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Saturday, 7 April 2012

No we can't or yes we can, what response would you prefer?

I am currently in Torquay with my husband who is a teacher for the annual conference for the National Union of Teachers. Although everything seems calmer now that is not how my experience of this weekend started. It started before the weekend when I did some research into the hotel we were staying at (the room was through a block booking and so did not have the same control). I decided to look into it for my own peace of mind and glad I did. The hotel we are staying at is the Rainbow International and all information I found on-line did not fill me with confidence that it would be suitable. As a result my husband contacted the hotel for me on my behalf to ensure that it was suitable for my needs. When he rang up, he was reassured that we were to get the fully accessible room and that we would not be moved. This room was designed around a specific person and although this is the case we were guaranteed to be getting this room due to my specific needs and being more physically impaired than the individual that the room was specifically meant for even though the other individual was expecting it. So what was the reality...

We arrived, booked in and went up to our room, I should explain now what level of disability I have so that you can fully understand the unsuitability of the room. I am a full time wheelchair user who when transferring needs to do a straight transfer. When we went up to the room it didn't take long to realise we had been given incorrect information and that they had gone back on their word. I could not even get into the bathroom let alone go to the toilet or use a shower which was a shower cubicle. There was no room in the bedroom for me to get around and so would have been incapable of being in the room on my own. When we went to reception to complain, there seemed a lack of understanding what was wrong and they were seeming incapable of fixing the problem that they had caused. The managers attitude was in fact ' no we can't' and denied we had been promised this room. This led to very angry people and a lot of shouting, this was made worse by the fact that no one was listening to me, the person who it was actually affecting. This arguing all took place in the reception area with people shouting over me and not involving me in the discussion. By this point I was finding the who situation quite distressing and was ready just to head home as up to this point the weekend was turning into a disaster.

Thankfully someone recognised what was happening and the inappropriateness of the situation and took me away from it, they then took charge which was the beginning of things changing for the better. When everyone met with me again people started to talk to me, not at me or above me and we finally started to resolve the problem that had occurred. This person admit herself that it wasn't until becoming involved in union based activity around disability that she began to truly take on board the difficulties that disabled people face. Although this is the case she is the kind of person who is able to use her own common sense and I am sure that she would have never have let this situation become as much of a challenge as it did. All it takes is an element of common courtesy and the time to truly understand individual needs.

Things shouldn't have been blown out of proportion like that in the first place though and hopefully the hotel have learnt from the experience. When they started really listening to me they started to understand my needs more and realised that they had a room that was suitable for my needs. They conceded that there experience of disability was limited and that their main experience of disability had been elderly people who have some mobility problems and so they felt that everyone's needs were the same. Once things were sorted out, we spoke calmly about what needs to be done and how to improve things for disabled people.  To make up for all the initial stress caused they have offered us one more night for free, in return I have agreed to talk about what they can do to improve their service. So this problem was sorted in the end, but then I go over to the conference centre...

Initially I ask where I need to go including where the lifts are and where the disabled seating is. I found a lovely young girl however she was unable to answer my questions which I feel should have been in her basic knowledge but she went to find the information out so I couldn't complain at this point. I went up to the floor to the "observers area" only to find that she had given me incorrect information and that once I arrived their using the lift there I found there was steps up to the seating. So I go and find someone else to ask. They call someone and then I wait some more (at this point the conference had started and people I was with were missing the start as well). We finally come across the accessible seating but because I didn't have the right pass (I have observer status not voting status) they wouldn't let me in even though they could see that this was my only entrance into the conference. This finally gets sorted and the solution is to get a different pass later on. That issue was sorted but then something else happens .... nature calls so I go to find a disabled loo. This was easier said then done. I found the ladies which I was able to get into but it really wasn't a disabled loo so I go in search of a disabled loo again. I finally found a very helpful maintenance person who showed me where to go but then I came across a loo that was locked. He went and got someone to unlock this and so hopefully when I go back today I will find an unlocked toilet.

I have told you this scenario in detail because it raises many questions about the misconception about disabled people and their needs. Some simple education of different needs could solve all the problems that I experienced. Disabled people do not want to be treated differently but we do have different needs to our able-bodied counterparts and this is something that we cannot avoid. There are a number of different disabilities and these people have varying difficulties but one aspect that can be addressed and is the main thing that I feel went wrong is able bodied people opening their eyes and think about what they are saying and how they treat disabled people. Going back to the scenario of the hotel. If they had listened and asked the questions in the first place then there would not have been the problem in the first place. I do not expect people to know the solutions from the start but if you don't know something just ask, don't assume as the assumption is what made it go wrong in the first place.  

Everything that went wrong here has gone right somewhere else and so in my opinion this shows me that if an organisation tries to work with disabled people that can get it right. Most disabled people are not unreasonable and if someone is honest and says they don't know what I need then that is better than them getting it wrong. Recently we went to look around hotels in Brighton for the National Conference in 2014. Some hotels were better than others but generally all had tried to make their hotel accessible and suitable for the needs of disabled people. One in particular due to its age had limitations but they had really tried to make it better for varying needs. This is all I ask for with a bit of honesty thrown in for good measure.

The fact that the reason for being put into these situation is due to a trade union conference is quite worrying itself. Trade unions pride themselves on equality and the rights of their workers but in reality through this conference I have experienced very little equality and equal rights by the organisation as generalisation. Although many of the issues are not directly related to the Union it is a Trade Union conference and everything reflects on the Union directly or indirectly. In saying this I would like to take time to thank those that have made the effort to understand me and understand the issues of disabled people as a whole because without them I would have given up the fight long ago. Trade Unions shouldn't just assume that because a venue is accessible the staff members in the venue know how to deal with different equality groups. The should also ensure that hotels in the area should have suitable accessible accommodation to cater for varying needs of delegates. I'm sure delegates with specific requirements wouldn't mind booking through the National Union if they could guarantee suitable accommodation. To date my experience of residential conferences is through my husbands union and I accompany him, it does concern me that if I become active in my own Union, UNISON, will I experience similar problems?

I'm not seeking a revolution just a bit of common sense.


  1. A little common sense on your part would also help the situation. Do you really think a receptionist should be an expert on every type of disability? Really? Well, welcome to reality. It doesn't work like that. As for the hotel, since they DID in the end have facilities to accomodate your particular disability, they OBVIOUSLY made an effort. The disabled "loo" being locked, isn't a "disability" issue at all. I'm not disabled and I've sure run into that situation many times. The fact that there was someone to help, ie get the door unlocked, should be good enough for you. Or did you really expect the hotel to provide you with someone with expertise on your particular disability? If yes, are you willing to PAY for them? If no, then be thankful for the assistance and the fact they had facilities, instead of complaining. You know, like the rest of the world does. Being disabled, you clearly don't understand (or care?) that the same thing happens to able people. But there you are. Live and learn.

  2. For your information it was not a receptionist it was management who dealt with me in an inappropriate manner. I do not expect them to be an expert either but to use commonsense and if you don't know ask. I don't mind people asking its the assumption that I don't like especially when the assumption was quite blatantly wrong.

    There are basic courses and experts who provide free advice if they are willing to listen and in fact yes this hotel did finally start listening which I have explained and was pleased about.

    My point about the loo was the others were open so why wasn't this one? The same thing may happen sometimes to able bodied people but I am lucky if there is a loo that I can get in at all let alone one that is locked when the others were open. I dont want special treatment I want equality.

  3. Glad you got it sorted and sorry it was such a struggle x

  4. Great Post! Now with the help of SILVER CROSS you don't need to cost a fortune. You would say “yes you can”.