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 Document 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.

Revolting doors

Revolving door in the city of London

Revolving door in the city of London

The sign on the side-hinged door says 'Closed - Please use revolving door', but many people cannot use revolving doors. This is why Approved Document M states that:

Revolving doors are not considered accessible. They create particular difficulties, and risk of injury, for people with visual impairment or mobility problems and for parents with children and/or pushchairs.
— Approved Document M - Access to and use of buildings

For this reason, revolving doors are only permitted by Part M if an additional, accessible, door is provided alongside them. This door should be available at all times that the revolving door is in use, but all too often they are locked and have an 'out of order' sign directing people to use the revolving door.

This leaves all of the people mentioned above, and people with claustrophobia or cognitive impairment, waiting outside trying to get the attention of someone inside for assistance, making an accessible-but-not-inclusive entrance into an inaccessible inconvenience that segregates people by ability.

Policy 7.2 of The London Plan (2015) states: "The Mayor will require all new development in London to achieve the highest standards of accessible and inclusive design and supports the principles of inclusive design." At least one London borough supports this policy by not permitting any revolving doors but why not all of them?

Episode 93 of American radio podcast 99% Invisible highlights another issue with revolving doors in episode 93, available here. According to the programme, the revolving door was first sold on the idea that it avoided the 'After you,' 'No, please, after you...' conversations that happen with regular doors, although it was based on a previous door that was designed to prevent draughts and energy loss. 

The focus of the 99% Invisible programme is investigations by students of MIT and Andrew Shea into how many people use revolving doors when given a choice between them and conventional doors, and how this proportion can be increased with simple signs that highlight the energy saved by using the revolving doors, but also makes comments about ease of use.

Both studies (one in Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the other at Columbia University) revealed that approximately 75% of people use the conventional door when no sign about energy saving is present, perhaps because a conventional door is simpler, quicker and easier to use.

Saving energy and improving the efficiency of buildings is key to creating sustainable developments, but alternatives to revolving doors are available, and should always be used because inclusive design is also essential.

'Revolting doors' is not a typo - it was what an architect I worked called them once I'd convinced him to omit them from the project we were working on.

 

Who says listed buildings cannot be accessible?

Canopy of Kettner's on Romilly Street in Soho.

Canopy of Kettner's on Romilly Street in Soho.

The application for planning approval for this large and complex site in Soho, Westminster is now complete and submitted. Withernay Projects worked closely with the design team, led by Soda., to propose a transformation to fifteen Georgian townhouses to create significantly upgraded and much more usable accommodation for Kettner's and Soho House private members' club, and 28 new guest rooms.

Eleven of the buildings on site are Grade II Listed, meaning that any changes to them are subject to Listed Building Consent under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act. This does not mean that the current level of access cannot be improved. In fact if the proposed scheme is completed nearly all of the guest and staff areas within the buildings will be fully accessible. The exceptions are one small room on each of the upper levels of Soho House, and the regular hotel rooms. Five of the 28 guest rooms will be accessible / easily and quickly adaptable to suit the needs of a wheelchair user.

If anyone tries to tell you that older, listed buildings cannot be modified to improve access into and within them, then please put them right and direct them to Withernay Projects! Other examples include Peterborough Cathedral, the Christ Church Spitalfields Crypt and York Theatre Royal.

Liberia free of Ebola

Fountains at Somerset House

Fountains at Somerset House

So what has a picture of the courtyard at Somerset House got to do with Liberia? Well it was here that I took a break from seeing the Sony World Photography Awards exhibition on Sunday. I don't think I was alone in needing some fresh air after seeing the Iris D'Or winning series of photographs by John Moore (Getty Images). Moore visited Liberia twice while the country was in the grip of Ebola and these photographs are the result.

On Saturday the World Health Organisation announced that Liberia was free of the disease at last. A public holiday was declared and people celebrated victory over the disease that took so many of their friends and family. Ebola continues to affect people in Guinea and Sierra Leone.

My interest in Liberia comes from knowing people who have worked there as reporters and aid workers, and from having twinned my toilet with one in Bana Town. The need for adequate sanitation continues in Liberia and in many places around the world. Populations in areas affected by conflict and natural disasters, such as the recent earthquakes in Nepal are especially in need.

Please take a look at the Toilet Twinning scheme.

New Approved Document M: Return of the cats

The three categories (cats) of the new Approved Document M for dwellings.

The three categories (cats) of the new Approved Document M for dwellings.

The new approved Document M (Access to and Use of Buildings) - Volume 1: Dwellings is now available on the Planning Portal and will be in effect from October 1, 2015.

The guidance is divided into three categories: 

Category 1: Visitable dwellings;

Category 2: Accessible and adaptable dwellings; and

Category 3: Wheelchair accessible dwellings.

Of these, only dwellings designed to meet category 1 are mandatory. The proportion of a development that is required to meet categories 2 and 3 will be set by the local authority through planning conditions.

Category 1 is broadly similar to sections 6-10 of the current (2013) Approved Document M. Category 2 is based on the Lifetime Homes standards, but with some significant changes, and Category 3 has some similarities to the Wheelchair Housing Design Guide (2006) but with more detailed guidance about accessible kitchens and bathrooms.

Rachael has given several about the changes to the residential access standards over the years, and in particular about Part M in recent months. Please get in touch if your practice is interested in learning more about it.

Pamela

Tracey of Proudlock Associates at the Pamela laboratory.

Tracey of Proudlock Associates at the Pamela laboratory.

How do new ideas for streets, train stations and other aspects of the built environment get developed and tested? The London & Southeast region of the Access Association visited PAMELA in north London to find out.

PAMELA sign.

PAMELA sign.

Dr. Catherine Holloway is UCL's lecturer in Accessibility Engineering and researches the effects of access aids like tactile paving and ramps on tube platforms at PAMELA. Catherine showed us the laboratory, which is currently set up to examine how people with dementia could be helped.

We talk on a large raised platform with carpets, walls, tables, chairs, crockery and cutlery to simulate a domestic environment. An incongruous array of streetlamps is suspended above the room without a roof. These are used to create realistic street lighting for the more urban experiments and will soon be replaced with LED lamps that can switch between different lighting scenarios much more quickly.

Street lights in the PAMELA lab.

Street lights in the PAMELA lab.

The whole laboratory will decamp to a brand new campus in Stratford in a couple of years, where PAMELA's floor area will expand significantly.

Videos of people wearing various coloured hard hats while alighting from a static replica of an London Underground carriage had us asking whether the lab can really recreate the behaviour of tube passengers in a helpful way. Catherine and her colleague Derrick explained that they are analysing CCTV footage from five cameras on London Underground platforms to assess this, and also that the more undesirable behaviour of the tube network has occurred in the lab, which was a surprise.

Catherine's research is focused on the biomechanical effects of wheelchair use on the human body, and the risk of shoulder injury in particular. Other current areas of research include ARCCS, an app that uses crowd-sourced information about the accessibility of routes, including information of ground surfaces and inclines, and wearable assistive materials (WAM).

Our discussions included the ethical and physical intricacies of gathering data from experiments, how access solutions like ramps for buses in the real world rarely resemble 'perfect' lab conditions, and using wheelchairs on escalators. 

If you've now got a certain song stuck in your head (like I have) it's probably due to the above description of PAMELA's room without a roof.