Visibility for disability
Braille on the elevator panels at the Novotel hotel, Hyderabad
Some hotel guests may have disabilities that are easy to recognise;
for instance, a person using a wheelchair or crutches. Other disabilities, however,
may not be as obvious: deafness or hearing loss, blindness, speech impairment,
mental retardation, or learning disabilities. Following are some basic guidelines
to help your property to serve guests with disabilities better:
Blindness or visual impairment
Certain areas of your property may be required, by law, to have instructions
or signage presented in Braille. Elevator buttons, restrooms, and directional
signs are some examples of areas where Braille will be welcomed by guests. Providing
elevators with audible sounds indicating floors will also help visually-impaired
Braille menus in your property's restaurants, Braille room service menus, and
Braille guest service directories in rooms will be appreciated by guests who
are blind. However, not every visually impaired guest will know how to read
Braille. Your front office employees and other guest-service staff should be
prepared to read written information to guests. When talking with a blind guest,
staff should introduce themselves and also identify any other people with them.
Many visually-impaired guests prefer to pay for hotel services with cash. When
making change, lay bills flat in the guest's hand and identify the denomination
of each bill as you give it to them. Count out coins separately. If the guest
requests a guide to get to their room, offer your arm or shoulder and provide
verbal commentary as you proceed through the hotel. For example, "The elevator
is on your right. Your guestroom is three doors past the elevator on the left.
The key card slot is located two inches above the door handle." Explain
where the emergency exits are located relative to the guest's room and note
the numbers to dial on the telephone to reach the front desk and other hotel
If a guest has a guide dog, do not pet or play with the animal. It is performing
a job and should not be distracted. You may want to give the guest a room with
easy access to the property's grounds, so that he or she can walk the dog as
Deafness or hearing impairment
Just as not every blind guest can read Braille, not every deaf or hearing-impaired
guest can read lips or communicate in sign language. Let the guest determine
the communication methods with which he or she is most comfortable, be it lip-reading,
signalling in sign language (if you have staff who know sign language), writing
messages, or conversing through an interpreter.
When speaking with a person who is deaf, touch them lightly to get their attention,
then speak in a normal tone of voice - don't shout. Talk directly to the guest,
even if he or she has an interpreter. Realise that people who read lips also
rely on body language and facial expression to convey meaning therefore don't
over-exaggerate or underplay your expressions.
Your property may have one or more guestrooms specially-equipped for hearing-impaired
guests. These rooms should include a telephone with a flashing light to indicate
an incoming call; a television decoder for reading closed captions on programs;
a smoke alarm with a flashing light; a knock light for the door, and a vibrating
alarm clock. A TDD (telecommunications device for the deaf), also called a TTY
(teletypewriter), which attaches to a telephone to enable a deaf guest to write
out phone conversations, should also be part of a fully-accessible room for
Guests with a speech impairment (who either do not speak at all or who are difficult
to understand) may not require any special equipment, however they do require
understanding and patience from all hotel staff. Staff should not try to complete
another person's sentences or act impatient or rushed when dealing with the
guest. If they cannot understand the person, they should ask them politely to
repeat what they said. If the guest still cannot be understood, he should be
offered pen and paper to communicate in writing.
Most of the physical modifications to your property will be made to meet the
needs of guests with mobility impairments - those who use wheelchairs, walkers,
canes, or crutches. Remember, this group includes not only people with disabilities,
but also senior citizens - a growing segment of the travelling public.
Guests with wheelchairs need access to parking lots, entrances, front desk,
rest rooms, guest rooms and other areas of the hotel, such as meeting rooms
and restaurants. Sidewalk curb cuts, or wide sidewalks also prove helpful. Doors
to the property should open automatically or have an easy pull force so that
a person in a wheelchair can open the door with little difficulty. Inside the
hotel, at least one section of the registration desk should have a counter height
of 36 inches (91 cm), so that a person in a wheelchair can comfortably fill
out paperwork. If the hotel is unable to have a counter like that, front desk
employees should be trained to bring the paperwork out from behind the counter
and meet guests in the lobby.
Do not grab a guest's wheelchair or try to push them without their permission.
The wheelchair is considered part of their personal space; grabbing it is like
grabbing an able-bodied guest by the arm or shoulder. Let the guest take the
lead as to how he or she wants to be treated.
Accessible guest rooms should have wider doorways, wider spacing around furniture,
and lower wall controls (light switches, thermostats). They may have a roll-in
shower or a bathtub with grab bars and special seat. Door locks and viewports
will need to be lower, as will clothes rods in closets and drapery pulls.
Some guests may have learning disabilities or mental impairments. Be patient
and take time to explain information to them. Don't assume the guest is not
listening if you are not given verbal or visual feedback. Instead, ask the guest
whether they understand or agree. Offer to read written material, if necessary.
Other hidden disabilities include heart conditions, emphysema or asthma, cancer,
or other conditions. The best rule to follow with these guests is to remember
that the person is a guest first, and a guest with a disability second. Let
them tell you what they need from you, and then provide it to the best of your
property's ability. A helpful, courteous attitude is one of the most-appreciated
amenities your disabled guests can receive.
The author is from the Educational Institute of American
Hotel & Lodging Association