“There have been times when I’ve had to email hotels directly to ask for images of the bathroom,” says Leona Hennessy.
It is time-consuming. You feel kind of like a diva, but you’re not! We just need to see a visual.”
Leona and her husband Michael run Instagram account @TheStruggleIsWheel, which documents accessible adventures for manual wheelchair users in Ireland.
We may live in a world where holidays can be booked with a couple of clicks, but the problem she describes is stubbornly old-school. Booking accessible rooms, and finding detailed information about them, remains hard work.
A survey of 1,000 hotel websites by Dublin-based MobilityMojo.com has found that over half (53pc) did not allow accessible rooms to be booked online.
Almost all offered rooms designed to be inclusive, but when contacted by phone, 22pc of staff were unable to give accessibility information about the hotels in which they worked.
Of the hotels not providing accessibility details online, 35pc featured pet-friendly info, the survey found.
The results should encourage hotels to improve, says Noelle Daly of Mobility Mojo, which has worked with Irish groups like Dalata and iNua, among others, to evaluate accessibility.
“There is a huge audience out there. It’s not only people with disabilities; it’s our ageing population.”
Giving information helps guests make the best choice for themselves, she adds. One in seven people have a disability, according to the WHO, ranging from reduced mobility to vision impairments and learning disabilities. For the other six in seven, however, accessibility can be an invisible issue.
I’ve spoken with several people with disabilities about how hotels could improve, and they talk about awareness, training and the built environment. But they also point out how hard it can be to find basic information on websites — from room types and measurement of bed heights to roll-in showers. Visual images would be even more helpful.
“Some hotels have done great jobs but don’t even feature it on their websites,” Philip Quinlan of Spinal Injuries Ireland and disabledfriendlyhotels.com told me recently. “I was in one hotel in Cork, and you could open the door and blinds from the bed… they must have spent thousands on it. But it wasn’t even mentioned on the website.”
Clearly, tourism and hospitality businesses have a lot on their plates, from Covid checks to staffing issues. Accessibility may not feel like an urgent priority. But the World Tourism Organisation has billed the post-pandemic recovery period as a chance to build back better and become more accessible; and giving guests the information to assess whether a hotel is suitable can boost both trust and revenue, Mobility Mojo says.
People with accessibility needs make bookings that are on average two nights longer, its survey reports. They also spend some €2,000 more on travel per year than millennials and Gen Xers.
Hotels that invest in accessibility and properly highlight what they have, can see a “huge” return, Noelle Daly says.
“It’s not a massive job,” adds Leona Hennessy of @TheStruggleIsWheel, who believes hotels should have access officers. “It’s just little tweaks here and there.”
Other advice on improving accessibility in Ireland can be found at disability-federation.ie, adaptablesolutions.ie and universalaccess.ie. NCBI, the national sight loss agency, also offers a service to help companies audit and improve website accessibility at ncbi.ie.