May 2009 - Posts
Congratulations to Carleigh Chadwick
My discussions with Holiday Inn have progressed and I am impressed that they have taken on board my comments and suggestions.
Of particular note is the effort of Carleigh Chadwick, Accessibility Manager, for InterContinental Hotels Group.
We have had a frank exchange of letters but I now believe the group is making substantial progress.
The big issue in my mind is getting these company messages down to front level staff e.g. the barman that offers to take drinks to a table for a wheelchair user, or the Porter that knows how to lead a person with a visual impairment. The answer is training and that is not rocket science.
So why don't more companies, people, staff use the excellent on-line training courses provided by Tourism for all. You can join at different levels but I believe the price starts at £35 for one person. What fantastic value and the price per person goes down as you train more staff and take advantage of different packages.
One extra bedroom, several bottles of wine, two dinners could and will pay for the training. If you need more information just go to www.tourismforall.org.uk.
They also promote accessible places for people with disabilities and are a charity. The industry should support them and will reap the benefits as more people with disabilities head for your door. Please look at their website now.
Is Michael McGrath right?
Did you see Michael's article in Caterer and Hotelkeeper from 24th April? If not then have a look (page 46). The final question he posed was - Employing talented disabled people is not a new idea, so why is it such a battle?
The issue of people with disabilities for this industry is a battle full stop. There are many companies that genuinely think they are doing a great job. I have just received a letter from one following a recent stay, I will leave you to work out which one from my recent blogs. The problem is that policies that they think are taking place from a Head Office viewpoint are not actually happening in the hotels they own or run.
When it comes to local employment this should be a local initiative based on the pool of talent available in that area and matched to the nedds of the employer. There are so many opportunities and there are some good examples of Best Practice in the article. The question is why are there not more when skills issue and employment take up so much space in the magazine, the media and on TableTalk. A hotel can employ a pschizophrenic providing they give them the right environment. and support to work in such as: giving them one task at a time; talking to them face to face; regularly checking they are OK. In return you will get a hard working, reliable and loyal employee. It is not rocket science and if you don't believe me talk to the Weavers Restaurant Trust. and find out what they do
When we judged the Accessible Catey recently there were examples of employees taken on trial that were then offered permanent empolyment and in some cases promoted. These are the stories we want to be talking about and I hope you will tell me about them. Is there a wheelchair user working in a kitchen? What adaptations have employees made so that they can employ someone with a disability? It is happening but it is not happening enough, unless of course you know different. May my comment box be overflowing.
Why emergency cords are really important?
Emergency cords in an accessible room are there for a very good reason. Believe it or not they are to be used in an emergency!! This is why I don't understand hotels abusing and misusing them.
This cord can be pulled to alert hotel staff that a disabled guest needs assistance e.g. after a fall. This could be a matter of life and death so they are very important. So why do so many housekeeping staff tie them up. The most bizzare one I have seen this week is where the end was hidden behind a picture on the wall. All that the injured person would see is the orange cord coming down from the ceiling and disappearing 6ft above them. The only reason I am not saying where this hotel was is that the reception staff were very aplogetic and realised the error. They re-assured me that it would be actioned and I am confident it will.
I appreciate the cords can get in the way when someone is cleaning the room but imagine the alternative - The houskeeping staff opening the room door to find a person lying on the floor, they have been there all night, unable to move because of broken bones, they are in agony after a fall, very seriously ill and even struggling for their life. Next time you see a room with the cord tied up I hope you will paint a similar picture to the staff concerned. Even better why not make everyone aware of the issue at your very next opportunity.
This is not an accessible toilet
This is the picture of the supposedly accessible toilet at the Lancaster Holiday Inn. I accept it is not a brilliant photo but it does illustrate the problem. It was impossible to close the door behind me and if anyone was using a banana board to slide from the wheewlchair to the toilet they would have no chance.
Why not check your accessible toilets now? If in doubt use a wheelchair to see how accessible it really is. Then consider what it might be like with a larger wheelchair or an electric one.
How accessible are Holiday Inns?
I stayed at the Holiday Inn in Lancaster last night. I arrived needing the toilet. I was very concerned by what happened next. When I finally worked out the signage I arrived at a supposedly accessible toilet.
It wasn't.. I could not get my wheelchair in. I therefore had to use the toilet with the door open. And hope I did not cause embarrassment to anyone else or myself.
I went to reception and complained. I was told the hotel knew about the problem and plans were in hand to change the way the door is hung.
I went to my bedroom and a short while after the General Manager phoned me in the room. She pointed out the matter was in hand and disability issues were important.
Great, one thought, but it soon became apparent that disability and looking after people with disabilities was not high up the hotel's agenda. For example: the paving was cracked and could have been difficult for someone with a mobility impairment to walk on; the signage to the accessible toilets was confusing; altering the accessible toilet was not part of any business plan that I was aware of; the bar staff offered no help to take my drinks to the table and left me to struggle; accessible parking was abused by non blue badge holders because nobody was checking it.
