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What the DDA means to hoteliers...

Like all good hoteliers you want your guests to have a comfortable and enjoyable stay. You treat them with courtesy and respect. From the 1 October 2004 the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) will require you to make “reasonable adjustments” to your premises and services to ensure that any disabled guests are, as far as is practically possible, able to enjoy the facilities and services you already provide to able customers.

The definition of disability in the Act is very wide ranging and many of you will already have experience of disabled guests. The majority of disabled people are not wheelchair users, more common disabilities include: hearing and visual impairments, restricted mobility and heart conditions. You need to consider the full spectrum of disability when deciding what changes, if any, you may need to make.

What are the DDA requirements?

You have to:

  • Make reasonable adjustments in order to better meet the needs of disabled people.

What is reasonable is not defined in the Act but the accompanying Code of Practice produced by the Disability Rights Commission states that the resources of the organisation will be taken into account.

The understanding being that a major hotel chain can be expected to be able to devote more time and money to making their premises accessible than a business run by a sole proprietor.

  • Remove, alter or provide a reasonable means of avoiding any physical barriers to accessing your premises.

This could involve the provision of a ramp to enable those who cannot use steps to access your premises, making sure that any paths are firm and level - this aids not only wheelchair users but prevents other people, able and disabled, from tripping.

You are unlikely to be expected to make changes that are prohibitively expensive or impracticable.

There may be technical limitations on the amendments you can make to your accommodation (listed buildings being one example of where changes may not be practical or permitted), fire regulations and health and safety issues also need to be taken into account.

It is very improbable that you will be required to completely reconfigure your premises.However, this does not mean that you can just rule out any changes on the grounds the cost will be prohibitive. You will need to be able to show that you have considered making changes and why you believe it is not reasonably possible to make such changes

  • Anticipate the needs of guests not just respond to individual requests.

This means that you need to make modifications now, not wait to see if a disabled guest books with you and then make any changes.

  • Provide auxiliary aids and services.

You have actually been required to do this since 1999.

An example of an auxiliary aid is the provision of an induction loop (a system of wiring from a microphone which enables a customer with a hearing aid to tune in only to the sound from the microphone thus avoiding background noise) in the TV lounge and/or reception area.

An example of an auxiliary service would be offering to serve a guest breakfast in their room if the dining room is inaccessible to them.

  • Amend your policies, practices and procedures to enable better access for disabled people.

Again this requirement has been in force since 1999.

An example of changing your practice would be changing the parking arrangements so that disabled guests could park nearer to the premises.

An example of changing practice and procedure could be asking cleaning staff to make sure that visually impaired guests belongings are returned to exactly the same places after the room has been cleaned.

  • Give reasonable consideration to requests for additional services made by disabled guests.

An example could be someone who has insulin dependent diabetes asks to store their insulin in your fridge (if there is not one in their accommodation). Allowing them to do so would be seen as a reasonable adjustment, you do not need to provide them with a fridge.

You cannot:

  • Discriminate against disabled people
  • Refuse to take bookings from disabled people
  • Deliberately provide disabled people with a poorer service.

Below are some suggestions for changes you could make to help you comply with the DDA the majority of which are relatively quick, low cost and straightforward. They are based on the guest’s experience from making a booking through to checking out at the end of their stay.

Booking

Normally guests will book their accommodation directly with you or make enquiries prior to confirming their booking. At this point you may not be aware that the guest has any particular requirements and they may be reluctant to bring this to your attention.

One suggestion for overcoming this is to ask all guests a simple question along the lines of “Do you have any particular requirements that I need to know about, such as being vegetarian, having a disability, wanting to arrive early?”

This gives a disabled guest the opportunity to state any requirements without feeling they have been singled out. Such a question would probably be appreciated by many able guests as it indicates you are willing to provide a personalised service.

It also provides an opportunity for guests to ask you further questions about your accommodation during the course of which you and the prospective guest may discover that, for some unavoidable reason, your premises will not be suitable for them.

Check in

When a guest arrives they should be able to access the reception area or you should make alternative check in arrangements which are clearly signposted. You should advertise any adjustments you have made – for example a sticker highlighting the fact you have an induction loop fitted.

