Category Archives: hotels

At the World Travel Market for the ‘The Future of Tourism is Barrier Free’ presentation

Presentation by Klaus Lohmann, Director of the German National Tourist Office UK & Ireland

Presentation by Klaus Lohmann, Director of the German National Tourist Office UK & Ireland

I was lucky enough to  catch  ‘The Future of Tourism is Barrier Free’ presentation hosted by the German Tourist Board at the World Travel Market. Great to meet friends such as Alan Thomas from Wales, and  online friends such as Alan Broadbent from Barcelona. Together we sampled the offered German aperitifs .

German canapes

German canapes

We listened to a great presentation of the Barrier Free destinations in Germany and a business case reason for accessible tourism (growing market due to the numbers of older travellers, ‘disabled by age’ – an overlooked audience) by Tom Jamison, editor of the Able magazine. While it is good that Germany has certain areas marked out now as barrier free destinations, I somehow feel that they are still marked out segregated areas. But it was fair to say they did acknowledge this issue,  it was a start and they hope to expand the accessibility to more areas.

My question was that disabled travellers’ needs are all so diverse – there is no ‘one size fits all’ – how can they make it barrier free for all? on top of that no disabled people want to be in a hospital type environment when they go on holiday and single travellers like me tend not to book through a tour operator while still expecting accessible amenities. Yes, universal design is the answer!

Our hosts were disappointed that the TWM award for the best  destination for accessible travel went to Visit Flanders.

It was good to listen to the Q&A session but I had a question I wanted to add – the added barriers as a lone female disabled traveller. I raised that question with Tom. Perhaps that question need to be included in the future?

It might not fit in neatly into accessibility theme. However, as a woman traveller when I do research on accomodation,  I need to check along with accessibility, the safety issue? I remember staying in an accessible hotel near the conference center in Dublin but it was a dodgy area, the restaurant/bar area was full of non residents there for the pool table. It was suggested that some of them were obviously high.

It should not be assumed that disabled travellers need hotel rooms/facilities for holidays – yes of course there are disabled tourists. But like non disabled people we often add on holidays after business trips. Recently I went to Geneva for a UN event, I was not able to stay with the other members of the group because they booked at a non accessible hotel. I had realised that it might not be a good idea to wander about the streets of Geneva on my own so I managed to persuade a friend to come as a personal assistant with me.  But it is very rare to find information on such issues. Is this a hotel mainly for business travellers – full of men in business suits  which might prove to be intimidating for any woman to dine alone? Staff can be patronising and think you should have a ‘carer’ with you. There is an extra layer of vulnerability and also adds to the research list when you’re a disabled woman. And disabled men who are usually chosen to do the access audits do not even consider these issues.

I am lucky in that I have travelled as much, having lived in four countries in three continents with as many languages and cultures,  but it didnt take me long to realise that most people who work in the accessible travel field are men. This is fine but they seldom take the consideration the extra barriers that disabled women have as travellers. The physiological differences between men and women make it easier for men on the toileting issue – this alone mean that the man has a distinct advantage over the woman. This struck me hard when I went with a man friend to Texas. All he needed was a blanket and his personal assistant took his bottle for him to the toilet while I did not have that choice. This sole difference impacts  on my choice of travel destinations and I am reluctant to take a flight which lasts more than 5 hours.

Barrier free travel is an aspiration for us all. It is good that the travel industry is starting to take note and that many of us do not want to be herded into special tours. Having inclusive public transport would be a start – I would like to take the Eurostar and wander across Europe with a rail pass as other non disabled people do.

accessible tram in Strasbourg

accessible tram in Strasbourg

And of course I mentioned the Moving On: Accessible Transport – the past, present and the future and was cheeky enought to suggest our German hosts to offer a prize for the video competition for young people and am very pleased to announce that they have offered a selection of German wines – which we will offer to all those not so young people who wanted to have a go at the challenge!

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Washington DC: tech@lead museum accessibility and access in the city!

street with zebra crossing

Crossing the street on the National Mall in Washington DC

I was lucky enough to be invited (as from Connect Culture)  to Tech@Lead, ‘a pilot event that will bring together diverse experts and practitioners from a variety of fields, including the arts, education, design, exhibition, media, electronic and information technology, online experiences and mobile and portable device development and manufacture – all to advance the development and application of innovative technologies that support the inclusion of people with disabilities in the cultural life of our world.’ It was held at the Kennedy Center in collaboration with the Carl and Ruth Shapiro National Center for Accessible Media at WGBH and the Smithsonian Institution.

