Disabled in the bathroom

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Why accessible advertising needs to match reality

When we’re travelling we all want time to rest and relax after sight-seeing, just like Wat Po’s famous Reclining Buddha in the Thai capital Bangkok. Looks comfy, doesn’t he?

If you’re visiting the city, by the way, please make the effort to go to Wat Po, the Buddha is amazing.

And as the temple is just behind the Grand Palace go see that too. (Just remember to keep your shoulders and legs covered please, you won’t be allowed in otherwise) There’s the Emerald Buddha to see carved out of a single block of stone – the most important Buddhist site in the country.

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Right now (December 2016) Thailand is still mourning the loss of King Bhumiphol, so the area around the Grand Palace is particularly busy with mourners paying their respects, even more of a reason to take it easy.

I booked in to the Intercontinental Bangkok, where I last stayed when the Red Shirt protestors were camped out at the Ratchaprasong intersection next to the hotel in 2010.

The hotel is right in the centre of the high-end tourist district. There’s a Hilton next door, a Grand Hyatt and a Renaissance opposite and plenty of shopping at the Central World Mall and many others within a few minutes.

After arrival I had a very quick catch up with some old Al Jazeera colleagues and then checked in. I was looking forward to my room. I wouldn’t be able to use the bath tub (complete with rubber duck for company 😦 ) but I like the hotel.

But here is where my problems began. The disabled friendly room didn’t fit the billing.

A distinct lack of…. drum roll…. appropriate railings.

Any railings?

Again?

Seriously?

Memories of  Oh dear, what can the matter be? and Needing a Plan Ermm…  flashed into mind.

There was a marble lip at the entrance to the bathroom too, so the only way in was backwards in reverse. I could tell the ‘accessible’ room had been converted from a regular room, by simply removing the bath tub. An empty space does not an accessible room make. Grrrr

But not all was lost. Enter my two super heroes:

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Fairy and Pat save the day

A while later on Facebook I posted:

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Before and After

Not sure what I would, or even could, have done without those two ladies. They went out of their way to make my stay safe and secure.

Room sorted, now, how to do a quick drive around the city.

The hotel found a man with a van, and one hydraulic lift later with no traumatic transfers in and out of a taxi necessary, I was set to go.

Now this driver only spoke Thai, which was a bit of a problem when I wanted to ask him: Please turn on the aircon at the back, I’m about to die of heat exhaustion.

Thank God for WhatsApp and a three-way conversation between me, Pat and the driver.

But I felt rather foolish about 20 minutes later when, with the aircon now set to Arctic, I had to tell Pat I was about to die from hypothermia, and could she ask the driver turn the air-con down.

Frost bite averted, I headed back to the hotel to warm up 🙂

You can book this service on +66 901981040 or through Siamraj rental but have a Thai speaker handy to help fix the details of your trip.

Or there is Amnaj Transport on +66 89 150 2000

After my trip I did email the hotel manager to express my thanks for the assistance I received, and offer to give some detailed recommendations about how to make his hotel more accessible. I have yet to receive a reply.

I’ll be blogging later about the value of the disabled dollar, and how places are missing out by not helping people like me out, but out of all the hotels I’ve tried this year just TWO have been truly accessible when I checked in.

I went to Bangkok to visit an old friend Andrew, who is also disabled, to find out how he finds the city to live in.

His comment to me: Imagine a place where they build giant precipice to foil the disabled.

An update after the Christmas holiday. Have a wonderful time wherever you are celebrating. I’m in Bali. (More Misadventures with my wheelchair from there to come.)

 

And now for the hard part…

Starting my own business consultancy

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Life as a disabled person is endlessly challenging, so keeping a sense of humour and seeing the funny side – in a twisted kind of way – is a necessity.

How can you not see the irony when you approach reception desk for an appointment and the woman behind it says: “please take a seat” when you’ve just wheeled up in a chair.

I’ve been in a wheelchair now for more than two years, and ever since then I’ve been discovering endless hurdles to life stuck in a seat.

Gallows humour certainly helps.

You have been reading my blog, right?

I’ve always tried to offer suggestions as to how I think places could be improved (mostly toilets). Sometimes I get listened to, often I don’t.

Now though with my life as a tv journalist in the background for now, I’m taking a new direction. I’m not gonna give out free advice any more – I’ll tell you as a consultant.

I’ll still be in KL for now, but am happy to travel, as I know things ain’t perfect wherever I go.

My aim is to assess existing facilities, make recommendations for changes (if needed) and offer advice on where to find equipment as necessary.

In new buildings, or those under construction, I hope to hook in with the architects/designers before they make mistakes.

Certainly in KL I’m sure I’ll need to hook up with health & safety, and the fire department so I’m working on the nitty gritty right now. But that will be done in a few weeks, and then the really hard part:

Getting the first client.

Watch this space 🙂

 

 

 

Needing a Plan Ermm…

Yeah, you really couldn’t make this one up.

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I suppose I should have known this was not to be an ordinary trip if my arrival into the UK for the first time in over two years was to be the judge.

As my plane pulled into the gate at Heathrow T4 the captain announces we cannot leave because we have a security issue.

First thought that comes into my hack mind: Funny time to hijack a plane as we’ve already landed.

The threat becomes clear when three burly coppers appear trying to arrest a man on the other side of the plane from me. He complains loudly of harassment for just trying to expose child abuse among Jehovah’s Witness followers.

‘Just because I’ve jumped bail,’ he protests, apparently failing to concede that this might be the very reason police are here to arrest him. I think: How was he allowed to get on the plane in the first place? Security fail.

A few hours later the morning’s entertainment was a faded memory as I tried and failed to find somewhere to stay. This was no mere Plan B adventure. (Blogs past) more of a Plan C, D and E misadventure.

