Access to Hotels for People with Hearing Loss

Title of Access to Hotels for People with Hearing Loss document with IHN logo.

Title of Access to Hotels for People with Hearing Loss document with IHN logo.

Access to Hotels for People with Hearing Loss is the first guidance document to be published by the Inclusive Hotels Network and is now available to download from our page on the CAE site.

Written by architect Chris Harrowell and the IHN, the 40 page document goes much further than Approved Document M in explaining how to make hotel guest rooms and facilities accessible to people with hearing loss.

Hotel, hostel and bed & breakfast operators should be aware that as service providers they cannot legally discriminate against people with disabilities (and other ‘protected characteristics’), and should provide an equal service to all guests. But how should they go about doing this? This is what the Inclusive Hotels Network aims to address.

The guidance of Approved Document M states the necessity of providing visual as well as audible alarms in places where people may be alone, the importance of lighting to assist people who use sign language or lip-reading and electronic hearing assistance among other features. However these provisions must be supported with staff training, good management and an understanding of the people’s needs.

Baroness Thomas of Winchester has shown her support for the Network by writing the foreword for all the guidance documents.  

We want the United Kingdom to be at the forefront of making our country as welcoming as possible to everyone, whatever their circumstances. The Inclusive Hotels Network understands this, and I hope these excellent guidance documents will be read by the whole hospitality sector.
— Extract of foreword by Baroness Thomas.

The guidance is free to download so please share widely with architects, hospitality industry contacts and access friends!

Availability, adaptability and awareness

Brochure cover for CIH Health and Housing Conference 2016

Brochure cover for CIH Health and Housing Conference 2016

On being asked to talk at the CIH Health and Housing Conference 2016 I was delighted: it will be my first visit to Northern Ireland, although of course I’ll be getting to know the conference venue and other attendees rather then exploring Belfast.

Another reason for delight is the scope of the programme and delegates: it’s not access people talking to other access people but a broad spectrum of people who are determined to make housing better for everyone, including those with no home.

Northern Ireland’s Technical Booklet R and England’s Approved Document M make for an interesting game of spot the difference for someone who does what I do. However the guidance about meeting regulations in any country, no matter how overly detailed or lacking are simply recognized, or ‘approved’, solutions for providing a basic level of safety, comfort and access. The principles of inclusive design are much more interesting and easier to relate to.

So how do we design an inclusive home? Well we can’t. That’s to say it is not feasible to build one type of home with features that fit everyone’s possible needs. The key is choice, coupled with availability, adaptability and awareness and these are the three themes of my talk.

 

Paving slabs, cat food and beer

Withernay Projects logos

Withernay Projects logos

It's three years since Withernay Projects was formed, which seems a good time to tell you about the company's identity, designed by the talented Gattaldo. Much coffee was drunk while Aldo asked all sorts of questions about what Withernay Projects is all about, which is not at all obvious from the name.

Anyone who has tried to name a company, band or child will know how agonizing this is. My surname is very well known as a brand of audio equipment and manufacturer of paving slabs so that wasn't an option. Anything that directly related to access or photography was out because the company does both. The answer arrived through the front door on a letter from a friend: Withernay is an old nickname that some friends still use to distinguish me from other Rachels. Technically it should be Rachael 'With-an-extra-a' I suppose. Projects was added because there's already a company called Withernay Limited... which makes cat food.

Handily, the extra 'a' in my name also stands for access and the capital letter is almost an arrow, hence the A in both of the logos. Aldo presented me with a variety of ideas, of which the polygon was a favourite. The access consultancy logo represents the plan of a building, a labyrinth, and a puzzle that needs a solution, which heritage projects often resemble at first.

Seeing the polygon reworked as a circle immediately made sense as the logo for the photography side of the company, being a simple symbol for a lens or the iris of an eye.

Crate Best was drunk three years ago. Yes, I Instagram beer bottles.

Crate Best was drunk three years ago. Yes, I Instagram beer bottles.

Interior photography for an architectural practice.

Interior photography for an architectural practice.

Three years on Withernay Projects continues to advise on access and inclusion for some brilliant design teams and photographs all sorts of places and spaces, from bathrooms to beautiful historic interiors, and the company name still causes confusion on the phone.

 

New London SPG

Covers of Central Activities Zone and Housing supplementary planning guidance documents.

Covers of Central Activities Zone and Housing supplementary planning guidance documents.

New editions of two London Plan supplementary planning guidance documents are published today and are available on the london.gov.uk site.

The Housing SPG incorporates guidance on the application of the new Housing Standards, which include Volume 1 of Approved Document M that came into effect on October 1, 2015 and reference to the Nationally Described Space Standard. Link to Housing SPG on london.gov.uk.

The Central Activities Zone includes guidance about inclusive design of hospitality, attractions, housing and commercial buildings in central London. Link to CAZ SPG on london.gov.uk.

2016 Amendments to Approved Document M, Volume 1

Part of cover of amendments to Approved Document M, Volume 1.

Part of cover of amendments to Approved Document M, Volume 1.