The conference was amazing and energising in having so many leading people in the fields of design, art, technology, museums, and gaming who created a focused conversation at how we can work together to make art of all forms accessible to the disabled community. People like Sina Bahram whom I found effervesent in his enthusiam for technological solutions, Nancy Proctor an inspiration from the Smithsonian and Museums and the Web, Halsey Burgund who excited me with his audio art and many others. I tried Google Glass and ByteLight and thought I saw a glimpse into the future.

Sina Bahram and neal Stimler demonstrating Google Glass

Sina Bahram and Neal Stimler demonstrating Google Glass

Thanks to Nancy I was also invited to the Smithsonian event the next day. As the Americans say – it was awesome! I was able to talk about the paper we contributed in the July 2013 special issue on accessibility of Curator Journal. These discussions gave me new ideas and inspiration for the Moving On Accessible Transport event we ‘re holding in November at the Coventry Transport Museum. It’s turning to be an international event because Scott Rains   (world traveller and universal design evangelist) will be able to join us and Christiane Link who will be speaking about German transport.

The tech@lead conference was only for the day but I stayed for longer than that to give myself a chance to get over the jet lag which I knew would hit me from previous experience. But here, I would like to talk a bit about the access in Washington DC – to give an idea to others who would like to visit or who will be visiting the city.

First of all, I stayed at 2 different hotels – both at Foggy Bottom, the George Washington University Inn and the Melrose. The GWU Inn is a boutique hotel, I loved the townhouses in this neighbourhood.  The accessible entrance is at the back and the room is comfortable (with 2 double beds!) and it even has its own coffee maker, microwave and fridge. The bathroom was spacious however, the toilet is very low and it is a bath and not a roll in shower. They do provide a bathseat which I found sturdy and I didnt have any problems transferring. (Would be much better with a helper). If I had any complaints it would be that each light and lamp need to be individually switched off, there was no central switch – which can be problematic if you cannot quite reach the appliances in question. I found the staff attentive and helpful (especially a woman named Vanessa).  It was also useful that they had a nice cosy restaurant on the premises.

I had to switch hotels because there were no accessible room available for me after the weekend. The Melrose was about 5 minutes away. Its a much bigger hotel and to get to the lifts, there was a platform lift . However obliging the staff were, there were quite a few times I had to wait for them to clear the trolley out to work it for me. I really like the shower room though. It was cosy and felt ‘safe’. However, I think the bathroom floor had a slippery surface.

If I were to complain it was that staff were less attentive – an engineer which was supposed to come did not turn up – my television did not work properly. (and there was only children’s HBO anyway so maybe it was not such a great loss). However lights flashed when the doorbell rang – so I would have been alerted if I was deaf. There was no microwave. I found both Trader Joe and Wholefood Supermarket close by – so a microwave would have been handy.

Foggy Bottom Metro station

Foggy Bottom Metro station

(to be continued)

Malaysia: Interview with Florence Leong, One World Hotel, Petaling Jaya

I said I chose to stay the One World Hotel and while I was there, I thought I’d ask some questions and Florence Leong, the Assistant  Director of Communications, was kind enough to have coffee with me and answer some questions.

Florence Leong

Florence Leong

My first question was on the policy of the hotel on their disabled guests with its one accessible room. Florence said they do not have a policy as such – the hotel caters mostly to business clients with a small percentage of leisure travelers and the availability of the accessible room is on request basis.

Having an accessible room is part of the because of a legal requirements for four star above rating by the Ministry of Tourism in Malaysia – along with leisure facilities (the hotel has a swimming pool, a spa and tennis courts) and a signature restaurant.

They do not promote the fact that they have an accessible room. They have not really looked into the possibilities.

“I have read an article that included older customers as important source for the hotel industry but as One World Hotel is only in its 3rd year of operations, we have yet to build up that market sector. we are quite new and we are still building up our business,” Florence told me. They do not belong to a chain but is part of Bandar Utama City Sdn Bhd and considered as a business hotel.

“We have not had much demand from disabled customers,” she said. “How would you know if they do not know about the existence of the availability of the room?” I asked. We have regular updates from our front line staff and reception she informed me.

