Fiona Jarvis, a wheelchair user and owner of website Blue Badge Style ‒ a blog and campaign site focusing on stylish hospitality and travel for disabled people ‒ told BigHospitality that many top establishments failed to suitable provide toilet and restroom facility areas.
One unnamed Michelin-starred venue even asks wheelchair users to cross a bridge to use a disabled toilet in a nearby “grotty pub” because they do not have any of their own facilities, Jarvis claimed.
Some restaurants regularly use the disabled bathrooms as storage for bulk food and drink items, high chairs or extra furniture (pictured, right), and some even offer ‘disabled toilets’ whose doors are too small to actually fit a wheelchair through, she alleged.
Disabled bathrooms are often placed downstairs or up a step, and some sites even failed to provide grab rails or hoists within rooms labelled as disabled-friendly, she said.
Even restaurants and hotels that do manage to provide disabled bathrooms do not consider them as important as their usual facilities, Jarvis added, with décor often much plainer and cheaply-furnished compared to the main bathrooms, or in an awkward place for access.
The purple pound
Failing to focus on your disabled access could hurt business, according to a survey from the Employers’ Forum on Disability (EFD), which said that 83 per cent of disabled people had taken their custom elsewhere upon discovering inaccessible services.
Providing good access for disabled people has become more of an issue within hospitality in recent years, with organisations such as tourist board VisitBritain creating guides to offering accommodation and transport guides for disabled travellers. The so-called ‘purple pound’ is said to be worth an estimated £212bn to the UK every year.
However, some sites do get it right, said Jarvis.
She cited Tom Sellers’ Restaurant Story (pictured, above right) as offering good facilities in a small space; the Dysart Arms in Petersham/Richmond, which had taken the time to ensure the décor is the same as in the main restaurant; and the Five Fields in Chelsea, whose disabled bathroom was easily located just off the main dining room.
Another good example was D&D London’s German Gymnasium in London’s King’s Cross (pictured, above left), whose quirky décor had been continued into the disabled loo.
Commenting on bad bathrooms, Jarvis said: “I went to a well-known London restaurant not long ago, and the loo was so full of boxes of water I couldn’t manoeuvre my wheelchair to use it. I was told it would be cleared by the end of the night as the water was consumed. Shame my bladder couldn’t take the wait!"
She advised: “Make sure the designer, architect and builder are all on the same hymn sheet so that mistakes are avoided e.g. Putting a huge towel dispenser near a grab rail so it’s no longer within reach. The best thing is to get someone who has a disability to try out your restaurant or hotel room, and use common sense and patience. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to make a place inclusive.”
Six ways to make your toilets and overall business disabled-friendly
- Accessibility Provide disabled toilets on the same level as the main space, and ensure a wheelchair user has enough room to get in the door, reach the grab rails, and manoeuvre easily
- Cost Realise that a disabled toilet or wet room need not be expensive – a standard ‘Doc M’ regulation toilet pack, including the compulsory grab rails, starts at just £300 or less. Ensure any security ‘pull cords’ are within reach
- Storage Do not use the disabled toilets as a storage cupboard or put them behind other guests’ tables – disabled people need the bathroom just as much as non-disabled guests
- Maintenance Keep lifts maintained and working regularly, and remember that ramps need to be at a realistic angle for wheelchair users to push themselves up
- Design Try to apply the same décor and interior design care to your disabled toilet as much as the rest of the establishment
Safety Elsewhere, try to ensure spaces are well-lit, rugs are not trip hazards, tables have room underneath to accommodate wheelchair users, and disabled bedrooms offer aids such as bed hoists