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.