We went on to discuss about the accessible room, with it s roll in shower, which is  comfortably spacious but that I was concerned about the marble type floor which made the floor very slippery especially when it is wet. But the staff was efficient enough to turn up with a floor mat which they laid on the bathroom and they changed it when I asked them to. I asked Florence about the possibility of having an anti slip flooring, and from there, we moved onto accessible hotel rooms.

hotel bathroom

hotel bathroom with floor mat

She asked me for tips to improve the accessibility and I told her that the accessible toilets in the hotel were badly designed which virtually rendered them inaccessible by the wrong positioning of grab bars.

Apart from access for guests with mobility impairments/needs we also spoke of the need for colour contrasts for people with visual impairments and the need for them to install hearing loops for guests with hearing impairments.

It was a pleasant conversation with Florence and I am sure her disability awareness improved but I am not convinced disabled guests went up in her priority list.

Mary Chen, of the Challenges Magazine, told me that people are always asking her for figures of disabled travellers and that this type of data is difficult to come by. And until the hotel service industry thinks they have a potential for more business, I do not think that accessible hotel rooms will be any more than a token gesture.

Malaysia: Preparation before the trip

I was born and bred in Malaysia so I do know the terrain. In my previous trips, I had gone before with my family (ex and kids) but had not considered the need for an electric wheelchair before.

However nowadays, my upper body strength is much reduced as has my mobility so this trip needed some careful planning.

In the next few blog entries, I plan to write about some of the preparation/considerations/research needed before the trip if a disabled /reduced mobility traveller wishes to go to Malaysia.

First of all, why visit Malaysia?

The people are warm and friendly, the equatorial landscape is very green and luxurious . The mixture of all the different cultures cheek by jowl makes Malaysia a compelling experience. The food from the exchange of cultures surpasses any to be found anywhere else on earth. And it has all the amenities of modern life without the being sanitised as its neighbour, Singapore.

There are many reasons why one should visit Malaysia but until it improves its access for disabled visitors, visiting the country remains a challenge. For those who want to rise to the challenge, here are a few considerations-

Accommodation

Most people start with Kuala Lumpur – the capital. This is where your plane lands at KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport). KLIA is a great airport – I ve always found it to be efficient and the staff to be accommodating and helpful. Getting out of the airport is another matter – this I will write about under transport.

I chose to make Kuala Lumpur or the connecting suburb, Petaling Jaya (PJ) as my base. Most of my friends and family live there and there are many hotels which are most likely to have wheelchair accessible rooms to choose from.

Part of Kuala Lumpur skyline

Part of Kuala Lumpur skyline

My own decision to go to PJ is also based on the fact that I did not want to be in downtown congested KL. But for those who want to be close to tourist spots, there are the 4**** hotels around Bukit Bintang (KL shopping and entertainment district ) – these hotels will have at least one wheelchair accessible room. I was reliably told that to obtain the 4 **** rating, the hotel would had to have at least one wheelchair accessible room. I must admit that I really like the look of eco friendly, courtyard boutique Peranakan themed Anggun Kuala Lumpur. It said it had “disabled- and senior citizen-friendly rooms” on its website. That might be so but the surrounding city scape is not so wheelchair friendly. If I was a tourist and my intentions are to sample the high life of KL – Bukit Bintang is the place to aim for. But Petaling Jaya is not that far away and taxis are quite plentiful.

So, first question in deciding where to stay is : the main purpose of your visit and what are your resources?

Unless someone informs me to the contrary, I would say that there is very little budget type  accommodation that is cheap and accessible such as hostels etc and the like in Malaysia.

I needed a good location where friends and relatives can get to me easily. The whole area can be a motorist nightmare with traffic jams all the time especially during a downpour (which can happen every afternoon). I needed an accessible hotel attached to a mall with easily reached restaurants and shops. I did not fancy humping up and down pavements on my own.  I asked friends and relatives to do some research for me. I should mention that Mary Chen (Editor of “Challenges Magazine“) and Peter Tan gave me some suggestions. Peter kindly checked out the accessible room at the Boulevard Hotel, Mid Valley Megamall for me. So the search narrowed down to Boulevard Hotel and the One World Hotel, 1 Utama Mall. These are both hotels attached conveniently to a big mall.

My needs: a base from which I can independently negotiate my self propelled wheelchair and go to shops, restaurants and other amenities without having to stay within the hotel all the time. This would have to be a place where friends and family can come join me for dinner for the evening without battling over traffic.

It was location which won – apparently Megamall can have incredible traffic snarl ups.

