The Perception of Accessible - It's Just Not Built For You!
Updated: May 27, 2019
Gone are the days of 80's, half decent accommodation with a bathroom rail installed so as to advertise as 'accessible'. No. Accessibility to us means a stealthily accessible space, welcoming from the very first time a guest opens the door. And with a feel and aesthetic that is not clinical.
Businesses that are inclusive actually benefit everyone, regardless of disability. Owner, Chris Smith of Great Ocean Stays believes that all more inclusive and welcoming. 'It's often the little things that matters the most like signage, lighting, clear walkways - and most of all - attitude!' Chris' business is inclusive and welcoming. She stresses that this term is starkly different to the business being 'disability friendly' or 'wheelchair accessible"... "the business does not categorize. It is simply an inclusive tourism business where anyone can come and stay".
Our mantra when building the accessible range of holiday homes in Ocean Grove in 2015 was that they offer contemporary modern appointments with the built in accessible features that are not only expected, but appreciated by all, including those with disabilities.
In the early days of offering the homes online, I was queried by a concerned friend, who asked me why we were investing so heavily to build accessible homes, asking, "but is there a market for this?". I smiled nicely, and simply said, yes. But what I wanted to say was 'if it's not in your face, it's not in your life'. Why are people with disabilities so invisible. Why is our built environment so inaccessible?".
But although I knew there was a market for accessible tourism, the challenge to entice people to stay was compelling. And, even though not fully evident at the time, it is glaringly obvious now. People with disabilities are down right sick and tired of being told by hosts that their holiday home is accessible when it simply is not. What is accessible to those hosts is often a perception of accessible. Their perception that a hand rail constitutes accessible. Or that it is perfectly acceptable to expect a guest to have their family member carry them up the 'one or two steps at the front of the house' in order to actually get in. No! This is neither accessible in the physical sense or in attitude.
And while I am on it, attitude is everything. I once went into a cafe that was accessible, but the attitude of the cafe owner was quite frankly, startling. I have facial paralysis, so I need a straw to drink. While sipping away at a much needed coffee, he approached me and rather loudly said 'what's this drinking with a straw, is this some sort of religious experiment you are trying out!" Although the coffee was great, the feel of the cafe was interesting and with a good vibe, the cafe owners attitude destroyed it all and I have never been back.
A couple of years down the track I had another startling comment of note. During an accessible tourism event that I attended, I was asked by another accommodation host, 'I want to have disabled people stay but I am scared they will p__s all over my floor". Why! Are we disabled folks more inclined to want to p__ss all over the floor? No. But this persons perception of disability has so skewed that this was the first question that popped out of her mouth.
We have a lot of work to do.
If you have ever traveled with a person who requires extra assistance, you will likely know all too well, that there is nothing quite so ostracizing that being in a place that is clearly not 'built for you". We have changed that. And there's more to come.