Reading about actress Cherylee Houston’s recent experience in a hotel where she was “left in tears”after being told that the accessible room had a step into it but was accessible for her wheelchair once inside! It’s made me reflect on some of the experiences I’ve had in hotels across the world.
I have to say, the UK and Ireland may have a long way to go in lots of ways but, in accessibility terms, especially in hotels we are miles ahead. I’ve had lots of exceptional stays in beautiful hotels, especially in our own little Northern Ireland. One point of irritation though, is the fact that almost without exception, all the accessible rooms have twin rather than double beds. My hubby usually relished the chance to have a night’s sleep without me hogging the covers, but still.
It’s been even more interesting recently when organising trips as a family and asking for an accessible family room. These 3 words in that order don’t seem to compute for many hotel staff. When I was booking a hotel for my recent trip to London, the agent helpfully suggested that I book the accessible room for myself and a room nearby for my husband and 16 month old, bedsharing, breastfed daughter. Now, my husband truly is a superhero and the best Dad in the world but even he doesn’t have the correct anatomy for the numerous nightly feeds.
Possibly the worst ever though was during our honeymoon in Europe. We went interrailing and booked each destination as we went. I booked an accessible room in Florence, Italy and mentioned in the special requests section that we were newlyweds on honeymoon so any nice extras to make our stay a bit special would be most welcome. We arrived at the hotel to be greeted by at least 6 steps to get in. Hubby duly went inside while I sat on the pavement in my chair guarding our bags. He came back out moments later telling me that when he expressed concern that I wasn’t even able to get in to the receptionist, she cheerfully explained it wasn’t a problem because our accessible room was across the street in a separate building. He was also armed with key cards and a wifi password so things looked hopeful. Our optimism was short lived however. We opened the door to our “honeymoon suite” and our faces fell. It was a self contained apartment with a kitchenette, one chair and a wardrobe. The entire surface area of the room was less than half the size of my living room (and it’s small). It was extremely accessible, I could touch both walls sitting in my chair in the middle of the room. But you haven’t heard the pièce de résistance; the accessible bed, was infact, a mattress on the floor! Not a low bed, an actual mattress, on, the floor! Add in the fact that said mattress took up so much of the floor space that we couldn’t close the bathroom door and there we were on honeymoon feeling an affinity with those living at Her Majesty’s pleasure!
There’s no doubt that there is still work to be done not just in hotels, to make places and experiences fully accessible to all; but hearing Cherylee Houston refer to “the bane of disability” really makes my heart sink. I say, if you put on your boxing gloves you’ll always find a fight. As long as people see their disability as an affliction or a struggle, they will keep struggling. I’ve personally reframed this and I now see my abilities before the challenges. I’m lucky to be able to clearly communicate my needs and expectations as I did when I made it clear to the hotel in London that my whole family would be together in a family room as would my wheelchair. Also, through balanced, calm and assertive communication I have been able to not only create the environments and circumstances I wanted to experience, in travel, employment and child birth but also, I’ve been closely involved in directing real meaningful changes in all these areas. That’s the gold! Taking an obstacle and turning it into an opportunity for ourselves and society as a whole