A new edition of Approved Document M, Volume 1 was published on March 1st 2016 and is available to download from gov.uk. The amendments came into force on the same date in respect of building notices given, full plans deposited or initial notices given on or after that date.

The changes are relatively minor, and are the same as the list of amendments that was sent out with hard copies to those who bought them. The changes document can be downloaded from this link on gov.uk.

One of the changes is the addition of this note to Diagram 3.8 (kitchens in M4(3) units):
"Unit length should be measured through mid-line of the worktop, not the front or rear edge."

Update: A frequently asked questions about Approved Document M document (published 21.03.16) are available to download from gov.uk

Room for improvement

Logo of the Inclusive Hotels Network: multicoloured circle around 'IHN' text in black, with 'Inclusive Hotels Network' to the right.

Logo of the Inclusive Hotels Network: multicoloured circle around 'IHN' text in black, with 'Inclusive Hotels Network' to the right.

Have you ever arrived at a hotel room that promised a sea view only to find that this referred to a glimpse of distant water beyond a multistorey car park and the back end of a shopping centre?

Disappointing.

The hospitality industry knows that guests will stay away from home more often for work or pleasure if the accommodation and service offered suit their needs and expectations. Hotels entice you to book through their websites with full screen images of amazing views, the promise of a 'welcome drink', chocolates on luxury pillows and close-up photographs of what to expect for breakfast. But if your number one priority for choosing where to stay is hearing assistance then you're probably going to have to enquire, and hope that the person you ask can help.

Mixed messages: The image on the left is a screen-grab from the booking page of a hotel's website. The check box next to 'Accessible room required' is greyed out, and a pop-up that appears when you hover over a tiny question mark says: "We're sorry, but accessible rooms are not available at this location". However, the quote on the right of the image is from the same hotel's website: "There are 6 rooms at the hotel, [sic] which are specially adapted for guests with disabilities. Most public areas of the hotel offer wheelchair access. For more information, please call..."

Mixed messages: The image on the left is a screen-grab from the booking page of a hotel's website. The check box next to 'Accessible room required' is greyed out, and a pop-up that appears when you hover over a tiny question mark says: "We're sorry, but accessible rooms are not available at this location". However, the quote on the right of the image is from the same hotel's website: "There are 6 rooms at the hotel, [sic] which are specially adapted for guests with disabilities. Most public areas of the hotel offer wheelchair access. For more information, please call..."

The provision of accessible facilities in hotels, guest houses and bed & breakfasts is improving, but the misconception that accessibility is only for people who use wheelchairs still exists. A quick browse through hotel websites reveals a lack of understanding of, or provision for, the needs of people with hearing or sight loss, people who use walking sticks or crutches, people who need assistance from a carer and many others. Twenty years after the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act, discrimination still happens.

Are there any disabled accessible rooms?
All our rooms and floors can be accessed by wheelchair.
At our Amsterdam properties, there is no difference in the room layout. Upon request, we can adapt a room with handles in toilet, and chair in the shower.
[Our hotels in other cities] feature rooms fully adapted for citizens with special needs.
— One of the Frequently Asked Questions on a hotel website.

A positive change in recent years has been the inclusion of 'accessible rooms' among options for hotel rooms such as 'Classic', 'Deluxe suite' etc on some hotel websites. Even better is when clicking on the accessible option provides a gallery of photographs of the accommodation, giving guests an idea of whether the hotel's definition of 'accessible' meets with their own.

Inclusion begins before a guest's decision to book. Websites should support the use of screen readers, have legible text and 'alt text' image descriptions. The language used to describe facilities should reflect the social, rather than medical, model of disability, and descriptions of the facilities should begin with arrival at the hotel, not the door to an individual room.

Screen-grabs from the websites of two different hotels. The first claims that it is 'Catering to your every need' but the only mention of accessibility is in a list of Facilities: "Facilities for accessible access". This is not a link so you cannot find out out from the website what 'accessible access' means. The second image is of a booking menu of drop-down lists. Under 'Type' are 'Double', 'Twin' and 'Disabled'.

Screen-grabs from the websites of two different hotels. The first claims that it is 'Catering to your every need' but the only mention of accessibility is in a list of Facilities: "Facilities for accessible access". This is not a link so you cannot find out out from the website what 'accessible access' means. The second image is of a booking menu of drop-down lists. Under 'Type' are 'Double', 'Twin' and 'Disabled'.

A group of hotel operators, architects, access consultants, bedroom and bathroom product designers, and statutory bodies created the Inclusive Hotels Network in 2012 to share knowledge and experience about making hotels and other sleeping accommodation accessible, and to develop guidance based on this, which will be available free of charge once published. The first two documents are about the provision of hoists in hotel rooms and provision for people with hearing loss.

Withernay Projects is pleased to part of the Network, which now has a group on LinkedIn and a Twitter account.

“I loved the bathroom – didn’t look at all like other “disability” rooms, had a real “wow” factor but still had easy to reach and use fittings and products”
— A comment by a hotel guest from an Inclusive Hotels Network guidance document.