I have the photos to support my case but the saddest part of my stay is that the hotel genuinely thought it was doing a good job.
I was told that when a wheelchair user wanted to use an accessible toilet they only had to ask at reception and a ground floor accessible room would be made available. Great. So why wasn't there a sign on or in the accessible toilet that told the person what to do? This was obvious to me and when I said the general manager agreed.
The solutions for looking after people with disabilities do not have to be expensive. It is not rocket science. Hotel managers should start with putting themselves in the position of a person with a disability and looking through their impairment. Walk round their hotel with a blindfold or ear plug and use a wheelchair so you can see the impairments and know how to open and close one.
I have stayed in other Holiday Inns and can make other suggestions and I hope someone will post a comment to this blog.
You have now been warned
When I posted my Bio on TableTalk I said I would not name and shame hotels, restaurants, pubs and others that did not look after people with disabilities. I recently discussed the situation in the industry with my colleague judges for the Accessible Catey. I should add that there were some outstanding examples of good pracrtice in the Catey entries, some very well deserved shortlisted businesses and an outstanding winner. However, that standard should now be the norm rather than the exception. It was 2005 when the DDA was substantially revised and should now be the minimum standard. It is law.
The industry has got to change for the better in the way it caters for all people with disabilities and not just wheelchair users, I intend to do my bit to help. This is why I am now going to name and shame any hospitality business that apears to me to be inconsiderate, unhelpful and provides poor customer service to people with disabilities.
I really wish I did not have to do this but perhaps bad PR will make positive change, I sincerely hope so.
A tragic email
I received an email over the weekend that said, "I find it appalling that the industry generally is so apathetic about customer service training and of course the current economic climate is conveniently blamed for so called cuts in training budgets which in my opinion is a load of twaddle as there wasn't much training going on when times were good".
In the time of a recession when you want to provide better value for money than your competitors why isn't customer service training at the top of the hotel manager's to do list? It certainly should be.
The rest of the email was about training on disability issues. The pity is I could make a similar comment.
The Paralympics in London 2012 could be a disaster for visitors unless we really start to take training in this area seriously.
The Paralympic Games in Beijing was credited for transforming a nation's attitude towards people with disability. There are just over 3 years to go and we have a very very long way to go.
For example I booked an accessible room in Hammersmith this week and I could not get into it without standing on my one leg, leaning against the door frame, collapsing my wheelchair, pushing it through the door, holding onto the door, hopping into the room, falling onto the bed and pulling the wheelchair into the room. I paid about £100 for this priveledge and under normal circumstances I would have tried to change the room. I didn't because I doubted any of the other rooms were any different from looking down the corridor.
Imagine this was the situation you faced with a partner or an older member of the close family.
Unnacceptable behaviour by reception staff
It is still going on and it is still driving me mad, it happens time and time again. That is arriving at a hotel and finding cars parked in disabled bays without a Blue Badge on display. When you mention this at check in you are met with a shrug of the shoulders with the suggestions - what can I do about it?
The worst thing is when the receptionist says - "That is my car, I park it there so when a person with a disability checks in and I can move my car so they can park". The suggestion is that they are being really thoughtful and helpful so let me paint the scene of what really happens.
The disabled person arrives and goes to the disabled parking area and finds all the spaces taken. They become concerned and hunt around for two spaces together so they can park in the middle as they need space to unload their wheelchair on one side of the car. Remember that many cars have boxes that store the wheelchair and then deliver the chair for the user as they get out of the car. This type of double space is frequently some way from reception so the person has to wheel themselves into the hotel. By the time they have finally got into the hotel the very last thing they want to be told is - "I will move my car so you can park closer".
The thought of retracing their tracks, getting back in the car, moving the car, getting out again and returning to reception fills them with dread so they don't bother. They are also left to struggle back to their car the following morning.
So receptionists please don't pretend you are parking in a disabled bay for the benefit of a blue badge holder. And if you want to know what you should be doing then I will share my ideas of best practice in future blogs.
Is this true? If so it is a terrible indictment of the hotel industry.
I visited a hotel in Windermere recently that catered for people with visual impairments. Some differences were obvious such as the number of guide dogs that were relaxing in the bar and the dirty dog towel boxes in reception. Others would be less noticeable to an able bodied visitor such as the wide variety of plants that gave out a magnificent, relaxing aroma in the garden. Or the use of water features to add to the noise, character and ambience for people that could not see. And of course the carers, other visitors and the dogs enjoyed the facilities as well. How many other hoteliers would think of this type of addition? It is this type of action that really seperates those hospitality businesses that really do understand the needs of people with disabilities.
I was talking to the General Manager and he made a very interesting comment, he said "The only time hotels really take people with disabilities seriously is during the time of the recession". This has made me think and I discussed the comment with some colleagues when we met recently to judge an event (my lips are sealed!). The really frightening thing is that I think he could be right. When things are tough with traditional markets, hotels look at markets they have not targeted before, people with disabilities being one. If that is the case, isn't it a terrible indictment of this industry? What do you think?