How accessible are hotels? My experiences as a blind traveller

Whether it’s holidays, business travel, or tagging along when my partner goes on business travel, (one of the advantages of having an online business that can be run from anywhere), I’ve stayed in a number of hotels and had good and not so good experiences as a visually impaired guest. I thought I’d share some of them with you today.

Interactions with staff

Overall, I found staff to be friendly and helpful, and if travelling on my own, someone accompanied me to my room to show me where it was and answer any questions. This also included pointing out important things like the bar and restaurant.

Negotiating breakfast buffets can be challenging, so I usually ask for assistance with this and have never had any problems.

Some of the most helpful people I’ve met have been cleaning staff. People who have gone out of their way to be helpful, to show me where something is, or on one occasion to come out in the rain and give me directions because the receptionist couldn’t be bothered. On that occasion we didn’t share a common language, but I was very grateful to that lady.

I don’t have a guide dog now. When I did, and travelled for business, I generally didn’t have too many problems, although most of our travel was booked by an agency and for once I was not directly involved in educating people about access rights for guide dogs. Generally people were happy for me to find a good place for my dog to empty! One security guard even came out with us when it was late.

There was one occasion when I was travelling with a group of colleagues and the receptionist couldn’t tell me what room I was in because of “security reasons”. It didn’t seem to matter to her that I couldn’t see the key card she’d handed me. Rules are rules you know! Her solution was for me to ask my colleague. Fortunately he was a friend as well, but what if I hadn’t wanted him to know what room I was in? Wasn’t this a far greater security issue than just taking me aside and telling me the room number? It had been a long day and I didn’t pursue it, but I thought it was poor customer service.

In the room

I don’t have any particular requirements when it comes to the room itself. The first things I do are to check out where the plug sockets are, as I usually spend some time working in the room, and figure out how to get onto the wifi.

Most of the time, I don’t have any trouble joining the wifi, but we had one issue because although the logon screen for mobile devices was fine, I couldn’t join the wifi with my laptop because the log on button could only be activated with a mouse. This meant that if my connection dropped, I needed to wait for my partner to come back and click the button for me because my visual impairment means that I don’t use a mouse. Fortunately I could just set up a mobile hotspot, but it was an expense that other guests didn’t have, and it could have been avoided because if this page had been designed better, I would have been able to access the button via the keyboard.

The picture I chose for the header image of this post is Hans the horse – or that’s what we named him! He was in a quirky hotel in Sweden and looked down over the desk, watching over me while I worked. I don’t expect to be able to appreciate the art in hotel rooms, but I was really happy to discover this 3d horse head because it was so tactile and unusual. There was also a big, metal heart on the wall, which again was 3d and tactile. I’ve decided that I would love a horse head like that in my office!

I don’t worry about things like the tv because as long as I can get on the internet, I have all my media on my phone – whether that’s podcasts, audio books, news, music, or Netflix. So I never bother trying to figure out how the TV works.

Other things like kettles, showers etc are pretty simple to work out.

The air con can be an issue for me. In older rooms, you just turn a knob one way to make it hotter and the other way to make it colder. Sometimes there is just an up and a down button. But when you have to remember a more complex set of button combinations, or when the air con is controlled by touch screen, it gets difficult for me, especially if there is no window to open and regulate the temperature that way. In such cases I’d rather be too cold and put on layers than too hot, but it would be great if such things could be controlled by an accessible app.

I’ve only recently started using the Seeing AI app from Microsoft that can do text recognition. I use it a lot for my products that I test for this site and would say it gets about 70% of them right in terms of reading the text. I know that some people have successfully used this app for identifying toiletries in hotel rooms, but I haven’t tried it out yet. Usually I bring my own, but if S points out that something contains mango or smells amazing, I am happy to give it a go. When travelling alone though I always took my own.

One small issue is that staff servicing the room sometimes try to be helpful, and even if the room doesn’t look amazingly tidy, many blind people have a system or remember where they put things. It’s not helpful if you have to spend half an hour combing the room for something that has been tidied up. I generally put everything away – either in drawers, in my case, or in my laptop bag, so there is nothing to tidy up! Sometimes I’m working in the room anyway, so I just ask for new towels, the bin to be emptied, but not the full room service. Then I stay in control of my space!

This doesn’t mean I never spend time hunting for my keys, but I can’t just look around the room for them, and if someone puts them in a place I would never put them, it won’t occur to me to check there.

The only time this became a real issue was when my dog bowls were thrown out when the room was cleaned. I’d just been to a funeral and was in no mood to hunt down missing dog bowls, but I needed something to put my dog’s food in! The hotel apologised and provided industrial-sized plastic ice-cream containers for me to use, and I hope they passed on the point as staff training in terms of not throwing away things that belong to guests.

At the other end of the scale I had a member of staff running down the corridor after me because I’d left jewellery behind after checking out! On the whole I’ve found people to be considerate and helpful, without being patronising, which is great!

Getting around

When I travel with S, he usually does some familiarisation with me when we get to a new hotel. I don’t tend to roam around using all the facilities on my own because in the daytime I have work to do, and I’d rather do it somewhere where I won’t be disturbed. I learn important things though like how to get to reception, and where the emergency escape route is. I thank my time working for a Health and Safety Advisor for that, but I have been in evacuation situations before and it’s important to know the way out, especially if you can’t see the exit instructions.

I can read the raised numbers that you get in lifts, and sometimes I even find Braille on lift buttons or hotel doors, although this happens more often in other parts of Europe. Otherwise I have to remember a series of turns and count the doors to make sure I get back to the right room – because who wants to have a lost blind woman trying to break into their room at night?!

Sometimes people try to be helpful and offer us ground floor rooms, or rooms near to the lift. Being near a lift isn’t a good thing because it often interferes with the wifi reception and I’d rather have a longer walk if I get better wifi! There’s no reason why I can’t climb steps, and if there’s a big function on at the venue, being away from all the action is actually nicer.

Everyone’s different and while some disability awareness training can be helpful, I think that emphasising the point that everyone is an individual and will have their own way of doing things is more important than giving staff a set list of things to do when meeting people with specific needs.

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually twice a week, you can sign up using this form.

The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.