No idea, no interest!

Despite various grading systems and regulations, numerous establishments are still not accessible even though they claim otherwise. It might be time for change.

I am compelled to write this article to vent some of my frustration with accessibility within the hospitality industry. I have been involved with trying to get the concept of Universal Access into the Tourism industry for many years now.

After working with a team for four years to completely rework the entire manifesto of the Department of Tourism to remove the words “facilities for people with disabilities” to “facilities that are Universally Accessible”, the Department signed its new manifesto in 2010 at the national tourism Indaba.

At about the same time the Tourism Grading Council was also instituting its Universal Access Grading Star system, which was to run alongside the standard star grading. On paper this looked great, with three categories being introduced so that if, for example, buildings were inaccessible for people with mobility impairments, they had the opportunity to try and be accessible for people with hearing or visual impairments.

I felt that we were finally moving forward with the tourism industry, which would now have to comply with the National Building Standards, which state that all establishments should have facilities for persons with disabilities, and would understand the concept better.

Boy, was I wrong…

Last year, I was invited to attend a wedding at Easter this year at an upmarket game lodge in Northern KwaZulu-Natal called Zuzu Nyala Safari Lodge. I checked its website, which stated that they had facilities for the disabled.

I called the Lodge to ask whether they had a step-free “roll-in” shower, and was told that they did. I paid my deposit and sent off the proof of payment together with the reiteration that I required the accessible room with the step-free roll-in shower. I received confirmation that I was indeed getting that room.

In February, members of the bridal party, including the parents, went up to check out the various facilities as the wedding ceremony was to be held on the lawns overlooking the reserve, with the reception in the quarry – a beautiful open area backed by large rock walls. My friend then asked to be shown the accessible room, as she wanted to make sure that I was going to manage on my own.

The reception staff informed her that the room was occupied, and that she would not be able to see it. She mentioned this to me, but we were not very concerned, as we had both been informed that the room and bathroom would be accessible. I was especially excited as I had earmarked this establishment for my next RI article, and had done some research on the history of the property.

So, after flying down to Durban and spending the night with our QASA CEO, I collected various family members who had flown in from overseas, and we all drove up to the lodge. There was one accessible parking bay, which was at the start of a rather steep paved ramp up to the entrance.

Unfortunately, the ramp stopped at a step, which meant that I had to have assistance entering the building. The staff was very welcoming and keen to show me my room, which was situated on the deck above the pool area. The room itself was very spacious and luxuriously appointed, but for me the most important thing is always the access in the bathroom to the loo and shower. The bathroom was huge and there was a bath and basin as well as an enormous shower. They had placed a grab rail in the shower area and also put in a plastic garden chair, but the step into the shower was nearly 20 cm high!

The staff had made two ramps, which they had joined together making a pitch-type structure that was far too steep and ended at the basin, which meant that there was no space to move onto the ramp even if I was able to get up it. I was deeply disappointed, as I had offered them assistance to make their rooms accessible in my initial conversation, explaining that this was my area of expertise, and that we had lots of time to get it right.

My friend was devastated as she felt responsible and knew that I had spent quite a lot of money on the flights, accommodation, car hire etc. Luckily her partner had checked their room, which was next door, and they had a much smaller shower with a smaller step. I was able to just fit into their shower (as I use a rigid chair with smaller turning circle).

The toilet seat height was very low and had a flimsy plastic seat, which I was sure wouldn’t last for four days of a paraplegic having to launch themselves onto this low height and hoist themselves up again. The bed height was over 600 mm from the ground and the cupboard clothes rail at 1800 mm, but, using my own travel tips and expertise, I was able to use this room for my stay.

Had I not been as able as I am, I would not have been able to make use of these facilities and would have and to return back to Durban and miss the entire wedding and weekend.

I am fed up with access regulations that are not adhered to. I’m also fed up with the attitude of most people that it is OK not to comply as they know that they will not be brought to book. It is time that we get the tourism industry in line, as we cannot offer services to guests, especially overseas tourists, and expect them to have to deal with issues like this.

I am ashamed to have to notify them that our services are not up to par, and so I will be investigating what steps I can take to have this matter addressed with the Tourism Grading Council, the Department of Tourism as well as the legal system (to combat false advertising). This lady is on the warpath! Enough is enough … so, watch this space for further developments.

In the meantime, if you find yourself in a similar situation I suggest you do the following:

  1. Contact the establishment and discuss a refund of your accommodations costs.
  2. If you want to take the issue further or if you do not get satisfaction, contact QASA and let them know of the incident and the facility.
  3. There are additional channels for redress, such as the Consumer Protection Act and the Human Rights Commission. There is a free service at the Consumer Goods and Services Ombudsman at 0860 000 272 or info@cgso.org.za and the Human Rights Commission at 011 887 3600 or visit the website at www.sahrc.org.za, select the Disability tab and follow the prompts.

Happy travels for you all.


Mandy Latimore is a consultant in the disability sector in the fields of travel and access. email: mandy@noveltravel.co.za

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