The way to attract and retain the accessibility market is for common sense understanding, says Pride of Britain chief executive Peter Hancock
In my half century on this planet I have been lucky enough to survive a serious train crash, a couple of car crashes and, as a careless schoolboy, being knocked down by a speeding van. Any of these incidents could, for someone with a less diligent angel on duty, have rendered me either dead or disabled. On each occasion my injuries were easily fixed.
That I remain able-bodied is the result of pure chance and, who knows, the next mishap could rob me of sight or mobility just like that. If so, I'll join the 11 million people in the UK who are classed as disabled. What then? Well, first I would try to continue working and for me that would have to include spending some of my time in hotels. How would I hope to be treated? Exactly the same as before. The allowances that management and staff are expected to make for disabled guests should be all about minimising the impact of their impairment rather than drawing attention to it.
Apparently, a leading member of a very well known rock band insists on having a cardiac defribrillator installed in his suite when on tour - always discreetly provided, of course. Nobody would regard him as a disabled person yet his needs are arguably more challenging to meet than those of a deaf accountant, a wheelchair-bound architect or a child with mild learning difficulties. My point here is that all our customers have different requirements, whether or not they fall into the less able category.
Campaigners on this issue quite rightly highlight the legal obligation on hotel and restaurant businesses to be accessible. It would be churlish to argue with them, though we do seem to have an excess of regulation in this area where new buildings are concerned. A ramp for customers, fair enough. But a disabled loo for the able-bodied proprietors as well? I'm not so sure we need costs like that.
Thanks to Caterer's "Ramp it up" campaign we are talking about accessibility more than ever and I commend the common sense recommendations we've seen. Above all, I think the way to attract and retain a slice of the £2b market in serving the disabled is to emulate the habits of those staff who already understand what's needed. Talking to a guest in a wheelchair as you would talk to any other guest, quietly offering an elbow to someone with limited eyesight, making sure the room is not cluttered with furniture that will get in the person's way.
Most of these things can be done unobtrusively - just as we would wish if the roles were reversed. But in case my worst fears come to pass please note that yes... I do take sugar.