Comment: Accessibility in hotels - we need to talk

With 2020 marking the year Dubai will become fully disability friendly, communication is more important than ever. Joshua Corder weighs in

Joshua Corder.
ITP Images
Joshua Corder.

Dubai is currently in, and facing a number of important years in its goal to be disability friendly. 2019 marks the ‘Year of Tolerance’ and 2020 marks the deadline to make Dubai completely accommodating to disabled people. A defining aspect of Dubai is surely its hotels so how exactly do they shape up in this mission?

I have stayed in a lot of hotels in a lot of different countries, I have seen how the Japanese hotel staff reacts to me wheeling into the lobby, I have seen how the British do and I have seen how the Emiratis do.

Hospitality and tourism is at the forefront of the Dubai lifestyle, understandably then, perfection in hotels is more important to Dubai than a lot of other places around the world. Perfection in treatment towards disabled people in those hotels however is a totally different skill.

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Naturally as with any hotel experience, the staff are eager to please and will help you with basically anything you ask them to. The key thing to draw from that statement is “ask them to". For the most part, as a disabled person, the whole asking before doing isn’t something a fair few hotels seem to grasp.

I was born in Sharjah, so I’ve been in the UAE and Dubai enough times to have my collection of hotel experiences. For the most part, hotel staff have nothing but good intentions, they only wish to help me as much as possible. The issue lurks in the lack of communication between the staff and disabled person.

One of the biggest faux pas in helping a disabled person like myself – a wheelchair user - is pushing me in my chair without asking. Do remember, I am facing forward, I can’t see someone come up behind me and start pushing me. To be pushed without asking then is a jolt. Hotel staff will very often push me without asking.

Of course, I understand their intention of wanting to help me, it’s appreciated, but if they were only to stand in front of me so I could see them first, and then ask if I want to be pushed, that small and brief gesture would go a long way. 

An important distinction in the goal to make as place disability friendly is if it accommodates the disabled community or empowers them. A hotel could be accommodating to me, they could put ramps in, have staff push me all the time, and have ‘accessible guest rooms’. All that is accommodating. Empowering however is letting me live my own life independently.

If the ramp is too steep for me to go up without help, if I am pushed without asking, or if the top shelf of my dresser is too high for me to reach alone, this is not empowering. Hotels often help disabled people, but struggle to let them help themselves if they wish to.

The key is communication- ask me if I need assistance before assisting- as you would with any other guest. Another crucial consideration is if I could use the facilities by myself without relying on someone to help me.

I can only speak on my own level of disability, some people require more help and some less. For me personally, the assumption should be that I can manage unless I say otherwise.

With over two decades of life experience in a wheelchair and previously working as a mentor teaching wheelchair skills, Joshua Corder knows more than most on what it takes to be a disability friendly place. He has travelled extensively and has seen the dos and don’ts of the hospitality industry first hand.

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