Transport

Transport or lack of accessible transport was a determining factor in the type of wheelchair I took to Malaysia and the support I needed in getting around.

First of all, there is no reliable accessible public transport in Malaysia. And no accessible taxis. One reason why I did not take my electric wheelchair. I understand the light rail transit(LTR)  is accessible but it is only along certain routes but you have to get there first.

KL Traffic

KL Traffic

I was also told about Persatuan Mobiliti which has some vans which are accessible for wheelchair users (with hydraulic lifts and wheelchair restraints) and if there is availability, can be booked for use by non Malaysian residents. I do not think this is very practical for main mode of transport for a visitor. Besides it will definitely be unable to move out of the city.

I find taxis the easiest form of transport but you would still have to avoid the busy areas because taxi drivers will not go where they think they will be stuck in traffic. But to travel out of KL for trips there are taxis which will give you a tour price. We took one of those to Melaka about 2 hours drive from KL south, a city with heritage and a certain colonial past, Portuguese, Dutch and British. It cost us about MYR250/US$75/ GBP £51 each with the taxi to ourselves  for the whole day with lunch included. Taxis can be booked from the hotel from the concierge. We also had a taxi booked to take us to Teluk Intan.

Environmental access

Storm drain

Storm drain

I know some wheelchair users are really good at manoeuvring their wheelchairs but I am not. Negotiating Malaysia buildings and pavements/sidewalks is a real challenge even with a strong and experienced wheelchair pusher. Curb cuts are random and few and far between. Malaysia passed its Uniform Building Bylaws and amended it in 1990 making it compulsory for buildings to provide access to enable disabled persons to get into, out of and within the buildings. The accessibility is still very haphazard. One of the reasons is the prevalence of monsoon drains built to allow water to flow away fast in the flash floods when there is a torrential downpour.

However, in the smaller towns, you can go along on the streets reasonably safely with a wheelchair.

Many buildings have lifts when there are stairs especially in the shopping centres. I did have a surprise in Sungai Wang Plaza when we could’nt use a lift because there was a pole in the middle of the lift, apparently it was to stop shoppers from taking shopping carts into the lifts rendering them unusable for wheelchair users.

Accessible Toilets

Finding accessible toilets is always an issue for wheelchair users. And even the designated accessible toilet may not be so accessible. But in most malls and modern shopping centres, hotels, they do have toilet which are bigger with hand rails. I did find an accessible toilet with handrails next to the sink instead of the toilet which made transfer very hazardous especially when more often or not, toilets are wet in Malaysia.

what design is this?

It might sound very daunting but with the right support, a trip or stopover in Malaysia is well worth the trip. I will be writing about some of the places I did go and visit but I ‘ll leave this for the next blog instalment.

Photos of my trip this time is at Connect Culture flickr account , (Malaysia set /, Kuala Lumpur set, and Melaka set.)

David Cameron and his speech on tourism

Prime Minister David Cameron has delivered a speech in central London on the challenges and opportunities that tourism presents. He calls London “the most internationally visited city in the world”.

He said, “Domestic and overseas visitors put an estimated £115bn a year into the UK. Foreign visitors’ spending could almost double from £16bn to £31bn by 2020, according to Visit Britain.”

He has pledged to make Britain one of the top five tourist destinations in the world. Mr Cameron said the income generated from the £115 billion-a-year tourism sector was “fundamental” to rebuilding the UK’s economy.

Of course he did not mention inclusive tourism but as the shadow culture secretary Ben Bradshaw said: “If David Cameron wishes to further improve Britain’s offering for tourists, perhaps he should come up with some constructive policy measures, rather than weak gags about losing to Germany at football.”

What about having policy measures for inclusive tourism, David Cameron? How accessible do you think London is? Are you increasing the number of accessible hotel rooms? And I am not even thinking of 2012 – I do not think that there is an adequate provision of accessible accommodation for domestic tourists let alone foreign tourists.

Read his full speech at the No 10 Website. The BBC report is at the BBC news website.

David Cameron

David Cameron

Valencia – getting an accessible room with a travel agency

We were in Valencia at the beginning of December. The weather there was not too cold, certainly not as it was later in the month. It took me this long to write about Valencia because of Christmas and all the rushed jobs before Christmas, the shopping, the family..all the normal things that happens at the holiday season.

