The recent Paralympic Games opened many eyes to just what magnificent feats can be achieved by people living with severe disabilities. Hopefully, as the Prime Minister said in his speech on Wednesday, from now on people will see the person in the wheelchair and not just the wheelchair. However, just a few weeks after the Games, I have discovered that there still exist some areas where lessons have yet to be learned.
In 2004, as a result of an accident, my wife developed a severe form of cellulitis which all but destroyed the muscles in one leg since which her mobility has been significantly compromised. Then, in 2009 she contracted cancer with which she has been battling ever since. The illness, and two lengthy courses of chemotherapy have reduced her mobility still further.
Having just finished the latest course of chemotherapy, we decided it would be nice to get away for a few days. My wife wanted to get some bracing sea air and we wanted to travel no more than two or three hours away from our west London home. She also wanted to go somewhere we had not been before and so we settled on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset. Our hope was to find a nice country-style hotel where if the weather was not good, a distinct possibility in November, there would be a warming log fire in comfortable public rooms, a pleasant bar, a decent restaurant and a friendly personal service. Of course, because of her mobility issues, she would need the hotel to have either a lift or rooms on the ground floor and the room would need en suite facilities including a walk in shower.
Easy, you might think. There must be dozens of such places. Well you would be wrong. Time and again when I called to make enquiries I was told that because the building was old or listed, it was not possible to install a lift. Now I believe that this is simply not true. A quick internet search reveals that there are companies that specialise in installing lifts in very old and in listed buildings.
Some hotels have converted outbuildings into bedrooms with suitable facilities but do I really want to be pushing a wheelchair across a courtyard in the pouring rain every time we want to go to the main building? Should I have to? What I found in Dorset is I am sure repeated all over the country, which means that there are hundreds of wonderful “character” hotels that are off-limits to anyone in a wheelchair, a class of people, who unless things change, are forever condemned to cold, soulless, modern chain hotels.
If planning regulations really are part of the problem then those regulations need to be changed. People are more important than buildings. If cost is an issue, as it may well be for some smaller hotels, than the government needs to help with grants or cheap loans.
The Paralympics have changed people’s perception of the disabled. The hospitality industry must sign up to this new reality and not marginalize them any longer.