Why is it so difficult for landlords and business owners/managers to make their premises accessible to those with mobility problems?
Renovations (reasonable accommodation measures) as legislated by law are implemented reluctantly and in a manner that leaves the mobility impaired feel that they are a huge burden to the establishment owners or managers.
Hotels in South Africa are particularly at fault. For example: out of more than 100 rooms or suites, they will have only one (or maybe two if you are lucky) rooms/suites specifically for disabled people. What happens if more than one or two disabled people arrive at the same time (like with workshops and conferences)?
The shuttle services provided by hotels from airport to hotel – why do they only have 12/15 seater Kombi’s available? Those with mobility impairments who do not use a wheelchair are not able to climb in and out of a Kombi but can comfortably (and with dignity) get in and out of a motor vehicle (sometimes with some assistance required).
However, no matter how many times you ask, plead, demand, shout and scream for them to send a motor vehicle (car – sedan) to collect you, they will insist on sending a driver with a Kombi and the driver will do his best to convince you that he will pick you up and put you into the Kombi (never mind the fact that you could be twice his weight). No consideration is given to the fact that one adult picking up another is not the most dignified way of being transported (especially for a lady).
Also – in most cases there is a particular way of lifting/picking up a disabled person and not doing this correctly could actually cause injury to the disabled person.
For the purposes of keeping this as short as I can, I will assume that accessibility from the outside of the hotel is possible – I will therefore focus my attention on inside the hotel building.
Once inside, you have another set of challenges to face, i.e.
a) Size of the room allocated – very little room for movement within the room so if you’re in a wheelchair, it is virtually impossible to move around within the room.
b) The TV – is usually placed on a wall bracket so high on the wall that you have to lay on your back on the bed to watch TV (and hopefully not fall asleep in the process). If the remote is not working or you cannot find it, you are unable to view anything on TV without phoning Reception for assistance from the Housekeeping staff.
c) Room with a shower – because you have mobility issues (not only those in wheelchairs), you ask for a room with a shower (because you cannot climb into or out of a bath). You are allocated a room with a shower, as requested, only to find that you have to climb into a bath in order to shower. Now how is someone in a wheelchair or someone unable to lift their legs high enough to get into a bath supposed to shower? Surely one would not go to all the trouble of pointing out mobility issues and specifically asking for a room with a shower if you could actually get into a bath?
d) The restaurant (within the hotel) – why is it necessary for the restaurant to either have steps going down into or up into the restaurant? When a wheelchair ramp is provided, it is not thought through at all – for example: it is either not wide enough, too steep and too highly polished which makes it slippery (as was my recent experience on Mother’s Day this past weekend). One is left with the impression that the ramp is provided because “we have to” because “it is expected or required of us to do so” and not because we really care.
e) Lifts (elevators) – why is it that nobody bothers to check whether the lifts are in working order? Coming back to my recent experience this past weekend on Mother’s Day, before making the reservation at the restaurant which was situated within a hotel, I made it very clear that I have mobility impairment and that I cannot climb stairs. I was assured that I would have no problems getting to the restaurant because there is a lift inside the building to the restaurant. On arrival, however, the lift to the restaurant was not working and the closest alternative was not working either. The third option available meant walking a long distance which was not possible for me either and only when I threatened to leave and have lunch elsewhere, was I given then option of being transported to the restaurant in a wheelchair, which I accepted. The Porter finally arrived with the wheelchair and off we went on one of my most traumatic experiences in a wheelchair. I nearly fell forward out of the wheelchair on my face three times because the Porter had no idea how to transport someone in a wheelchair. He admitted that it was his first time and that he had no training. To make matters worse, he was disabled himself which I only noticed at the end of my traumatic experience. Getting into the restaurant was as traumatic as already explained in point (d) above i.e. the ramp was too narrow, too steep and too slippery.
Why is it that Banqueting Managers or staff dealing with (restaurant and hotel) reservations don’t make sure that the lifts within the hotel and from the parking garage into the hotel are in working order? Surely if you know a disabled person is coming, you can check to make sure the lifts are working and get maintenance to fix them before the date of the reservation – especially on celebratory days like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day (when many mothers or fathers themselves are aged and have mobility issues – that’s besides the disabled people).
f) Staff training – everyone in the hospitality industry – the entire staff from Front of Office, to kitchen, waiters etc receive exceptional training and one seldom has any reason to complain about their service. However, nobody within the Managing structure deems it necessary for Disability Awareness training – why is that?
Coming back to my recent personal experience when trying to take my mother out for lunch on Mother’s Day – besides the Porter not knowing how to transport someone in a wheelchair, the restaurant Manager also had no idea what to do when I finally reached the restaurant.
Without consulting me, he removed one chair from the table assuming I was going to sit in the wheelchair for the entire time I was there (it is not only uncomfortable but in certain instances could cause pain or discomfort if in the wheelchair for too long). When I asked him to bring the chair back to the table so I could get out of the wheelchair to sit at the table, he kept pushing the chair right up against the front of the wheelchair even after I made it clear to him and the Porter that I needed space between the two so I could first get up out of the wheelchair and then sit on the chair. All this caused such a stir I had all the patrons in the restaurant staring at me, which was very embarrassing to say the least.
Why is it that people in general are so totally clueless when it comes to dealing with those with mobility impairments? I am not the first and only person with a mobility impairment (not in a wheelchair) and certainly will not be the last. My experience this past weekend was not the first of its kind and I can guarantee will not be the last.
The problems I have experienced this past weekend, I have experienced at hotels/restaurants in Johannesburg, Limpopo, North West, Free State – just about every province I can think of, so it is not specific to the Western Cape only.
The disabled (those in wheelchairs and those who use other assistive devices) have been with us for generations and will be with us for generations to come. When are we going to open our eyes and try (even if just for one day) to live life through their eyes?
How long is it going to take for able-bodied people to realise that they could become disabled within a second and have to live with the limitations of the disabled person?
When will we ever learn? Will we ever learn?