Diversity and Responsible Business

By Arnold.Fewell

March 31, 2014

An estimated 386 million of the world’s working-age people have some kind of disability according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). Unemployment among people with disabilities is as high as 80% in some countries. Often employers assume that people with disabilities are unable to work. What about you? Your hotel business might consider diversity a top priority for employment practice and focus on attracting more women and people from ethnic backgrounds, but do your diversity programmes include people with disabilities?

There are 9.4 million disabled people in England, accounting for 18% of the population. Here are some facts about disability in the UK that businesses should stop and consider.

  • Only 17% of disabled people were born with disabilities. The majority acquire their disability during their working lives.
  • Disability is strongly related to age
    • 2.1% of 16-19 year olds
    • 31% of 50-59 years;
    • 78% of people aged 85 or over
    • Less than 8% of disabled people use wheelchairs. The majority of impairments are not visible.
    • There are over 6.9 million disabled people of working age which represents 19% of the working population

According to the Labour Force Survey 2012, disabled people are now more likely to be employed than they were in 2002, but they continue to remain much less likely to be in employment than non-disabled people.  In 2012, 46.3% of working-age disabled people are in employment compared to 76.4% of non-disabled people of working age. There is therefore a 30.1 percentage point gap between disabled and non-disabled people, representing over two million people. Positively, the gap has reduced by ten percentage points over the last 14 years and remarkably has remained stable over the last two years despite the economic climate.

But employers should know that one in four adults with a work-limiting disability are not working but want to. This compares with just one in fifteen of those who are unemployed but have no work-limiting disability.

Furthermore 60% of disabled working-age adults are not in paid work compared to only 15% of their non-disabled counterparts. A third of these – one million people – say that they want to work but have been unable to find a job.

The 1944 Disabled Persons (Employment) Act required employers with 20 or more staff to ensure that 3% of employees were registered disabled. How does your business compare?

Of course, making your hotel more accessible to employees with a disability could have a double benefit.

Disabled people’s spending power is estimated at £80 billion, and yet in a survey in 2000, three-quarters of businesses had one or more entry problems for disabled people.

We are all living longer and therefore we will see more impairments in mobility, hearing and sight.  Meanwhile, 35% of grandparents take their family away each year, but how well is grandma with a hearing impairment looked after?  When great uncle Ben attends his great niece’s wedding will he find it easy to attend the reception in his wheelchair, and is there an accessible toilet nearby?

It’s time for hotels to start taking the Equality Act seriously and take action now. This should include conducting an access audit to identify issues, and training staff to have confidence when helping a disabled person. The benefits of this are increased occupancy levels and profits because disabled people stay longer, spend more and stay at off peak times. Visit England has identified the value of the market at £2bn and this will rise when the figure is updated later this year. It’s worth considering that one in three of us will have a disability at some time in our lives and one in three will be a carer.  Hotels need to demonstrate the importance and value of disabled guests.

As a former hotel General Manager and now a permanent wheelchair user I am concerned and surprised that hotels are neither taking advantage of the £2bn market for accessibility nor providing great customer service for disabled guests. I base these comments on both personal experience and market research that was conducted with members of Disabled Motoring UK in 2013. This showed poor ratings for: bathroom facilities; distance of room from reception; suitability and availability of car parking; layout of room; accessibility to a public disabled toilet; information when asked about a booking.  The full results can be seen here 

Five to ten years ago very few people were talking about sustainability and green issues. Now it is a matter of everyday business. If you’re not already part of the green revolution, then you are missing out on competitive advantages. I believe the same will happen with accessibility as it becomes the new sustainability in the next few years.

A blog on the World Travel Market website last November outlined ‘the three Os of accessibility’:  Obligation, Opportunity and Ordinary.  We are past the Obligation stage as we have the Equality Act 2010.  Now we are at the Opportunity stage where we can train our staff, provide great customer service and grow the market especially in the three to five star markets. Lastly is the Ordinary stage where accessibility has been fully integrated into everyday life and we no longer disable people by the environment we all live in. That seems a long way off.

Big improvements like ramps, door widening and lifts should already have been completed. Hotels should be looking at the next small and reasonable adjustments they can make to create great customer service as required by the Equality Act. These are just a few low cost examples:

  • Taking more information at the time of booking so the bedroom can be set up to meet the needs of customers e.g. less furniture for a wheelchair user, big button phone for a blind person.
  • Fitting dimmer switches so a blind person can adjust the light to the best level to maximise their vision.
  • Providing a detailed welcome letter for a deaf person to make their check-in quicker and smoother. This has the advantage of creating a letter that can be easily translated into other languages for your foreign visitors.
  • Setting the television with subtitles so that a deaf person can watch it.
  • Placing notices at a height that people in a wheelchair can read e.g. fire instructions.
  • Ensuring that every disabled guest is given and signs a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan.

The total cost of all these improvements is little more than £100 and would attract more business as word gets around to the nearly 17 million disabled people and carers in the UK.  That’s 25% of the UK population.

If you’re taking diversity seriously can you afford to ignore disabled people as employees or guests?

If you have been inspired to action call Arnold Fewell, MD of a new online training resource for hoteliers about accessibility called AccessChamp on 01609 775686 or email him. He will be happy to answer your questions.