Links to further information

Inclusive Hotels Network - page currently hosted by Centre for Accessible Environments,

Equality and Human Rights Commission - advice about the Equality Act for business such as hotels.

Visit England - Access for All advice about exploring England.

DisabledGo - Access information about all sorts of places in the UK and Republic of Ireland.

Website Accessibility Initiative - Introduction to web accessibility.

A cistern full of Chanel No. 5

Gold tap at the Bath Room in Clerkenwell.

Gold tap at the Bath Room in Clerkenwell.

I dream of massive, pristine convenience. Brilliant gold taps, virginal white marble, a seat carved from ebony, a cistern full of Chanel No. 5, and a flunky handing me pieces of raw silk toilet roll. But under the circumstances I’ll settle for anywhere.
— Renton in Trainspotting

The Inclusive Hotels Network is a group of inclusion-minded hotel operators, product designers and retailers, access consultants and architects who meet once a month to share knowledge and experience of designing, building, managing and staying in hotels. We're putting our heads together to develop best practice guidance about the subject. Anyone with an interest is welcome to join, and you can find out more here: Inclusive Hotels Network.

This month our meeting was hosted by the Bath Room, which is an oasis of baths, bidets, basins and loos, and some rather fancy taps. Rather like Renton, but for different reasons, many people would happily 'settle for anywhere' when they need to spend a penny, provided that they can use it. Knowing that there's a properly accessible unisex accessible facility at a venue or place of interest can be critical to a person's decision to visit it. If your restaurant / creche / hotel has one then let people know about it!

Basin display in the Bath Room.

Basin display in the Bath Room.

The Bath Room is a showroom and information centre for designers and architects, with plenty of accessible products as well as the tap above. We heard from the Bath Room's experts in hotel and education design about how they are developing accessible washroom and hotel guest room solutions with aesthetic appeal as well as functionality and regulatory compliance. This is especially important in hotel guest rooms: why should the accessible bathroom look any less lovely than those in other suites? Raw silk toilet roll is perhaps a step too far, but if the guest experience is luxury then it should be just as luxurious in the accessible rooms. Concept Freedom by Ideal Standard may well have Chanel No. 5 in the Cisterns.

And before you judge anyone coming out of an accessible loo who doesn't look like they have a disability, have a read of this by Sam Cleasby.

Accessible loo at the Bath Room in Clerkenwell.

Accessible loo at the Bath Room in Clerkenwell.

The gold tap at the top of this post is not accessible but would be if it were operated with lever handles.

Tap operating instructions

Broken tap in a ladies' washroom

Broken tap in a ladies' washroom

Scientist Dorothy Bishop is known for her work in childhood language disorders, but often blogs about all sorts of other issues. Her post about The Bewildering Bathroom Challenge reminded me of my collection of photographs of broken taps in public washrooms. Dorothy's piece is specifically about taps in hotel bathrooms, but I have found that the more 'designed' any tap is, the more likely it is to be broken, because people really struggle to work out how to operate them. Dorothy quotes from a website that's no longer available and not named, but was presumably a designer or manufacturer of taps:

A lot of attention in the design world is focused on creating products that are intuitive and easy to use, but sometimes a little ambiguity can be a good thing. Designed for use in restaurant and hotel bathrooms these taps embrace ambiguity to create a sense of intrigue to provide a more engaging interaction.
— Original source unknown, quoted from deevybee.blogspot.co.uk

I expect that these 'intriguing' taps frustrated rather than delighted restaurant and hotel visitors. This page (University of Cambridge Inclusive Design Toolkit) shows that approximately 5% of the UK population could be excluded by tasks that require dexterity. Good, inclusive tap design is possible, so why exclude and frustrate your customers, staff, or clients by specifying 'intriguing' taps?

On how to use a tap, a particular type of tap, that you may not have encountered before. But don't worry, help is at hand on extension 4219.

On how to use a tap, a particular type of tap, that you may not have encountered before. But don't worry, help is at hand on extension 4219.

Note the knob-type tap controls below, which are not allowed for sanitary conveniences under Part M of the Building Regulations. This photograph is of a tap in a staff kitchenette, and while taps are not specifically mentioned in clause 4.16 of the Approved Document, 4.16a requires that "All users have access to all parts of the facility".

Any bath or washbasin tap is either controlled automatically, or is capable of being operated with a closed fist, e.g. by lever action.
— Approved Dcoument M, 2013.
Taps should not need instruction notices!

Taps should not need instruction notices!

Separate, wall-mounted hand dryers are installed in the rail station washroom where this picture below was taken. Concealed hand dryers are a neat idea, but are counterproductive if customers cannot find them. I wonder whether the integral soap dispensers are too difficult to refill, or whether they are broken due to misuse?

"The soap dispensers are not working and in order to provide soap we are temporarily having the soap in gallons on the top of the sinks. We are sorry for the inconvenience."

"The soap dispensers are not working and in order to provide soap we are temporarily having the soap in gallons on the top of the sinks. We are sorry for the inconvenience."

Next month I'm off to the Bath Room in Clerkenwell, so watch this space for some good examples.