Sunday, October 18, 2009

Bog Off - The extra special you're not welcome here edition

Signs reading "No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs" were a common indicator of the widespread discrimination in Britain as recently as 50 years ago. These days British society is filled with an equally widespread political correctness which insists such attitudes not be displayed. Of course, not displaying attitudes doesn't mean they die out, it just means that people learn not to show such discrimination in public. The popularity of minority parties such as the BNP demonstrate very effectively that such beliefs are still present, and that insisting they not be discussed does nothing except further marginalise certain groups.

Whilst legislation has been passed in an attempt to enforce equality regardless of attitude, it seems that some laws are more important than others*. Widespread, media driven, public furore frequently occurs over issues such as race or sexuality but for some reason discrimination against disabled people is explained away, usually by the very same outraged and righteous individuals.

The Disability Discrimination Act of 1995 (DDA) was supposed to be the answer to this problem. However, unlike other legislation designed to deal with discrimination, The DDA is all bark and very little bite. Legislation, rightly or wrongly enables us to complain to the police if we are verbally abused about our race, sexual orientation, or religion, but just try doing the same if the discrimination or abuse has been experienced because of disability, as Fiona Pilkington and her disabled daughter Francecca discovered to their tragic cost.

When looking at examples of bad practice regarding accessible toilets for the Bog Off series I don't usually name the business involved. I live in a very small area and most are small businesses without the resources to make expensive adaptations. It feels very unfair to name and shame without having given the business a chance to put their point of view. It's different when it's bigger businesses or the public sector as they do not have the same paucity of resources and frankly should be setting the example by upholding the law to which all businesses are obliged to adhere. The business featured in this Bog Off! is in such flagrant
disregard of the law that I'm taking the step of discussing it publicly.

The Leverhulme Hotel is a recently opened luxury hotel in the historic village of Port Sunlight, which has been restored aimed firmly at the wedding market. Beautiful location, beautiful building, what's not to like, right?

Well, it's pretty. I'll give the owners that. Just don't expect to be able to experience it's prettiness if you're disabled, older, injured, or in any way not fully fit. Obviously the hotel owners thought that disabled people wouldn't want to get married, or even attend weddings because access clearly wasn't even a token afterthought when they planned how to convert the building.

Upon arrival I asked the very young staff member where the disabled entrance was. She looked most bewildered** and had to think about it before informing me there was an entrance but it was "all the way round there" I'm still no wiser as to where "there" is, but I'm guessing it was a bit of a trek as there was no visible sign of it. There were two steps up to the entrance, nice looking stone steps which, in keeping with many older luxury properties, are of the low rise variety. There was no handrail on either side of the entrance, and it later turned out there were no handrails on any of the many sets of double steps I saw around the building. Steps which were impossible to avoid. Steps which were all made out of nice slippery surfaces like highly polished marble. So, not only was there no wheelchair access, but if you happen to be a bride wearing unaccustomed heels, a little older and unsteady on your feet, a bit tipsy in the way people usually are at weddings, or even carrying a baby, forget it...there was nothing you could hold on to for balance***

Not that there was any disabled parking either. Fair enough, a great yellow wheelchair symbol painted on the ground next to the entrance might not look as pretty in the wedding photos as the odd, water sculpturey thing the local chavs consider their own during the hours of darkness, but there's no excuse for not having accessible parking spaces alongside the rest of the parking. If there were any I obviously couldn't walk far enough to notice them.

Unfortunately I cannot feature a photograph of the disabled toilet as is customary for the rest of the Bog Off series. No, not because I'd self medicated too much to remember to take the photo, but because there was no disabled toilet. The, again, very young staff member I asked, looked seriously uncomfortable when she informed me the venue didn't have one. I'm in the very fortunate position of being able to manage without grab rails**** or supported seating, which as long term blog readers know is a good thing given my ability at times to wee for Britain! Many people aren't so lucky, and what they were expected to do had they been attending an event there is anyone's guess. There was absolutely no way a wheelchair user would have been able to use the existing toilets as the cubicles were too narrow, and the toilet too far from the door for even that kind of lack of dignity emergency wee. I wouldn't fancy trying to use the toilet if you had any kind of visual impairment either as it was quite dark once inside the cubicle. There didn't even appear to be any baby changing facilities in the ladies, although they could have been hidden behind the 'out of order' sign on one of the toilet doors.

Perhaps the Leverhulme Hotel plan to build an accessible toilet as and when they eventually complete building the ballroom they book for wedding parties? For a business so dependent upon good publicity they'd do well to address the complaints people have been registering about the lack of ballroom for quite some time.

I'm not sure if there is a lift anywhere in the building, but the stairs to the upper floor at least had handrails on either side. Which is unfortunately about the most positive thing I can find to say about the access.

As the ballroom at Leverhulme Hotel is still literally a building site, the wedding guests were seated in a much smaller room. Although there were only about 60 people at the wedding this still meant squeezing an additional table into the room so it was best to be on friendly terms with all present! Happily the waiter was wearing deodorant as his armpit was worryingly close to my face on several occasions.

