Well, did you read my piece on Personal Provision in Public Places?
For those who so far have missed it, the gist is this; my wife Sue is wheelchair dependent, and as we travel around the country and abroad, we encounter personal provision which varies greatly in design and usefulness. The question remains, despite governmental regulatory advice, and although local councils have a responsibility, there appears to be no mechanism for checking the appropriateness of such facilities.
Now, Sue says I’m like a terrier with a bone, I won’t, nay I can’t, leave it alone. So the story continues.
In April we visited Buxton with friends, for a three-night stay at the Alison Park Hotel, which advertises facilities for disabled guests. It rained. It snowed. It hailed. Remember? Well not to put too fine a point on it, the wet room, though money had obviously been spent on its decoration, had a lethal tiled floor, and there was only one grab-rail to assist with use of the toilet. As we left I asked if I might make a suggestion, that an additional cheap and easy-to-fit grab rail on the wall would make all the difference. This was met with, “Yes, other people have said that.” Er, so why hadn’t they done it? “But we do have able-bodied people who object to having to use such facilities!” I was also told, and it is repeated in the response to my TripAdvisor review (q.v.) ‘We are one of the only hotels in the town that have taken even these measures…’; most unlikely, as the 2010 Equality Act ‘… requires … to make reasonable adjustments …’, but I wasn’t going to stand there arguing the toss. So I wrote to the Senior Planning Officer of High Peak Borough Council, at Buxton Town Hall; guess what, no response was received. I also wrote to Quality in Tourism, the organisation which had issued Alison Park Hotel with a rating; they too declined the courtesy of a response.
In May we returned to Premier Inn in Liskeard. Oh what joy! The hotel extensions, which were being carried out during our visit last year, were complete with extra disabled parking. We had the same accommodation with wet-room facilities. The staff were largely the same, they even remembered us and made us so welcome, which says a lot for the management of the company, and the awareness training of their staff. Our regular B&B in Church Stretton was very helpful when I suggested a wall rail by the loo, and rails in the shower would be helpful. By our next trip in June, these were in place; sadly, once again no advice had been sought, and the rail by the loo is too far back to be of much use.
I must mention a splendid visit to Chatsworth House, where all the rooms on all the floors are accessible to wheelchair users, and the many friendly staff are ready to help with directions and advice; even the loo for disabled users is beautiful, spacious, with appropriate rails, and colourful pictured tiles! The National Trust, to which Chatsworth is not connected, and English Heritage, both publish Access Guides, advising visitors with problems, what is possible, and what is not. The Travel Lodge in Ludlow, where I popped in on our way passed, to ask about facilities, is just brilliant. I was asked if I’d like to see a room with en-suite wet-room; nothing was too much trouble, and my questions were answered with courtesy and patience. Oh why can’t everyone be like that? May I mention a couple of other venues? Taunton Deane services on the M5 has access from the car park, via double doors, which are not automatic; fortunately, fellow travellers were there to help. But once inside the ‘disabled loo’ was excellent, including, as it did, a shower. Severn Valley Railway, was a marvellous day out. The volunteer staff at every station, were happy, friendly and solicitous. Ramps from platform to train, were available; there was even a carriage on one of the trains, with a special seated area for disable passengers which included a toilet for their comfort! The facilities at the far end of Leigh-Delamere services on the M4, required a RADAR key, which could be obtained at the counter in W H Smiths, by the entrance through which we had just passed; a bit of a problem if you are desperate! The toilet for disabled users on the ground floor of the almost new West Wing of the prestigious John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford, has doors that open inwards from a wide corridor! Why? But the highest accolade must surely be awarded to the recently opened M&S store in Banbury, where there are two adjacent facilities, one for left transfers, and one for right transfers.
