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.