Monday, May 09, 2005

Do The Needs Of The Few Have To Outweigh The Needs Of The Many?

Call off the cavalry - my hotel drama disolved rather satisfyingly after a few polite but firm phone calls. After a shaky start the hotel staff rallied and found a double bed to put in place of the two single beds that had originally been in the room (remember - the ones no-one told me about?).

My mission is not over, though - I'm due to be doing more travelling for work so need to use a few of these big hotel or road travel places - with that in mind, an ongoing mission for me is to make it easier by helpfully giving them feedback where things could be changed or improved (no, I'm not being sarcastic - praise where praise is due, and constructive comments when it's not...). So in the last case, I will be asking the company to change its website so disabled users can specify when booking online (why shouldn't we get the same discounts at the same convenience as everybody else?), ask them to ensure disabled people have a choice of twin and double rooms like everybody else, and ensure where there is no choice, people are informed in the normal processes as any other customer would be. I only found out by accident - not good enough.

I know it's not an ideal world, nor will I singlehandedly change it, but like I said before - you have to speak up. At least that way your conscience is clear.

I suppose this means by rights I should contact the other hotel too. Bother. There is sometimes the feeling that with some places, you'd need a full time commitment to chasing them up, and with some, a word in the right ear will have some effect. I guess you have to pick your fights.

Since I have been online, I find it much easier to complain, and one tactic that is especially useful is the ability to send copies of the complaint all over the company - to the branch concerned, to their head office, to the sales and marketing departments. That way, somebody does not file your complain under "it's only them" and forget about it, because in the 'cc' section, they can see their boss and their bosses boss have been sent it too. I did this with Sainsbury's recently over car parking at my local branch, and after weeks of having the local manager dodge my messages, he suddenly became very helpful. Sadly it didn't last, but I don't mind so much because in doing that, his boss at head office also replied to me. Generally the more people you copy it to, the more chances you have of finding out other important e-mail addresses of people higher up in the organisation. Now the car park is having problems again I will write to the head office boss to ask him why his local mangers cannot sustain their disability awareness past a few weeks. Of course, cc-ing that to the local manager who obviously thought I'd go away after a few temporary changes and some nice noises will be very satisfying...

Anyway, back to the most recent access drama. We glided in to the room (well, I did - he followed with all the bags...), with me holding my breath to see if it would be an ordeal or not. I immediately felt like it wasn't going to be. It was situated in a quiet area of the hotel - out of the way of corridor traffic, round the back, looking out onto a garden and some trees. The double bed took up less space that two singles, so plenty of wheeling room. Low storage to aid unpacking. The bathroom had a nice low washbasin, rather grand looking with ample room on the side to put out things you didn't want to stretch for when washing. The bath had a large flat area at sitting height you could transfer on to, was graded inside with several places you could sit or lower down into, and with handrails in sensible places. There were actually two showers, one low down, so you could sit in the bath to use it, and one higher up, so a standing shower was also possible. Lever taps. Handrails by the toilet. A big enough space to turn the chair round with the door closed. A good sized mirror set low down. And clean. Hurrah!

Then Mr F came in. The first thing he noticed was unless he wanted to 1) shave his chest, or 2) cut off his head whilst attempting to shave his face, or 3) bend down at an angle not condusive to the health of his back, the mirror was way too low.

He glared at the washbasin - similar issues. The basin came up to his mid thighs. It was like watching Gulliver in Lilliput.

Over at the bath, which I was already starting to beg for, he pointed out his much loved soaks in the bath could not be accomodated as it was very shallow. He didn't actually say heaving the bags and my wheelchair about means he looks forward to a long soak in the bath, but I know he does. His back isn't a major issue now, but it might be in the future. If a carer has a sore back - who cares for the carer?

I began to feel a bit guilty, which was stupid. Just for a change, it was me who was getting my own way here. It was his turn to feel left out. Against my wildest dreams, we'd stumbled into a great accessible environment for me that wasn't AB friendly. Normally on my own I'd not even have noticed...

How ironic is that?

For the first time I had to listen to him complaining about the bathroom. I tried to sympathise whilst at the same time trying to hide my glee that I could move around without getting sore or tired because the environment suited me. At times like this - when the person you love is the one struggling - you do not feel a sense of payback, justice, whatever. There are many circumstances like this where i feel like being the one saying "I told you so" or "Now you know how it is for me"... He knows how it is for me, and he doesn't go around telling me that it's right or wrong - because where's the progress in that?

What could have been changed? I suppose a longer mirror would have worked, or two mirrors like there were two showers. I don't know about the bath being deeper - because it wasn't very deep and there were two different levels to lower yourself on to before getting to the bottom, a deeper bath would have made that more difficult. There would have to be a suitable mechanism to lower yourself into a deeper bath - which I'm all for - I like deep baths too. (Although being on the petite side, anything more than a birdbath is deep to me...). I know you can get adjustable washbasins, but I've never seen one in a hotel - that would have solved that problem. As carers get older, they have health issues too, and although we're hardly pensioner material, accessible things for one are just that - with features like this, the balance shifts from helping one to harming the other - not what you'd call a real solution.

I know when we finally move to purpose built accomodation, it will be great for me, but I'd be unhappy if that meant he couldn't have his wallowing baths, or I was the one watching him strain to use something that wasn't designed to accomodate the way he does things too.... In this circumstance, complaining to the hotel that the accessible room I'd requested wasn't accessible for my able bodied husband and carer seems a bit of a joke, doesn't it?!!!


kezzykat said...

You go girl!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

You did a good thing for other disabled/impaired travellers,



Katja said...

Tiltable mirror, like this one. Or a regular mirror, plus a wall mounted extending mirror.

Washbasin: my standing guy finds that as long as he can see himself in the mirror standing straight, the height of the washbasin isn't a very big deal. Otherwise, I'd say go with two basins, as compromising even a couple of inches up for the wheelchair user makes the basin as uncomfortable as if it were standard height.

Tub vs shower: obviously the ideal is to have both. We have one accessible bathroom with a tub, and the other has a shower. He can take a tub bath anytime he likes, just not in the ensuite bathroom. The tub is relatively easy for me to get into as it has a deck around it, so I can transfer and then just fall in (gravity is your friend), but I need help getting back out.

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