Do Any Hotels Cater For Disabled People, Properly?

Main Photo: The actual bathroom in Charles’ house, that is his model for a new hotel

Date: August 2020

Location: UK…and globally

Who: AbleStay, started by family carer, UK-based Charles van Berckel, father of a severely disabled 12 year son, who has a work background in running events, so has some experience of looking for and finding the right facilities in hotels.

Their son, a full time wheelchair user, has Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy and is totally dependent on parents and carers for all aspects of day to day life, that include personal care, eating, drinking and mobility. The lad has no independent sitting, standing, walking and no fine motor skills.

They have the perfect environment at home. Bedroom with a profiling bed, ceiling track hoist into a fully adapted bathroom. The bathroom comprises of sufficient circulation space, high/low bath, wheelchair accessible wash basin, adult size changing table and wash & dry toilet providing dignity and independence.

In addition, the home is designed around an open plan living space, making wheelchair manoeuvrability easy and level thresholds throughout. Doorways are sufficient width for a wheelchair and there are no obstacles to prevent independent power-chair use.

Fed-up with not finding the right facilities for truly disabled people, Charles aims to develop and deliver fully adapted and accessible family holiday properties in major UK city centres, starting with London.

The properties would meet the needs of those requiring the highest level of physical support, as well as those travelling with other disabilities including autism, hearing and sight impairments, complex medical needs and learning disabilities. They want to provide an environment that is consummate with the expectations of a boutique hotel or luxury B&B.

Why? Current provision of ‘Accessible’ accommodation in city centre hotels and private holiday properties, meet only the very basic needs of a small group of disabled travellers. Too often, this is simply a ‘light touch’ to satisfy regulations (i.e. a grab rail and widened doorway), without real thought as to a user’s specific needs.

A disabled person travelling with their family, should experience their holiday accommodation without the apprehension and worry as to whether the property will work with them or against them. It should be a place of rest, calm, comfort and safety and allow all members of the family to focus on the reasons for their holiday. It should not only meet the needs of the individual and other family members, but provide that support in the best way possible, including the ‘wow’ factor of a beautiful boutique hotel.

It is also about providing the feeling of security that one has at home. To deliver the ‘Home from Home’ experience that is so important to families travelling with disability.

Size of the market: There are approximately 13.3m disabled people in the UK, contributing £12.8bn to the UK tourist economy.

£3.3bn is spent on overnight accommodation. Overnight spend is on average £210 per night, 10% higher than the UK average.

The ‘Purple Pound’ is a lucrative market, often ignored by the tourist industry in fully meeting the needs of those travelling with a disability.

Current provision of this type of holiday home across the UK is relatively good – except in city centres. Visit England confirm that there are no similar property types in London and that visitors, requiring this level of support, have no accommodation options and must look outside the capital for somewhere to stay.

Airbnb also confirm that they have no properties on their database in London that provides the level of support they want to deliver.

So far: They set up, in 2015. and administrate a well used Facebook group called Special Needs Holidays and Day Trips UK. This is for families looking for advice on travelling and finding the right accommodation to meet need for their disabled traveller. They currently have over 13,000 family user groups, who provide a huge amount of data and information on what families are looking for.

They are seeking, as an initial project, a small holiday property in London, which allow individuals and families who have disability, to visit the capital without the ever present fear or apprehension that the accommodation will not meet needs.

There are a number of key factors to consider;

1. Location – Easy access to the property by road and public transport. Access to accessible public transport for onward travel into central London….perhaps the greater London area with rail connections to Waterloo.
2. Property type – Ensuring that the property has the potential to be developed to incorporate the Accessible adaptations required. These will include;

 Ground floor bedroom with profiling bed
 Ground floor fully accessible ‘wet’ bathroom en-suite
 Ceiling track hoist between the two rooms
 Open plan living area with level access throughout
 Additional bedrooms for family members and/or carer

One of the few locations offering good facilities for disabled people and their families, in Exmoor

It is important to consider not only the physical adaptations to the property but also the many other specifics required by families. These include, but are not limited to:

From research carried out across their 13,000 members the following were expressly requested for the property. From reading this, one can see why a basic ‘adapted’ hotel room and ‘accessible’ bathroom does not meet need.

