To be bylined to Chris Bush, Head of Experience Design at Sigma.
The average UK adult spends over 10 months of their life asleep in hotels; a significant figure. Sadly, however, these experiences are more straightforward for some than others.
In a recent survey, a concerning 72% of disabled guests said their hotel failed to meet their accessibility requirements. Despite recent efforts to improve this situation, such as AirBnB’s new accessibility filters – which enable guests to find accommodation that is perfectly suited to their needs – UK hotels are far from accessible to disabled guests on the whole.
Our research supports this, having found there is a general lack of awareness and accessibility provision across the entire UK tourism sector. A recent example is the case of Richard Shakespeare, a man with cerebral palsy who was left on a hotel floor for two hours after his hotel room’s emergency cord failed. Staff were found to be woefully unaware of procedures they should have followed throughout the incident.
Clearly, this highlights that more must be done to improve hotel accessibility. This can be achieved in a variety of ways, from training staff in order to understand the requirements of disabled guests to ensuring both physical and digital offerings are user-friendly and inclusive.
Not only will improving hotel accessibility benefit disabled visitors, it also has the potential to boost the hotel industry’s £20million turnover. The Purple Pound is worth £12 billion to the hospitality market and given that “disabled people tend to stay longer, spend more and bring more people with them” there are real economic benefits for catering for everyone.
With this in mind, let’s explore how UK hotels can be made accessible to all.
First and foremost, a hotel’s interior design should take all guests into consideration.
To ensure all spaces within a venue are physically accessible to everyone, hotel managers must ask “is this accommodation suitable for those who are blind, deaf, immobile or who have with various cognitive impairments or neurodiverse conditions?” If at any point the answer to this question is no, then action has to be taken.
The following points outline key ways hotels can create accessible interior spaces:
- Ensure wheelchair friendliness – provide wheelchair access throughout the hotel and rooms that have disabled toilets designed with the user in mind – for example, with grab rails, shower seats and lowered sinks. Also, have at least a handful of rooms fitted with hoists and electric beds.
- Provide services for guests with cognitive impairments or neurodiverse conditions –soundproof hotel rooms and provide specific quiet zone floors or sections of the hotel reserved for guests with conditions such as autism or ADHD. Adding sensory lighting to bedrooms is also worth exploring.
- Adapt for the blind – provide braille signs, be guide dog friendly and have trained staff on hand to guide passengers through the hotel if needed.
- Help those with hearing loss – ensure all hotel information is visual as opposed to audio based. Make all areas of a hotel well lit and install video intercoms into all hotel rooms.
Conscientious customer service
Another priority for hotels is to ensure all staff members understand customers with ranging abilities. This needs to go beyond front-of house employees; guests should feel comfortable in approaching all members of staff for assistance.
European hotel giant Scandic is a pioneer in this respect, setting a great example for hotels across the UK. The chain’s high level of accessibility is largely thanks to its accessibility director – who himself is disabled. He has helped ensure that all of the business’ employees understand how to effectively facilitate guests with disabilities.
To help mirror this approach on a widespread scale across the UK hotel sector, all companies should focus on better staff training on how to cater for the various requirements of a wide range of guests.
Enrolling staff onto courses, such as those provided by the National Disability Authority (NDA), is a great way to achieve this. The NDA’s e-learning module is a quick, affordable option for employers, but there are also dedicated trainers across the country that are available to meet workers and demonstrate how to effectively cater for disabled customers.
Disabled-friendly digital platforms
Not only do hotels have to be physically accessible; their online presence should also reflect this strategy.
Given the rise of online-only hotel booking sites, such as Booking.com, Trivago and Expedia, more people are choosing to book accommodation online than ever before. For this reason, it is crucial that hotel websites are tailored to enable all visitors to easily access hotel information and booking platforms.
However, as it stands, many sites are simply not hitting the mark in this respect. This is evident from WebAIM’s recent accessibility evaluation of the top 1,000,000 websites – which included major hotel chains such as Marriott and Hilton. This found that 97.8% of the homepages assessed failed various accessibility standards. So, there is a lot of work that has to be done to address digital inclusivity.
To ensure that everyone has equal access to these services and information, user-friendly digital design is key across websites, mobile apps and other channels. In this respect, it is important that digital teams consider inclusive design from the outset and it is not just seen as a ‘nice to have’ feature.
Here are a few simple features that should be included to ensure web accessibility:
- Video accessibility – ensure videos are closed-captioned or there is a sign language version available
- Text size – make sure this is adjustable and pinch and zoom are enabled
- Visual effects – make these optional by allowing users to turn them on and off where required
- Links – make clickable links and buttons larger than and ensure adequate white space
- Tab order – make sure users can tab through all key elements of a website and these elements are also friendly for assistive technologies such as screen readers
- Colour contrast – make sure elements are easily legible and provide sufficient colour contrast
The above are just a subset of the items that should be considered to ensure full web accessibility. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provides a more comprehensive list and is a good starting point.
Along with the above, inviting users with ranging abilities and needs to take part in usability sessions throughout the digital design process will be hugely informative. This will help identify aspects of a website or app that do and do not work, enabling designers to rectify issues accordingly. Doing this upfront will save time and money in the long term.
There is no excuse for poor accessibility
Everyone is entitled to have equal access to any given service, so it is about time hotels stepped up their level of accessibility in order to accommodate for all guests.
It might seem like a daunting task, but the reality is that a disabled access room is no more expensive to build or refurbish than a standard hotel room. Therefore, there is no excuse for neglecting disabled access any longer.
If hotels pay the same attention to detail in regards to accessibility as they do to other areas of the business, these establishments can expect to increase both guest satisfaction rates and – thanks to the increasing valuable purple pound – their bottom lines.