One in four US adults has a disability, and that number rises to two in five for people 65 or older. That means that one in four potential guests has a disability.
Adults with disabilities spend $17.3 billion on travel every year, as of 2015. Travel is an enriching experience for everyone, but for many, obstacles abound at every corner. From inaccessible accommodations and transportation to ignorant customer service personnel, traveling with a disability is hard.
Here’s how you can make sure all your guests feel welcome.
Listen to your guest. Not everyone with a disability has the same disability or requires the same accommodations.
Most disabilities—80% of them—are invisible. The best thing you can do is be kind and respectful to everyone, especially that guest who looks like they’re having a hard day. A smile never hurts.
If a guest uses a wheelchair or other assistive device, be very careful when handling it. You may not need to handle it at all (ask first). These devices can cost tens of thousands of dollars. They’re medical devices, and breaking them can come with medical consequences.
When speaking with someone who is deaf, keep in mind that deafness is a spectrum, not something black and white. Under five percent of people with hearing loss actually use ASL. Hand-written notes and captioning can be more helpful than a sign language interpreter.
Make directions and signage around your property and in guest rooms easy to read. Now is not the time for size nine cursive font. Consider braille signage for important messaging like directions and fire action signs (see below).
Have rooms for guests with limited mobility near the elevator to make it easy for them to navigate the rest of the hotel. Be aware of steps along the way; even a single step can make a room inaccessible.
Lower beds and install grab bars in the bathrooms. Having an accessible bathroom is especially important. There needs to be enough space for a person with a mobility device to turn around, even when the door is open.
Everything should be within reach for a guest using a wheelchair. Don’t put the coffee maker at chest height.
Guests who are deaf may need to use visual emergency alarms and TTY telephones. A TTY telephone is a phone that allows you to type back and forth instead of speaking; they can also be helpful for people with speech impediments.
Be prepared to accommodate service animals—even if your property does not allow pets—and pet fees do not apply. Service animals aren’t only for people who are blind, and they shouldn’t be separated from their humans. (Not all service dogs are big either, smaller dogs like Pomeranians can help with issues like diabetes or PTSD.)
Accessible rooms must be functional, but they should also be stylish and welcoming. Make them somewhere anyone would love to sleep. Put in high-quality mattresses to ensure your guests a good night’s rest.
If someone requests an accessible room, be careful not to assign that room to someone else. When the accessible room they were counting on isn’t there, your guest may be forced to find another hotel—at your expense and to their frustration. Property management systems like WebRezPro allow you to lock a room assignment to prevent unwitting employees from moving the booking.
Show the layout of your accessible rooms on your website so that potential guests can decide if it fits their needs.
There are a few simple things your website can do to make it easier for people with visual impairments to read. An accessibility menu allows users to change the text size and spacing, listen to the site in audio, or use a dyslexia-friendly font, and can make a person’s day a little bit less of a struggle. And no one should have to struggle on their vacation.
For customers who are hard of hearing, remember to close caption your website videos.
Use your website to let people know how accessible the neighborhood around your hotel is. It’s worth mentioning if all the streets are twisty cobblestone. When you list local activities, include those that are disability friendly.
WebRezPro’s website booking engine can help you welcome all guests. It can return accessible units within room search results, even if those units aren’t available, with a note stating the room is unavailable for the requested dates. This tells your guest you do offer accessible rooms, in case they can switch around their dates. For guests who are visually impaired, unit slideshow images and other images within the booking engine include alt text, which can be read aloud by text-to-speech readers to describe what the image shows.
If you have an airporter, make sure it’s wheelchair accessible and able to fit other assistive devices. Traveling while disabled is already four times more expensive. Your guest shouldn’t need to pay for a taxi too…
Include allergy-friendly and gluten-free options. Nothing makes your stomach sink faster than staring down a menu of things you can’t eat.
These menu options should be clearly labeled, and the labeling should be accurate. Those gluten-free muffins aren’t gluten-free if you bake them in an oven full of gluten. Cross contamination is a health hazard for people with celiac disease or food allergies. They won’t thank you for giving them diarrhea, or worse.
Lastly, put a dessert choice in there if you can. No dairy doesn’t mean no sweet-tooth.
When you price, don’t mark things up if you don’t absolutely have to. If you don’t offer a service or have the right information, refer them to someone who does. Don’t try to garble the service so you can add extra costs. Remember that tidbit about how travel with a disability can be four times as expensive? But that doesn’t mean it should be.
Make sure you have a plan for safely evacuating all guests in an emergency. A person who is blind could have trouble finding the stairs. A person who is deaf may not hear the fire alarm.
This is where visual alarms come in, or you can install bed shakers. Directions for evacuation should be printed in braille as well.
The emergency routes should be fully accessible. Put in a wheelchair ramp alongside the stairs. Either that or make sure rooms for people with mobility impairments are on the ground floor.
If you need to move someone who isn’t ambulatory, don’t try to carry them and their wheelchair at the same time. It’s too heavy, and someone could be injured. Consider investing in an evacuation chair, which is specially designed to safely and quickly evacuate people down stairs in a situation like this.
Practice makes perfect. Run emergency drills and work out the kinks before there’s a crisis.
Americans With Disabilities Act
Being inclusive is more than just the kind thing to do. In many places, it’s the law. In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires hotels built after 1993 to be accessible to people with disabilities. Requirements include visual fire alarms and writing in braille to warn people of safety hazards. These upgrades are a good idea even if your hotel was built earlier (see the Emergency Protocols section).
Temperature controls and door handles that are easy to use are necessary for people whose manual dexterity is limited. And of course, you should be able to get around your property without stairs. Not only is this helpful for guests who use wheelchairs, older people find it useful too. Most retirees don’t want to hike five floors to get to their room!
The Americans With Disabilities Act applies to websites as well.
Every guest deserves to feel welcome. It is much easier to relax and enjoy yourself when you know your needs are taken care of.
Use your property management system to help meet the needs of all your guests. From an accessible website booking engine to reservation management tools, including guest profiles and reservation notes for recording special requests and requirements, you’ll be well-equipped to provide the kind of thoughtful, proactive service that earns loyal guests.