Accessible Bedroom: Wide doorway Blackout blinds, Profiling bed on wheels, Ceiling track hoist to bathroom, Safe Space bed (for children with autism), Cot sides, Lockable in/out Monitor/CCTV surveillance, Carer accommodation, En-suite accessible bathroom, Circulation space for wheelchair, Comfy chair, Space for wheelchair storage 2nd bed trundle/foldaway for parent/carer, Secure windows with locks, Plenty of plug sockets/extension leads USB sockets, Wall mounted TV, Neutral colour, No patterns, Wheelchair height mirror, Over bed table tray on wheels, Pad/Nappy disposal, Brolly sheets for incontinence, Clothes storage, Bedside table and lamp, Door window to check on safety of occupant, Drip stand for IV fluids, Window limiters, Wide beside shelving for pumps, suction, ventilators and SATS monitor

Accessible Bathroom: Full size changing table, Shower trolley, Hi/lo sensory bath, Shower chair (with head support), H ceiling track hoist, Sufficient space around the toilet for assisted bladder and bowel care, Wash/dry toilet, Grab rails, Full size height adjustable basin, Reclining bath chair, Plenty of hooks, Wheel in shower, Wet room, Anti scald shower, Deaf awareness facility

The bathroom at the Home Hotel, Krakow, Poland

Other areas of the property: Secure doors and windows, Cover/disguise for the front door (especially for dementia),  Level thresholds throughout ground floor of property, Social story,  Secure medical cabinet, Medical fridge, Large separate fridge for feeds, Blender for feeds, Steriliser, Secure garden, Stair gates, Remover plugs in bathrooms, Sensory room/quite space with beanbags, Makaton symbols to promote inclusion Parking for Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle, Wheelchair accessible kitchen, Gallery on website with lots of photographs List of disability aids available.

Some good sites catering for less disabled people:
Disabled Holidays
Limitless Travel – includes overseas travel 
Euan’s Guide
Good Access Guide
Disability Holidays Guide – covers Europe
Accessible Hotel Rooms – Best Practice, Published May 2010 by the then Mayor of London
Tourism for All...by Brian Seaman, a veteran in this area
Accessibility Manifesto by Bespoke Hotels, better than most hotel chains in this area

Recently, the Blue Badge Access Awards have been launched, and the nominations for 2020/21 are now open supported by a great cross-section of the hotel industry and associated commercial entities 

The Blue Badge Access Awards is a global initiative that brings together two major design competitions – the Bespoke Access Awards and the Blue Badge Style Awards – with the support of charity, Leonard Cheshire. “We are united by our mission to celebrate thoughtful and stylish inclusive design across the world.”

This year’s theme is Liberty: The ‘Liberty’ theme has been inspired by Hotel Brooklyn in Manchester, which has named its accessible bedrooms ‘Liberty rooms’ . Designed by Squid Inc , bedroom #305 at Hotel Brooklyn was described by Motionspot’s Edward Warner – a government sector champion for accessible design of spaces and products – as “unquestionably the world’s best and most accessible hotel room”.

“As someone who spent a period of my life immobilised and debilitated, I love the idea of ‘Liberty’”, says Robin Sheppard. “And it’s particularly pertinent now – when virtually everyone is spending an extended period of time experiencing lockdown for the first time in their lives. They will fully understand feelings of liberation when this crisis starts to abate. I hope that a lot more people will empathise with the experience of people with disabilities. And I hope that a lot more hospitality professionals – whether you are a designer, an architect, a developer, owner or manager – will pick up the baton for accessibility. Not only will you be doing the ‘right’ thing, you’ll be doing the commercial thing.”

THPT Comment: So if you have such a property, please call us! seriously who would have thought of all these requirements to make a truly disabled-friendly hotel…Hoteliers, please tell us how many of these items, you can tick off? and who’s doing best outside of the UK?

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