When most people book a hotel stay, they wonder whether they’ll have ocean views and what kind of food the restaurant will offer. But people with disabilities have bigger concerns. According to statistics, one in every three disabled people in the UK feels hotels aren’t accessible enough. That number is touching, especially since there are over 14.1 million people with a disability in the UK alone.
Fortunately, things are improving and many hotel chains now have wheelchair accessible rooms with ramps or lifts leading up to them. Although these moves are significant, hotel accessibility is still lacking in the UK - especially when it comes to day-to-day hotel operations.
Hotels should be as accessible as they can be for everyone. It's important to ensure your hotel isn't leaving any guest out of enjoyment. Luckily, hotel accessibility doesn't mean complete overhauls. There are a few hotel accessibility issues hotel owners can address that will greatly improve hotel operations and make your property more accessible to disabled guests.
Getting the basics right
It is important to get the basics right when making your hotel more accessible. Before undertaking any work, make sure the designs proposed are based around the needs of disabled guests. Focus on ensuring their experience feels the same as everyone else's and consider the following features as a minimum:
Layout - The first thing to look at is your hotel layout. Make sure your rooms and communal areas are easy to understand and wide enough for wheelchair accessibility. This will help visitors to comfortably use the hotel and removes any unnecessary assistance.
Communal Areas - Offer an equal standard of use in all the communal areas of the building. This will include your restaurant and dining areas, hallways and any business facilities you might offer.
Bathrooms - Ensure that you not only offer wet rooms and adapted bathrooms in the bedrooms but also make sure you have disabled toilets available in the communal areas.
Parking - Provide convenient parking facilities within easy access to the property. Provisioning blue badge parking bays (whenever parking is provided) or taxi pick up/drop off leading to the front entrance of the hotel.
Fixtures and Fittings - Provide handrails, ramps and suitable signage throughout the building. Wherever possible use fixtures and fittings that are in keeping with the style of the interior décor.
Bedrooms - Provide a choice of room types and location and if possible, offer the option of connecting rooms in a proportion of accessible rooms.
Furniture - Place tea and coffee making facilities in obvious and rational places so that they can be easily found and safely used. Provide full length mirrors and position switches so they are easy to reach. Also consider how furniture is positioned in the rooms so that it does not create an obstruction to windows or doors.
Storage - Provide adequate storage for equipment and mobile furniture.
Planning Accessible Rooms
If you are making extensive alterations to your hotel, you should make sure your design team has experience / expertise in adapting hotels for disabled use. If they don't, consider appointing an access specialist to provide advice in this area.
Depending on the extent of your development work, you may also need to seek planning permission. It is important to do this as early on as possible as this can delay works.
If you are unsure about the regulations you need to adhere to as a hotel owner, download Visit Britain's 'Pink Book' (https://www.visitbritain.org/business-advice/disabled-customers). It provides key information about how to ensure your property is accessible for disabled guests and how to obtain planning permission for works.
Hotel Design for Accessibility
Hotel room fit outs do not always allow for flexibility so that all guest, including companions, can comfortably use accessible rooms. Moreover, features such as grab rails and easy to use taps are not always well integrated in the décor of the room or of the same quality standard of other furniture.
Whilst every hotel is different, and the design specifications will be unique to the project, there are some common design oversights that are often found in hotels that you should avoid; these include:
Dispersion of accessible guest rooms - Accessible rooms need to provide guests with the same range of choice afforded to guests without a disability. Often designers select one or two room types and fail to account for other room types or amenities.
Rooms without roll-in showers - When designing bathrooms not everyone realises that you will not only need roll-in shower rooms but also bathrooms that don't include roll-in shower rooms.
Reception desks - A proportion of the counter should provide a useable surface for a person with a disability to fill out paperwork.
Accessible tables - You will need to ensure there is sufficient seating spaces that are accessible. Accessible tables should also be dispersed throughout the facility.
Breakfast Bars / Buffets - Often the counters for breakfast bars / buffets are too high. It’s important to allow a proportion of shelving and dispensing devices within accessible reach.
Signage - Accessible signage must provide tactile characters and Braille. Signs should be mounted in a consistent location throughout the building.
Clear floor space around beds - There must be sufficient floor space to allow guests to get in and out of the bed easily. Be careful not to obstruct clearance space with furniture next to the bed.
Bathroom size - The problem with designing bathrooms to the minimum allowable dimensions is that it does not allow for the installation of towel racks, shelving or other storage elements without it overlapping the required clearances. These features are normally added at the later design phases when it is too late to increase the room size. Make sure to give yourself this extra space to include these items.
Ensuring that your hotel is accessible for disabled guests will not only make you more competitive in the market, but it will also help to generate a positive experience for all of your guests.