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16-31 August 2008  
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Home - Management - Article

Visibility for disability

Elizabeth Johnson

Braille on the elevator panels at the Novotel hotel, Hyderabad

Some hotel guests may have disabilities that are easy to recognise; for instance, a person using a wheelchair or crutches. Other disabilities, however, may not be as obvious: deafness or hearing loss, blindness, speech impairment, mental retardation, or learning disabilities. Following are some basic guidelines to help your property to serve guests with disabilities better:

Blindness or visual impairment

Certain areas of your property may be required, by law, to have instructions or signage presented in Braille. Elevator buttons, restrooms, and directional signs are some examples of areas where Braille will be welcomed by guests. Providing elevators with audible sounds indicating floors will also help visually-impaired guests.

Braille menus in your property's restaurants, Braille room service menus, and Braille guest service directories in rooms will be appreciated by guests who are blind. However, not every visually impaired guest will know how to read Braille. Your front office employees and other guest-service staff should be prepared to read written information to guests. When talking with a blind guest, staff should introduce themselves and also identify any other people with them.

Many visually-impaired guests prefer to pay for hotel services with cash. When making change, lay bills flat in the guest's hand and identify the denomination of each bill as you give it to them. Count out coins separately. If the guest requests a guide to get to their room, offer your arm or shoulder and provide verbal commentary as you proceed through the hotel. For example, "The elevator is on your right. Your guestroom is three doors past the elevator on the left. The key card slot is located two inches above the door handle." Explain where the emergency exits are located relative to the guest's room and note the numbers to dial on the telephone to reach the front desk and other hotel services.

If a guest has a guide dog, do not pet or play with the animal. It is performing a job and should not be distracted. You may want to give the guest a room with easy access to the property's grounds, so that he or she can walk the dog as needed.

Deafness or hearing impairment

Just as not every blind guest can read Braille, not every deaf or hearing-impaired guest can read lips or communicate in sign language. Let the guest determine the communication methods with which he or she is most comfortable, be it lip-reading, signalling in sign language (if you have staff who know sign language), writing messages, or conversing through an interpreter.

When speaking with a person who is deaf, touch them lightly to get their attention, then speak in a normal tone of voice - don't shout. Talk directly to the guest, even if he or she has an interpreter. Realise that people who read lips also rely on body language and facial expression to convey meaning therefore don't over-exaggerate or underplay your expressions.

Your property may have one or more guestrooms specially-equipped for hearing-impaired guests. These rooms should include a telephone with a flashing light to indicate an incoming call; a television decoder for reading closed captions on programs; a smoke alarm with a flashing light; a knock light for the door, and a vibrating alarm clock. A TDD (telecommunications device for the deaf), also called a TTY (teletypewriter), which attaches to a telephone to enable a deaf guest to write out phone conversations, should also be part of a fully-accessible room for hearing-impaired guests.

Speech impairment

Guests with a speech impairment (who either do not speak at all or who are difficult to understand) may not require any special equipment, however they do require understanding and patience from all hotel staff. Staff should not try to complete another person's sentences or act impatient or rushed when dealing with the guest. If they cannot understand the person, they should ask them politely to repeat what they said. If the guest still cannot be understood, he should be offered pen and paper to communicate in writing.

Mobility impairment

Most of the physical modifications to your property will be made to meet the needs of guests with mobility impairments - those who use wheelchairs, walkers, canes, or crutches. Remember, this group includes not only people with disabilities, but also senior citizens - a growing segment of the travelling public.

Guests with wheelchairs need access to parking lots, entrances, front desk, rest rooms, guest rooms and other areas of the hotel, such as meeting rooms and restaurants. Sidewalk curb cuts, or wide sidewalks also prove helpful. Doors to the property should open automatically or have an easy pull force so that a person in a wheelchair can open the door with little difficulty. Inside the hotel, at least one section of the registration desk should have a counter height of 36 inches (91 cm), so that a person in a wheelchair can comfortably fill out paperwork. If the hotel is unable to have a counter like that, front desk employees should be trained to bring the paperwork out from behind the counter and meet guests in the lobby.

Do not grab a guest's wheelchair or try to push them without their permission. The wheelchair is considered part of their personal space; grabbing it is like grabbing an able-bodied guest by the arm or shoulder. Let the guest take the lead as to how he or she wants to be treated.

Accessible guest rooms should have wider doorways, wider spacing around furniture, and lower wall controls (light switches, thermostats). They may have a roll-in shower or a bathtub with grab bars and special seat. Door locks and viewports will need to be lower, as will clothes rods in closets and drapery pulls.

Other disabilities

Some guests may have learning disabilities or mental impairments. Be patient and take time to explain information to them. Don't assume the guest is not listening if you are not given verbal or visual feedback. Instead, ask the guest whether they understand or agree. Offer to read written material, if necessary.

Other hidden disabilities include heart conditions, emphysema or asthma, cancer, or other conditions. The best rule to follow with these guests is to remember that the person is a guest first, and a guest with a disability second. Let them tell you what they need from you, and then provide it to the best of your property's ability. A helpful, courteous attitude is one of the most-appreciated amenities your disabled guests can receive.

The author is from the Educational Institute of American Hotel & Lodging Association


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