Kuehne June 2019

Disability Equality in Hospitality

The customer is king or queen but when that customer has learning difficulties, is partially sighted or in a wheelchair, how regally treated does he or she feel as a restaurant diner or hotel guest?

The answer is not very, according to 27-year-old Sulaiman Khan from London. A wheelchair user with congenital muscular dystrophy, Sulaiman works with the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign. In 2010, it conducted an investigation to determine whether disabled provision in hotels was up to scratch.

Of the establishments he visited, Sulaiman said: “A lot of the staff weren’t very helpful. Getting in was often a problem, as well as rooms that were frequently too small for a wheelchair, even when the hotel had a wheelchair accessible logo.”

Sulaiman is just one of 10 million disabled people in the UK – that’s one in five of us, which equates to 20% of your potential clientele. So thinking through and investing in your provision for disabled customers is not only a legal requirement under the 2010 Equality Act, it also makes good business sense. (The Disability Equality Act 2010 from 1st October 2010, however, the Disability Equality Duty in the Disability Discrimintaion Act 1995 continues to apply.)

The act gives people with disabilities the right to access goods and services without discrimination and the onus is on service providers to make any necessary reasonable adjustments. What is deemed reasonable however differs depending on the size of the business and the type of premises. And this means the standard of provision also varies. Explains Sarah Crowther, front of house manager at the fully accessible Park House hotel in Sandringham: “Some think that disabled access is one size fits all. If a handrail is installed or an entrance levelled, that’s it. “They don’t consider the width of doorways or realise that there might be a step down to the bathroom. Access has to be flexible. What’s going to be accessible for one person won’t necessarily be for another.”

So how do you please all your disabled customers all the time? How does an able-bodied proprietor begin to conceive the myriad of challenges disabled people face?

The Directgov and Equality and Human Rights Commission websites are useful places to start, and try Sarah’s suggestion: “Get a disabled representative to come in and see what they think.”

One such specialist is Brian Seaman, Head of Consultancy at Tourism for All. He’s been advising businesses and helping disabled consumers for 18 years. Says Brian, whose work ranges from giving out useful website addresses, advising on equipment and training, making site visits and supporting planning permission applications: “The main complaint I hear is about staff attitudes and that things aren’t thought through properly.” And in the digital age, one of his current challenges is encouraging establishments to publicise their accessibility online. Adds Brian: “Places can be attractive and accessible. Proprietors need to get photos on their websites and let people know what facilities they have.”

Agrees Sarah Crowther: “The disabled market is huge. Having an access statement is the best thing. Your access needs to actually be on your website and it needs honesty. Be realistic about what is accessible, because there is no one size fits all.”

For a personal account and top tips click here.

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