Arriving at my pre-booked Novotel Lambeth Palace  I had to wait several hours before access to my room (so much for requesting early check-in Agoda.com).

And somehow my request for oatmeal porridge with soy milk was lost in translation when a jug of the cold stuff arrived with a bowl of dry oats. Still the chance of a hot shower and a lie down couldn’t be too far away could it?

Oh but it could.

Moving up to my disabled friendly, walk-in shower room I instantly spot a problem – the raised lip at the edge of the shower area. Presumably designed to stop water flowing out, sadly preventing me from rolling in.

Ok no problem. Been here before. On to Plan B. A quick call to my mate Susy who identified the far classier Park Plaza Westminster Bridge just down the road at Waterloo.

She’s called them, there’s a disabled room available, deposit paid on Agoda and we’re off. As far as the bathroom door – not even the shower this time.

A steep ramp’s in the way. Now while two and a bit years in a chair has given me ‘great guns’ according to my American friends, but more realistically boxers biceps, I cannot negotiate the barrier. I’m not a pro-wheelchair user and have had no training. I’m just a middle-aged hack who’s starting to lose patience.

So then, I ask, can your night staff come up several times a night to help get me to the loo, when I need to go?

Errm Ma’am no I don’t think we can.

Errm ok then Miss I need my money back and somewhere else to stay.

Onto Plan C. Let’s go to our sister hotel Park Plaza County Hall, just over the road, says the front desk manager. My friend Sam has joined me by now. We trundle down the road and up to the disabled friendly room.

Progress.

No ridge.

No ramp.

No nothing into the room or bathroom. 🙂

And no bleedin’ shower chair. 😦

Plan D then.

You havin’ a laugh?

You might ask.

Sadly I was not. Definitely.

Approximate time awake by now – approaching 36 hours. Approximate time before completely losing it – approaching five minutes.

I think Park Plaza is feeling a little guilty. A few phone calls later and I had a mates’ rate deal for three nights at the Marriott County Hall, where I’d stayed before.

A definite success.

After that the rates shot up, so I foolishly, foolishly booked five nights at the Mercure on Southampton Row. I’d stayed there before too, what could possibly go wrong?

But I digress. The stress of trying to find somewhere to stay, severe dehydration and a total lack of sleep meant the only place I was sleeping my first night in London was St Thomas’ hospital on a drip.

Definitely not a five star experience and the health care was less than stellar too.

So two nights only in the Marriott. The hotel has had a multi-million pound makeover since I last stayed. The room was great but there’s a problem – I see a hotel fashion this year. A mattress cover so thick it’s a mattress in itself. Same problem as at the Ibis Singapore. (Blogs past)

If this doesn’t come off I’m screwed again. Fortunately it does. Relief. “Yeah, we’ve had other people ask for this to be taken off before,” one of the staff tells me. Yep, it really shouldn’t be a princess and the pea moment.

And we still had to fit the bed rail.

Sadly 48 hours overlooking Big Ben and my two-night stay for the cost of three was over too fast. A taxi ride across the river and I’m outside the Mercure. Plan E is in motion.

My fifth hotel in four days.

“The disabled ramp’s just around the corner, through the café,” I tell my friend Susy, who’s come to help. She reappears seconds later. “No it’s not,” she says.  Three years and a renovation has also taken place.

I eye the steps at the entrance.

“Ermm, how am I going to get up that then?” “Ohh we’ve got a ramp ma’am,” says the doorman.

I’m beginning to get that sinking feeling, and once inside (after being carried up the steps) my unease increases. I call for the lift. The doors open and I wonder if I can even get through them.

A knuckle scraping push and I’m in and that’s about as good as it got.

Up to the exact same room I’d stayed in when I made my doco on MS three years ago. The walk-in shower was great. Note the key phrase: walk-in. Three years and a wheelchair later not quite the great shower it used to be.

The feeble shower stool and another bed with 15cm mattress cover sealed the deal.

An urgent Plan F was required.

Again, dear reader, insert expletive of your choice here, and repeat at will.

Four hours and many, many phone calls later and it was back to the Marriott. The mates-rate deal had gone. Marina Bay Sands (Blogs past) was looking like budget accommodation.

There comes a point however, when money ceases to be an issue. Safety, comfort and accessibility are the priority for those of us in chairs.

How is it though hotels large and small seem to get it so badly wrong?

I’m very fortunate enough to be able to afford expensive hotels…(well my credit card has enough stretch left in it for now) the majority of people, probably less so.

London accounts for nearly half of all tourist dollars spent in the UK, more than US $43 billion a year. Tourism accounts for about 10% of the country’s GDP.

It’s difficult to find any figure for the number of disabled people who travel, but a very unscientific check of London hotels, who claim to have disabled facilities, brings up more than 1300 places, so the hotel industry clearly thinks there’s a market.

Hotels need to make improvements. The de-facto ‘disabled friendly’ cheat sheet is flawed. And I suspect it’s because no-one thinks to even ask a disabled person what’s needed.  I’m happy to offer my advice.

As a postscript I really cannot fault the Marriott (well ok, the strange lack of shelves, or railings to hang the towels in the bathroom was a bit odd).

There were the pull down railings around the shower and toilet.

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Alarm cords for emergencies (though only one on one side of the bed, the opposite side to the one I sleep on) and space to put my wheelchair by the bed.

We even installed the mobile bed rail

And of course the staff was fabulous and the view of Big Ben inspiring.

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Now if we could pervert Listed Building statutes and have the hotel make the entrance disabled friendly too, instead of having to use the back door on Belvedere Road, that really would worth the money.