In the latest Disability Survey by Statistics NZ, 24 percent of New Zealanders identified as disabled.
However, if a disabled person goes online to find information about accessible places to stay, they’re left with only a few options.
Be. Accessible is one resource for this information, providing a list of accessible places to stay. On its website, visitors are provided full reports and ratings of categories like vision, hearing, mobility, parents, learning and intellectual. On the list, there are only nine properties in the country listed as accessible places to stay, with Sudima Christchurch Airport the only one listed from the South Island.
“The most important thing is for people to have information about the place before they leave home,” said Neville Pulman, Be. Welcome programme director, Be. Accessible.
He also said that while hotels are making efforts to be accessible, accessibility is about more than just wheelchairs.
“There are fewer barriers for physical disabilities, and rooms can be easily adaptable to accommodate physically disabled guests who need wheelchair access, but it’s about getting hotels to think outside of just wheelchair access. It’s a small degree of separation between somewhere being accessible and not accessible. There are so many places that could make a big difference with little effort and cost.”
Be. Accessible highlighted Sudima Hotels and CQ Hotels as leaders in the field for their efforts. Sudima, for example, goes as far as offering ‘welcome treats’ for guide dogs, and CQ Hotels Wellington has braille menus and gives guests the option to order menus with sign language, all simple but meaningful touches. CQ Hotels Wellington has earnt a Gold Be. Welcome accessibility rating, as has Sudima Auckland Airport and Sudima Christchurch Airport Hotel. Sudima even designs its properties with accessibility in mind from the start.
BarrierFree, another non-profit organisation which works to create buildings spaces and transport accessible for all, agrees that accessibility starts at the design stage.
“‘It makes common sense to ensure accommodation is accessible and usable by everyone. We recommend providers get an independent review by someone able to cast a universal access lens across the complex. This needs to take a universal design approach, not a disability approach,” said Lorraine Guthrie, CEO of BarrierFree NZ Trust.
“Many features can be made more accessible easily and will increase the numbers of clients who can use the facility immediately. The rest can be addressed over time. The information will also enable the complex owner to record on their website, practical details, such as shower facilities, accessible parking, all of which is particularly useful when someone is planning a trip.”
The Disabled Persons Assembly works to get disabled people’s views and voices heard and strongly believes in access for all. It found that the accommodation industry lacks accessibility for all kinds of disabilities.
“We find that there is often little understanding of what proper accessibility looks like and that access solutions look different for different people depending on their impairments,” said Henrietta Bollinger of the Disabled Persons Assembly.
“While perhaps it could be argued that there is greater public awareness of physical needs, I can tell you as a wheelchair user that physical accessibility is variable too. We simply have less options and can often not afford to be as spontaneous or flexible.”
Looking online, websites listing accessible accommodation show a shortage of hotels willing to be approved as accessible.
On AA Traveller for instance, of the 956 accommodation properties listed, only 15 properties are labelled as accessible.
On the New Zealand Tourism Guide website, a lot more properties are listed as accessible. However, unlike AA Traveller and Be. Accessible, which provide a full report on the hotel’s accessible facilities, there is no indication of what makes the hotel accessible, except for the few that link back to Be. Accessible’s website.
Considering 1.1 million New Zealanders identify as disabled in some capacity, and with an ageing population, there is a big market accommodation providers risk alienating.
“We would encourage businesses to embrace inclusiveness and accessibility now regardless of the legislative landscape. If anything, it makes good business sense to meet the needs of 24 percent of the population, and with an ageing population the demand will only increase,” said Bollinger.