Having a low reception desk or part of the reception desk is helpful for wheelchair users, however, if this is not possible provide a clipboard so they have something to lean on when completing any check in forms.

Talk to the guest about their requirements; not their carer or partner. If your guest is in a wheelchair consider sitting down to talk to them so they do not need to strain to make eye contact.

Be prepared to write down information for deaf and hard of hearing customers.

Be prepared to complete the registration form for blind and partially sighted people and those with learning difficulties, this may also be appreciated by those with arthritis who may struggle to hold a pen.

It may be helpful to provide a magnifying sheet for those with visual impairments who wish to complete the form themselves.

Offer assistance but do not assume that it is required and don’t be offended if it is refused.Take the opportunity to ask guests to let you know if they have any particular requirements. Confirm any reasonable adjustments you are making for them e.g. if the dining room is inaccessible confirm that you are able to serve meals elsewhere e.g. in a private room.

Talk to the guest about any additional support they may require in the event of a fire or other emergency. Having agreed what is required with the guest make sure anyone else who needs to know is informed clearly but discretely about the requirements e.g. night staff.

Accommodation

Having checked in you should show the guest to their room. Offer to take their baggage if this appears to be a struggle for them.

Confirm with them that the room meets their requirements. Check whether anything additional is required, for example someone with difficulty standing may appreciate a stool they could sit one whilst using the wash basin.

Give the guest time to explain any additional requirements they may have. Then give them time to settle in before checking again that everything is OK.

If the guest is in self catering accommodation then check with them that they can access all the facilities: is all the kitchen equipment within reach? Take time to explain how any services and adaptions are used. Be willing to rearrange furniture and equipment in order to make the accommodation accessible an example would be moving a microwave onto a lower surface to enable a wheelchair user to reach it.

Any information in the room should be in accessible formats e.g. large print, braille or on audio cassette (with a player available). If this is not possible then you could read the information to guests or for partially sighted individuals you could provide a magnifying glass.

Communal Areas

Ideally the dining room will be accessible to all guests, this may just involve moving furniture to ensure there is enough room for wheelchair users or those with restricted mobility to move between tables.

You may also want to consider what adjustments you need to make for the visually impaired, including those with assistance (guide) dogs. One possible way would be to reserve them a table at a convenient location even if, usually, you do not reserve tables.

Consider serving guests directly rather than assuming that everyone can use self service facilities. This may mean offering to carry food to the table for someone if they can’t do this.

Guests may require some information, such as menus, in alternative formats. If this is not possible then it may be acceptable for staff to read the menu to the guest.

Equally staff could tell visually impaired guests about the range of drinks at the bar. Again you may need to serve some guests at their table if they cannot carry drinks from the bar or provide drinks elsewhere on the premises if the bar is not accessible to a disabled guest.

Checking out

If you cannot provide the bill in large print then you need to consider reading it out to a visually impaired guest.

Check out is also a good opportunity to gain feedback on your service: were any additional requirements met? Would the guest consider returning? What could be improved?

What do you need to do now?

Assess what you know about your business and to what extent it already meets requirements. Use the self assessment kit from the National Accessible Scheme.

Make a plan for the future based on what you can do at each stage: what can be done now, what can be done in the medium term e.g. next low season

Obtain a quality access audit:

an access audit is an independent professional survey of your property and your procedures. It looks at how you are addressing DDA requirements and will usually offer an opinion on whether or not you have made sufficient reasonable adjustments.

There is a national register of access auditors which is overseen by the Centre for Accessible Environments. All auditors on the register have achieved a minimum level of competency.

Whilst other people including some disabled groups may offer to do an audit the Disability Rights Commission strongly recommends that you use a NRAC auditor. You should be very sceptical of non NRAC registered auditors, particularly building firms and others who offer to make your business DDA compliant.

When you make changes

If you make a minor change then it is worth seeking customer feedback on the specific amendment. It is also worth contacting any relevant local disabled organisations and asking them for feedback.

When making larger changes consult relevant local disabled groups in advance, they may stop you making an expensive mistake, you should also talk to your local access or building control officer.

Disclaimer

This article provides some basic information on the DDA, its possible impact and some changes that people can make. It is based heavily on information publicly available from the DRC. Further information can be obtained from the DRC website www.drc-gb.org or contact accessatlast limited on 0845 890 2120