Personal Provision in Public Places
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My wife and I being retired, are fortunate to be
able to take mini-breaks, when we please, visiting places we haven’t seen
before, or places we have previously enjoyed and which we wish to revisit. Now
I should point out that my wife is wheelchair dependent, but with her expertise
on the computer, she is able to book accommodation in advance, which offers ‘facilities for the disabled’, even if
those facilities aren’t actual spelled out; but I’ll come to that shortly. In
2015 we made several such jaunts, and became something of amateur experts on
such ‘facilities’ as disabled
parking, wheelchair access, disabled toilets and wet-rooms.
But before we proceed, may I make a plea for the
right use of the English language? When I was a Local Education Authority
advisor/inspector, I spent a considerable amount of effort trying to get
schools to stop referring to ‘special
needs kids’, but to call them children with special needs; they are after
all children first, who happen to have a special educational need. The same
should be applied to people who have a disability; not ‘the disabled’, they are people first. But of course we all want the
quick shorthand phrase. So we have ‘disabled
access’ and ‘disabled toilets’; which
of course, strictly speaking, indicates that the access and the toilets
are disabled, hence unusable, not the people for whom they are provided.
Having got that off my chest, let me resume by
telling you something of our experiences. We arrived at one of Brecon’s top
hotels, The Castle of
Brecon Hotel, where my wife had booked a wet-room.
Parking for the disabled was right next to the entrance, the access was easy,
the reception was bright and friendly, but I was surprised to see a sticker,
indicating that their Food Hygiene Rating was just 2 out of five. In the event,
the food was good, well prepared and presented. Our room was large enough to
facilitate easy wheelchair movement, although a bit shabby, lacking general
information and no Wifi. Then we opened the door to the wet-room (outwards of
course); it took our breath away, that is the room not the door. It was
state-of-the-art; big enough to take a double bed; tiled from floor to ceiling
in beige ochre tiles, which were replicated on the floor. The LED lighting embedded in the ceiling, was subtle and
seductive. The problem was the sink; it was immediately inside the door at
right angles, which meant it was virtually impossible to turn the wheelchair to
face it. The toilet was immediately adjacent, (which is recommended, so that hands
can be washed before rising) but having only one drop-down rail, rising from
the toilet was impossible without my help. The shower had its own problems.
When wet the floor was lethal; a towel had to be laid down to stand on.
Although there was a seat attached to the wall, the two vertical grab rails,
were so far removed from the seat, as to be rendered useless; I remained on
hand to assist.
So, one has to ask, who designed the room? Did a
builder merely seek general advice from the internet? Was an Occupational
Therapist (OT) asked for advice? Crucially, was a person using a wheelchair
invited to say what was needed and where? Clearly not.
From Brecon we drove to Harlech, where we stayed in Estuary Lodge,
an American-style motel chalet, which was superb. Designated parking immediately
outside the chalet, level access, a beautifully appointed room, with every
conceivable luxury, and a sliding door opening to the wet-room, which clearly
had been designed with the help and advice of someone who uses a wheelchair.
I will break cover, and name two hotels where the
wet-rooms were superb; access, size, anti-slip floor, the layout and the
number, choice and positioning of grab and drop down rails. We have visited
Premier Inns in Cornwall and Kingston-upon-Thames, and cannot praise them highly
enough. But these were new builds, not conversions. They place provision for
people with disabilities, very highly on their list of specifications. (Google
Premiere Inns, click on Disabled Access, and read their statement and future
intentions, you too will be impressed.)
Between our overnight stays we toured, stopping at attractions,
pubs, hotels, and restaurants for meals. Now the Equality Act 2010, ‘requires … those
that provide services to the public, to make reasonable adjustments to those
physical features of a building, which place a disabled person at a substantial
disadvantage, compared with people who are not disabled.’ The key work here is ‘reasonable’. For
example, our ‘local’ is very old. The toilets are up two steps and it would be
impossible to create a ramp. It is clear that every place we stopped at, had
made an effort to comply with the Act, but with varying success, dependent on
the space available. One of the problems in some places is that available space
allows the wheelchair user access to the room, but doesn’t allow for the carer.
An assortment of grab and drop-down rails were in evidence, but not necessarily
in the correct positions to be useful. Space in other rooms is limited by
baby-changing facilities. Others are used as general storage of buckets and
boxes. Some required a Radar key, one indeed, a hotel on the square in
Caernarvon, required a member of staff to unlock it, and remove the general
detritus, including high-chairs. One prestigious hotel in Padstow, (a different
holiday!) required us to go down to the lower ground floor in order to access
the only toilet for people with a disability. The two Wetherspoon’s pubs which
we visited (Bridgnorth and Witney), even provide open individual lifts so that
those in wheelchairs can navigate the different levels.
Armed with this practical evidence, we were curious
to know, who inspects the facilities in public buildings for people with a
disability? An internet search and subsequent discussion with a friend who is
an architect, led us to The Building
Regulations Act 2010 Part M: Access to and use of buildings, volume 2,
Buildings other than dwellings. Click
to download pdf. Sections M1 to M8 deal with access, ramps, handrails,
corridors, lifts, toilets, showers and so on. There are in fact 72 pages of
technical information, with diagrams for suggested layouts, size of rooms,
height of toilets, hand-basins, rails and supports …
Confused? You should be. I certainly was, so I set
out to find help. ‘The Regulations are
administered and controlled by the Building Control Department officers, and it
is their role to check all submitted plans for compliance with the regulations’.
So I contacted my Local District Council by ‘phone and asked for the name of
someone I could meet to discuss my concerns. I was told that as the Building
Regulations Department was a team, I should email my request for a meeting, to
the team as a whole. This I did. 17 days later, having received no response, I
sent another email. Now after nearly five weeks of being ignored I have given
up; just as they had hoped I would, I suppose.
So I am left with my quest for information.
- As every ‘facility’ and location is different, is approval given purely based on the Regulation’s guidelines, or is advice sort for others e.g. OTs and someone who uses a wheelchair?
- Are the needs of the carer taken into account?
- Are carers actually invited to give their opinion?
- Once installed, are the facilities regularly inspected?
- How can people with a disability and/or their carer make their voice heard?
Just before I leave you, I’d like to return to the
hotel in Brecon with the Food Hygiene rating of just 2, although the food was
good. Perhaps ‘facilities’ should be
inspected annually, and a Facilities for People with Disabilities Rating, given
and the certificate displayed. The least we can do, which I already do, is
leave comments about the ‘facilities’
on TripAdvisor or Facebook. Maybe we should offer our services as amateur
experts, to trial and test local ‘facilities’.
Don’t just sit there, let’s do something.
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16 people found this feature helpful