Case study: Dusit Thani's disability training

Hotelier finds out more about the disability training the hotel conducted with Dubai consultancy, Ebdaah

Dusit Thani Dubai opened in 2001.
Dusit Thani Dubai opened in 2001.

Dusit Thani Dubai may be 14 years old, but it is ahead of the game in its approach to disabled guests. Hotelier finds out more about the disability awareness training the hotel conducted with Dubai consultancy, Ebdaah

In March 2014, a law was issued by Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, H.H Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum to protect the rights of people with disabilities in Dubai.

The law reflects his vision to strengthen the position of disabled people in society by providing them with the services necessary to them, and it supports Federal Law No. 29 of 2006, concerning the rights of people with special needs.

Dubai authorities were required by the new law to cooperate to provide full public services to disabled people, along with healthcare services and educational opportunities.

To ensure effective implementation of this, H.H Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai Crown Prince and Chairman of the Dubai Executive Council issued a resolution to form a higher committee for the protection of the rights of people with disabilities in Dubai, and this is something that complements his initiative, ‘My community ... A city for everyone’, which he launched in November 2013.

It aimed to help disabled people overcome social barriers and prevent them from being the target of discrimination or abuse.

These government initiatives helped inspire Dusit Thani Dubai to reach out to Ebdaah, a Dubai-based consultancy, which among other things, delivers disability awareness training to educational institutes and hospitality businesses.

For hospitality, Ebdaah provides training on customer service building audits for accessibility, advice on reasonable adjustments to be made, and information on new building design and accessibility policies.

The 321-key Dusit Thani already has a disabled member of staff working in the laundry department. Nitin Bablani, who has Down’s syndrome, has been employed at the hotel for the last eight years, and is praised widely as a hard-working and committed staff member.

Dusit Thani prides itself in offering employment opportunities to disabled people, and according to Danelle Ruth Palang, director of marketing and communications, the property “has always had a heart for disability”.

Before working with Ebdaah, the existing facilities included wide doors on all rooms and low handles and bathroom features. The hotel also had one accessible guest room.

Additionally, DusitThani has a policy in place whereby disabled people who book a deluxe room are upgraded to a suite on arrival.

The hotel also has a system to notify housekeeping, room service and bell service staff using the code ‘SA’ (special attention) when a disabled guest checks in. An emergency response team is also in place and has a special board to alert them of the room numbers of disabled guests, should an emergency evacuation take place.

Having come on board in 2013 as general manager from his previous role at Dusit Thani Manila, Prateek Kumar, who Palang explains “is very into CSR” was looking into new initiatives to upgrade the 14-year old Dusit Thani.

“Dusit Thani has been here for a long time and we don’t want to be remembered only as the first hotel to pop up this side of town, but to always be ahead of the times,” explains Palang, who adds that the project was “very easy to support”.

“Dusit International has always been supportive of CSR campaigns. Our general manager agreed to it very easily. We always believe that if a guest is happy they will come back and most often you get complaints if people are going through a tough time.

“If you know how to deal with them it will be a smoother process altogether,” she continues.

Dusit Thani’s training session with Ebdaah director of education and training Andrew Westerman took place on April 13, 2014 from 8am - 2pm in one of the meeting rooms of Dusit Thani.

Attended by around 30 staff members, there were representatives from front office, housekeeping, security, HR, F&B, and marketing & communications departments.

The training did not simply focus on guests who have physical difficulties. People who are visually impaired, hearing impaired, as well as people with cognitive difficulties and social difficulties, as well as elderly guests, were discussed.

As part of the customer service aspect of the training, staff were taught about how best to deal with erratic behaviour in public areas of guests with cognitive difficulties.

“Andrew said, you know they may be irate or impatient because they have a problem, so the team has to be educated, or just reminded that you deal with them in a very special way because they’re going through something different and difficult,” explains Palang.

“We already do customer service training [at the hotel] but this was specifically focused on a particular market or a specific type of guest.”

In addition to this, the attendees were encouraged to share their own experiences of how they have dealt with disabled guests in the past, and best practice was suggested.

“Andrew said if you see them crying or making a noise you don’t stop them, you let them be. It’s hard to tell sometimes, but there’s always room for discerning first what’s actually happening before reacting,” says Palang. A reminder of the best language to use when referring to disability was offered, with the key message equality.

“We were told to treat them as equal as possible,” she says.

“Fine if they need special treatment, but you don’t want them to be uncomfortable with you treating them as too special, so really it’s a balance.

“Sometimes there’s a queue for check-in and check-out, so when we know they’re special we prioritise them, so these things can be done, they will not take offence. But if it’s too much — so they’re dining and you keep interrupting or you keep knocking on their door — that will be irritating.”

Palang adds that many of the team members became emotional when watching some of the videos shown.

“It showed how they wanted to be treated in society and there was one gentleman from housekeeping — from Nepal I believe — and he talked about how he would want his country to be open to this idea of dealing with people with disabilities.”

Recommendations for DusitThani were discussed with Ebdaah, and one of these was to create another accessible guest room, which the hotel did during a recent renovation. Additionally, Dusit Thani was advised to install blinking lights for hearing impaired guests in the accessible rooms, in addition to the fire alarm system already in place.

This was discussed prior to the renovation, however Dusit Thani decided not to implement these, opting instead to focus on staff training around the current emergency evacuation procedure, which prioritises the rescue of disabled guests.

Facilities aside, the key result achieved from the training was increased awareness of disability among staff.
“Training allowed us to understand more. Disability is not just limited to physical. We were reminded that guests may be difficult but there are reasons behind that — especially for the front office who deal directly with guests,” comments Palang.

The training also inspired the team to become more involved with CSR activities related to disability.

“We approached Al Noor Training Centre for Children with Special Needs. Andrew said it was important to make them feel they are equal, so we invited 10 children over and we conducted a pizza making activity for them with the chefs. After that we had a couple of visits to the centre.

“Some of my colleagues had their birthdays in the centre and just spent time with the children. We wanted to put an exhibit of their paintings in the hotel but there were some restrictions from their end.”

Palang also visited Al Noor with a member of the HR team to explore the possibility of hiring their students to work in the hotel.

“They would have graduates that can be sent to another company for work and we were just trying to look for a position for them.

“It’s not just dealing with guests with disabilities, but giving opportunities to people with disabilities, giving them proper work. At the same time we need to balance and manage, but definitely with Nitin we’re very happy with his contribution to the company.”

The focus now for the training department is to ensure that current and new employees are made aware of policies relating to disabled guests, and that learnings from the training are shared internally.

“It’s now a matter of implementing the existing policies, ensuring they are all aware of these. It’s important that not just the oldies but the newcomers are made aware, and are able to implement these,” Palang concludes.

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