So? Well I have tried to codify our findings, drawing up a rating of 1to5 for access, toilets and hotel rooms, which Sue and I are trialling, under the title of ‘Facilities for People with Disabilities (FPDs)’, I’m also keeping a photographic record of facilities visited, much to Sue’s disgust! I wrote to our MP who resigned as PM recently, and to Justin Tomlinson, the Parliamentary Under Secretary for Disabled People, recently replaced by Penny Mordaunt; incidentally, the title has been discussed, and will remain! I enclosed my rudimentary Ratings ideas, and a copy of my article published by Silver Travel Advisor. The letter I received from the Ministerial Correspondence Team was encouraging, and asked for further details, which I happily sent. That produced a long helpful response from the Government Office for Disability Issues, which stated that, ‘… the information you shared with us fits with the findings the Minister for Disabled People, was shown when he appeared on the BBC Watchdog programme in December 2015.’ The outcome was a round-table meeting which he hosted, including representatives of the hospitality industry, trade bodies and disabled people (sic), to discuss the challenges. He, now she, will be reviewing progress in September.
In March the Minister became a champion for ‘Tourism for All’s’ campaign ‘Tourism is for Everybody’, seeking to help tourism businesses ensure a positive experience for every individual. At their suggestion, I sent my assessment documents to ‘Tourism for All’, which resulted in a home visit from the Chairman, Tim Gardiner MBE. The discussion showed that our experiences and frustrations, are shared by a great many people, including his own, but that there was a great deal of good will and intention to improve. It is not all about access, but the needs of people with other disabilities, need to be considered too; those with scooters, those with sticks, the blind, the deaf and so on. Disabilities can become handicaps, if facilities are not in place, are ill-thought out, or not fit for purpose. Then there is the question of attitude and training of those who provide facilities and support. The idea of registering, monitoring and awarding FPDs, was accepted as a good idea, but it would be expensive, and who would undertake it? We, as people with disabilities, and their carers, need to be more vocal. We are advised to look for /ask for businesses’ Access Statements, and for the National Accessible Scheme (NAS) logo on websites, letter headings and at venues, talk to management at facilities, offering them suggestions and advice, leave reviews on their websites, and use social media, to spread the word.
Just to test the system, I Googled several top hotel chains, asking for details of their Access Statements and NASs. Premier Inn always comes out top; there it was, ‘Disabled Access’. Holiday Inn, click on Access for All. Novotel, Ah! Access, Er No. You have to select a FAQ, ‘How do I book an accessible room for people with reduced mobility?’ Answer, check with your chosen hotel direct.’ Then Travel Lodge, remember Ludlow? Alas, they don’t answer queries themselves, they are dealt with by ‘Resolver’, a virtually impenetrable site, which I presume, assumes that you will give up in sheer frustration and seek another venue; not me! Eventually I did receive an apologetic email, ‘Unfortunately, we do not have an Access statement or National Accessible Scheme rating, please accept our sincerest apologies.’ So I responded with encouraging suggestions; which they gratefully acknowledged, and promised that they would be reviewed by the website team.
Now, there are websites out there which are dedicated to helping you. I mention but a few:
And for the more studious amongst us, you might care to read the history of provision for people with disabilities, ‘Designing for the disabled: The New Paradigm’ by Selwyn Goldsmith and published by Architectural Press in 1997; digitalised in 2001; a fascinating account written by an architect, who has a disability himself, and uses aids, including a wheelchair. He has served on many governmental disability advisory committees on both sides of the Atlantic. But there on page 260, I found the answer to the question. As Part M of the Building Regulations (amended 2015) makes reference to ‘adequate’ and ‘reasonable’ provision for those with disabilities, such provision can only be determined on an individual, and therefore inevitably, a subjective basis; there are no fixed yardsticks against which to measure and compare. Hence any idea of a certification system, is not viable. There are however, many suggestions with diagrams available, which give possible alternatives.
So now, what are you going to do to raise awareness? Put yourself about. Join a local or national disability action group. Be vocal. Go to the websites and read what is happening and what they have to offer you. Log on to YouTube and type in Disabled Access. Look for logos. Ask hotels for Access Statements and National Accessible Scheme (NAS) ratings. Talk to management, offering suggestions and advice. Leave feedback, good as well as bad, in visitors’ books, on TripAdvisor, Facebook and Twitter. Canvass your local Councillors, and your MP.
Above all, as I said last time, “Don’t just sit there, do something.”