space under the basin, the kitchenette was not modified for wheelchair access at all, and the lovely, large balcony was completely inaccessible to me due to a very large lip at the bottom of the door. Needless to stay, I haven’t been back.
Another time, the receptionist had confidently confirmed that the two wheelchair-friendly rooms I needed would be ready (I had booked weeks ahead to make sure). When I arrived I was told that my colleague had checked in, but unfortunately the second room was still being fitted out and painted and wouldn’t be available for me to use on this occasion. I really would have appreciated a telephone call to alert me to this delay before I embarked on the five-hour drive and arrived at 6pm on a Friday.
A request for an accessible room is not like asking for a room with a view. An able traveller might be a bit miffed at being told that all the harbour view rooms are gone when they check in, but when a wheelie traveller is told there are no accessible rooms the consequences are extreme. Anyone providing wheelchair-friendly accommodation needs to understand this and adjust their processes accordingly.
If reception staff are educated about the needs of people in wheelchairs and about the details of their own accommodation, I am sure that many misunderstandings could be avoided. As is so often the case in life, communication is the key!