So, You’re Accessible? – Many companies and retailers advertise as being “Accessible” but what does this actually mean? Does it tell me if you have any steps in and around your premises? No! Does it tell me how high your counters are? No! So the fact you are advertising yourself as “Accessible”, gives me and other disabled people NO information whatsoever! Not only that, but you are probably also in breach of the Equality Act 2010!
Claiming to be Accessible Doesn’t Mean You Are Accessible!
So, You’re Accessible? – As a company or retailer, advertising as being “accessible” and then giving no further information, means you are not being as inclusive as you would like to think! Just because I CAN enter your premises, does NOT make you an accessible company.
Your interpretation of accessibility will most probably be completely different to those of a disabled person! There are many things you need to have in place before you can warrant yourself the title of being an “Accessible” company.
I am a full-time wheelchair user and my accessibility needs would differ from those who say are deaf or blind, I can not climb steps but a deaf person would most likely manage them. My arms are very weak and I can’t raise them up past my midriff, therefore using card machines on a counter is extremely difficult but yet, again a deaf or blind person would most probably find it easier to use.
Disabled toilets, do you have a unisex one as well as male/female ones? Some disabled people have carers who are of the opposite sex. They would need to use a unisex toilet.
Changing rooms, the above would also apply. The amount of times my husband has been refused to come in a changing room with me is shocking, to say the least.
When shopping for new bras in a very well known high street chain. My husband couldn’t come in with me as it was a female changing room. When asked if there were any unisex changing room, I was told no. I asked where the disabled changing room was, it was in the female changing room section.
When I argued the point that he was my carer and I could not try on the bras without his help and the fact I shouldn’t be expected to have a complete stranger help me with such intimate form of help, especially when they are at fault for not providing a unisex changing room, my husband was eventually allowed in to help me.
The other side of the coin is companies that do have these amenities but then use them for other purposes. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have been to restaurants, clothing shops and found the changing room or disabled toilet being used as a storage room. Using these amenities outside of its intended purpose is again, NOT being inclusive. I STILL can’t use them!! So yes, having these features may make you accessible but you ARE NOT USABLE!!
So What Is Accessible?
When a disabled person wishes to visit your premises, we need to know quite a few things to allow our visit to be as hassle-free as possible. I don’t want to read/hear the words “Yes, we are accessible”, only to turn up and find that actually, you’re not accessible at all. We need to know things like the following (this is only a fraction of the information we may need):
- Are you level throughout your premises?
- Do you have any steps? If so, how many and how high (most electric wheelchair users can cope with one small step)
- Do you have a unisex disabled toilet?
- Are your changing rooms unisex? Do you have a disabled changing room?
- Restaurants, how high are your tables, I need to know if my knees will go under the table as I am in quite a high wheelchair?
- Do you supply large print menus?
- Hearing loops?
- Height of your customer counters?
- Hotels, do you offer wet rooms?
- How high is the sink in your wet room?
- Does the shower/toilet have grab rails, if so, where are they and are they horizontal/vertical?
- Do you have lifts?
- Can you supply letters in braille?
When accessibility fails on a mega scale, it is very distressing, soul-destroying and extremely frustrating to say the very least. My husband booked a hotel for a surprise long weekend in Cornwall. He phoned the hotel first to check out its accessibility, they answered all his questions and assured him all would be fine.
We turned up at the hotel only to find a list of accessibility failures:
- There was a flight of steps leading up to the entrance. No problem said the hotel, just use the trades entrance round the back!
- Our room was upstairs, the lift was a very tight squeeze, if I had my electric chair I have now, I wouldn’t have got in!
- A step down the middle of the hallway leading to our room, the step was over 5 inches high
- My manual wheelchair would not fit through the bathroom door, again, not a problem said the hotel, we’ll remove the door for you!
- The disabled bathroom was NOT a wet room, it had a bath with a glass door across it, I had to get my husband to help me shuffle across the floor from the bathroom door entrance to the toilet so I could use the damn thing!
- No room on either side of the bed to park my wheelchair.
- The patio doors leading to the garden area had a very high step.
- When in the restaurant, hubby had to get my food at the buffet as the room was so small. Hubby would have to go see what was available, come back and tell me, then go back to fetch it!
Not How To Resolve Issues
When things do go wrong and you get a complaint, here is a prime example of how NOT to deal with it!
To add insult to injury, when we complained to the hotel manager, he was rude, obnoxious and accused us of lying only to get a refund. I told him to check with the staff member who offered to take the bathroom door off for us. He still wasn’t having it.
I told him he could stick his refund, that was not what this was about. The hotel was advertising as being “wheelchair Accessible” when clearly it didn’t even come close.
How To Improve
- Make sure you are actually accessible BEFORE advertising as so.
- If you are unsure of the accessibility features you should have (some are business dependant), ask!! There are many of us only too happy to advise you on accessibility needs, Some do it as a business!!
- Give disabled people more information. Have a section on your website explaining how you are accessible.
- If something is out of order, like lifts, let us know!
It really isn’t that difficult to be Equality Act 2010 compliant!!
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