However this is a holiday with a difference, well the booking anyway….instead of booking my holiday myself, I decided to use the Co operative Travel agents. There is one just around the corner where I live- and I got a survey with this on it: At The Co-operative we place diversity high on our agenda and our aim is to ensure that The Co-operative Travel is “Good for everyone” catering for all types of customers including those with disabilities.

I thought I would test it out for myself. I found them pleasant and they did the booking with a minimum of fuss. I had gone with all my research done before hand – I am not willing to trust them with finding me accessible accomodation. I did my internet search, I asked disabled people I know who have been there and I trawled for information. The travel agent gave me their list of hotels and I picked one which I was informed by a reliable source as an accessible hotel, Confortel Aqua 3/4. They booked the flights and said they would handle all the questions about the wheelchair for me with the airline directly – so far so good. I told them they had to inform the hotel that I need a wheelchair accessible hotel room – which I knew was available at that particular hotel. They said they would do that though they cannot guarantee absolutely specific rooms but they do not anticipate any problems. I signed the papers and thought what could go wrong?

When I went to pick up the papers, the woman there, who was not the same person who initially served me, told me she cannot say with certainty if the room booked is an accessible room, she does not know if the agency they use dealt with such rooms. I was flabergasted and then she pointed out that I had signed the papers so the contract was a done deal, there was not much I could do about it, i had already paid out the money. I said there was no way I could stay in the hotel if I did not have an accessible room. However, I did not see the pont of arguing with her and when I got home I rang the main office for the travel agency and explained that I had gone there on trust and surely they could see that I could not use the hotel room unless it was accessible-for me that was a given understanding. If I as a customer on my own, can get a guarantee from the hotel for an accessible room, surely a travel agency should have no problem. I also said I could not recommend the Co op as a travel agency for to my disabled clients if that is the case. She promised me she would look into it and indeed a few days, I had a letter with the gurantee of an accessible room.

The moral of the story is that that whatever is said, there is no guarantee when it comes to getting the right service if you are a disabled customer. It will still be up to you to ensure that you get no nasty surprises. I have huge respect for the Co op and their ethical policies, I bank with them and I shop at the Co op for my groceries. I think their travel agencies might have some way to go yet when it comes to their disabled customers.

I am used to doing my own arrangements and booking for other people as well – however with travel being uncertain recently, there is more security with booking with a recognised agency if things should go wrong, for example, cancelation of flights etc. So should I give them another try for my next trip?

London hotel: location or access, which comes first?

Guoman Hotel, Charing Cross

Guoman Hotel, Charing Cross

I had the opportunity to stay at the Guoman Hotel a couple of weeks ago and I was asked what I thought about its accessibility. I thought I might as well blog about it.

This hotel is in a Grade 11 listed building which means  a building of special architectural or historic interest. Now as I understand it, not every wheelchair accessible room in this hotel is the same because they are not standard rooms.  And the room I was given this time is bigger than the one I stayed in 2 years ago. But here goes:

This hotel is ideal, location wise, certainly very central. You cannot be better placed in London. Right next to Charing Cross Station in proximity to Trafalgar Sq and over the bridge behind the station is the Southbank with all its tourist delights. In this sense it is very accessible – transport at the door, bus, train and taxi.

hotel room with bedMy hotel room is reasonably spacious even if the bed had to be shifted for my wheelchair to be parked alongside it. I found the bed to be quite high – not that easy to negotiate transfers given that I am not very tall. My colleague told me he had to abandon a meeting at one point because he had effectively no bed to sleep in – the beds here are not to be used with hoists!

I had another problem and that is that there were  no electric sockets near the bed. There was a socket by the bed for the lamp but this turned out not to be an ordinary 3 pin socket. This proves to be difficult for me as a power wheelchair user. Neither could they provide me with an extension lead. This omission seems strange considering the hotel put in facilities like a switch to facilitate  opening and shutting curtains. However the telephone was located across the room ( this made it tough on other guests if you had asked for an early morning wake up call!) I couldn’t leap up to cross the room to stop the phone ringing.

shower room

shower room

I was pleasantly surprised by the size of my roll in shower! It was bigger than my wet room at home! It had an anti slip floor. There was enough of a colour contrast of the bathroom equipment had I a visual impairment.  If I had any gripes, it would be that the emergency cord was tied up high above to be of any use for emergencies . Something the cleaning staff did probably.

Another point to note for wheelchair users, or anybody with a mobility impairment,  is that this hotel has very stiff doors and they are not easy to negotiate on your own.

You can find out more about the hotel from its own website.