Disability understanding and the House of Lords post legislative scrutiny
I recently took a disabled relative for a night in a nice hotel as a birthday treat. This person has moderate dementia and mobility issues. When booking the stay, I explained the disability requirements and asked if this business could cope and I was assured that they could accommodate my requests and that we would have a lovely time. There were 3 of us going and we all wanted to stay in the same room / suite, so that we could all support each other.
When I arrived, we checked in and then went up to the room, we had been offered a tour, but the person with reduced mobility would not have been able to wander around the hotel, she could go up to the room and back down later to the dining room (using the lift), but not walk further than that.
On arrival in the room, which was a suite, the lounge room was dominated by the sofa bed that had already been made into a bed, which left 2 other comfy chairs and a dining chair in the room. The dining chair was not a comfy chair to “lounge” in, so with 3 people in the room, there were only 2 chairs to sit on and with reduced mobility, it meant we could not realistically leave the room & wander around the town or even round the hotel. We did get a lovely view of the beach, so the person with reduced mobility got to appreciate the beach, which they have not done in years, by just looking at it. The other 2 sat on their bed or the remaining chair!
This room is clearly normally occupied by 2 people, so in the bathroom there were 2 glasses to rinse with. On each of the 3 beds, the towels were laid out and because the hotel has a spa, the guests are given bathrobes. 2 of the beds had a pile of towels and a robe, the sofa bed had only towels, whoever was expected to sleep there, it felt like was not expected to use the spa, which all 3 of us could have walked to, as it was within the hotel.
The hotel had a ramp and disabled parking spaces and it was clear that they had read the legislation and made some adjustments in accordance with what is now the Equality Act 2010, but what had been the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.
I was emailed about a special offer happening after the check out time and told that I was welcome to stay, when I inquired about late check out, even though no-one else was in the room that evening, I was told I would be charged £15ph to check out late. What felt like was not considered was that unlike other guests we couldn’t wander around the town and pop back, if we stayed, we stayed in the room. The Equality Act is clear (as was the DDA) that an organisation cannot charge for “reasonable adjustments”.
What was also clear is exactly what the House of Lords post legislative scrutiny of the Equality Act had found, that businesses consider the burden of disability on themselves and don’t think about it in terms of the person with disability, that’s certainly what it felt like in this case. The House of Lords also found that the most of the adjustments that need to be made are either free or very low cost.
At this hotel, we had been asked what the occasion was, so a birthday card was left in the room, but no-one had discussed in detail what we were going to do and how the disability would affect the 3 of us. It seemed like no-one had thought about what it was going to be like to spend 22 hours in a room that was dominated by a sofa bed that was only needed as a bed at night, that one party was considered unworthy/unsuitable to have their own glass, bathrobe or chair! In other words, it felt like no-one had put themselves in our shoes and thought about it from our point of view.
If the sofa bed had been turned into a bed when went downstairs to have dinner, that would have made a difference and an extra glass and bathrobe would have also made a difference. The changes to make the disabled person experience the hotel like everyone else as far as possible were small.
It felt like the staff hotel just hadn’t thought about disability and that they had had no awareness training, they didn’t understand what it is like to be disabled or a carer of someone disabled, so they failed to care for the party with a disabled member and also failed to comply with the obligations under the Equality Act. People with disabilities are still people, we were not offered a discount rate, the money we paid is the same as someone able bodied, but it seemed like we weren’t treated the same, I hope disability awareness changes!