Food was served buffet style in the adjoining room. Leaving the table room to enter the food room there was a slight step down, then a slight step back up right next to the beveled metal edge of the dance floor, all within about 50cms of each other. Fortunately another guest had a reasonable grip on my arm as I stumbled trying to get into the food room, had I been alone I would have gone flying. I was concerned someone else might trip there, which happily didn't occur, but I saw lots of people catch their feet and stumble as they moved between the two rooms.

The lack of attention to detail was evident throughout the hotel, as was the absence of more senior staff members. The biggest day of a couple's life is not the time to focus on anything other than the fabulousness of the day, and I'm fortunate to have the kind of disability where I can find various ways to manage. That is not the case with many disabilities. I wonder, how many people would feel forced to suffer in silence, or be unable to even attend their loved one's wedding, if the Leverhulme Hotel don't improve their facilities to include access for everyone.

*The way our MP's have behaved should mean this is no surprise to anyone!
**Which is understandable because as we all know, you can't tell by looking at me!
***Unless you follow my example and insist on being escorted everywhere by the nearest man you could find who was willing to lend you his arm!
toilet roll holders work reasonably well for the purpose if you don't weigh much!


Marjorie said...

Holy Crap. If it's new(ly converted) there is absolutely no excuse whatsoever. Glad it didn;t ruin your day completely.

Dilb said...

Hi BG,

As always, enjoyed reading your blog. This time had a few comments:

- About racism, sexism, etc. (i.e. the preamble of your blog): while I'm sure there are some people who still quietly harbour this archaic and wrong point of view, do you not think the ranks of these bigots has dwindled?

- Please don't send me to pages from the Daily Mail online; it makes my retinas bleed! (Thank you!)

- Do you think people just need educating to the plight of disabled people? I.e. do you think people genuinely mean harm or actively discriminate, or are they just ignorant? (Not that that's an excuse, but at least it's easier to teach than to change beliefs?) You hint at the latter, as the staff seemed genuinely apologetic.

Cheers, Dilb.

Wordsmith_for_Hire said...

Jeez.Just jeez. I'd fucking sue them under the DDA.

Sarah said...

I sometimes think it's a case of people following to the letter of the regulations, rather than the spirit of them.

Accessibility 'policies' may be widely bandied about, but EQUAL accessibility is quite different.

Having worked on nursing home designs, I know I have a better handle on this then most people, but it drives me mad when there has obviously been no thought at all beyond what Building Control have remembered to demand. I find it rude.

BenefitScroungingScum said...

Marjorie: It's so newly converted they're still building it. That's why there is no excuse for it!

Wordsmith: I know, I should. The problem being not having time or spoons to pursue a lengthy battle via DDA as it's pretty much all down to the individual. Which is probably why this type of situation is so common still

Sarah: Absolutely, I think that happens more than not. With this conversion I doubt they've even gone that far. The attitude was evident throughout the hotel, whilst it's aimed at the luxury market and money has clearly been spent on some things, other things are just cheaply done and shoddy. For example the TV's in the rooms, instead of wiring being properly done/hidden the power cords were just shoved up behind the tv leaving them visibly hanging down. It was all very weird!
Funnily enough, the building was apparently previously a nursing home!

BenefitScroungingScum said...

Dilb: I absolutely think that Britain is far less racist etc than it was 50 years ago...although I'm not sure that's translated to multi culturalism very well. The point I'm making really is that labelling a particular viewpoint as unacceptable doesn't change people's views, just drives them underground. Until there is open, sensible discussion prejudice will still be a big issue for all sorts of reasons.

However, I genuinely believe disability discrimination is a long way from being seen as equal to discrimination for religious/sexual/racial grounds. We wouldn't discuss the 'plight' of, say Muslims, or Jews in Britain ;) Sorry, not picking on you, it was just a good example of the widespread subconscious discrimination against disability.

I think most people are well meaning but ignorant. Having to rely on others for help really does give a different insight into how people behave and whilst it's mostly very affirming (there's tons of examples scattered through my old posts) a small but significant minority will go out of their way to be awkward, difficult or downright abusive.

This particular example doesn't fall into the well meaning but ignorant category. The staff clearly hadn't had any disability awareness type training, and most were 'kids'. I felt very sorry for them as they were clearly left to deal with all kinds of problems on a regular basis.
However, the owners/managers fall into a different category. To convert a building in 2009 without including proper disabled access is illegal as well as unacceptable.

Wordsmith_for_Hire said...

@Bendy, I know. The legislation is shit as it all hinges on gentle persuasion to comply rather than being legally obliged to provide anything on a par with anti-racism,gender equality etc where non-compliance is a criminal offence. And it's down to those few strong individuals who have enough spoons and the time to bed in for the long haul in order to get justice. It makes me hopping mad that a so-called anti-discrimination law is still less equal than its counterparts.

Sarah said...

Leaving aside the vaguaries of 'resonably practicable' and the DDA, Bendy write that this building was converted in 2009.

It must therefore comply with the current Building Regulations. From her description, I would suggest it does not. Which makes me wonder whether the Council have issued the Completion Certificate? For it to be open to the public it should have a completion cert, or a temporary occupation cert in place - neither of which should be issued if the regulations aren't complied with.

Unless Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council think Part M of the Regulations can be ignored.