Like everyone, I enjoy a night away in a hotel and I enjoy my holidays. It doesn’t matter whether you are spinal cord injured or not, everyone enjoys time out, time away and a break from the norm.
A couple of months ago, I was away for a work function in London. The hotel was booked, and I was confident everything would be okay. I was staying in a national chain of hotels and I had no reason to doubt their commitment to making sure the hotel facilities were fully wheelchair accessible.
On arriving in the room, I noticed that the bed was very low. I transferred onto the bed with some assistance and changed ready for my evening out. When I came to transfer back into my wheelchair, I was unable to get off the bed because it was so low. I was virtually on the floor!
After repeated failed attempts to get myself anywhere near the height of my wheelchair cushion, my PA and I decided to summon assistance from the hotel to help me off the bed. Fortunately, some assistance promptly in arriving and I was helped off the bed and into my wheelchair. This wasn't ideal as the assistance was from someone I had never met before, I had no idea of their training around manual handling and I had no idea if they were competent to assist me – but needs must!
The following morning, the same thing happened, and I had to have assistance again from a very low bed into my wheelchair. I then went into the bathroom to have a wash. The automatic soap dispenser was positioned so low on the wall it was very difficult for me to access and there were numerous grab rails positioned randomly around the wash-basin, none of them positioned in a place that would actually be of use.
It struck me immediately that the person who had designed and installed this so-called “accessible bathroom” was not a wheelchair user. Of course, I gave some constructive feedback with the reception staff as I left the hotel suggesting that they may like to look into providing some bed raisers. These are simple pieces of equipment that can easily be fixed underneath the legs of the bed, allowing the bed height to be adjusted to accommodate people with different access needs.
Fast forward 48 hours, and I’m away again at another hotel in the Midlands. This time, I arrive into my hotel room, and I’m confronted by a bed where the mattress is so high, I’m unable to transfer onto it.
Even with a ladder, I would have struggled - not that I can even use a ladder!
I asked for assistance from hotel staff not to get me off the bed, but this time to get on it; so I could change ready for the evening function. All this takes time, time out of my day that I don’t really have and don’t factor into my diary.
So in 48 hours, I had struggled to get off a bed that was too low and struggled to get on a bed that was too high.
As a wheelchair user after my spinal cord injury, what frustrates me is the inconsistencies in what is described as “wheelchair accessible facilities“. We are supposed to have accessible standards in the UK, so where is it all going wrong?
While I understand it’s difficult to provide accessible facilities that would suit every wheelchair user, why provide a bed that is so low a wheelchair user is simply unable to access their wheelchair from it?