An investigation by young disabled campaigners has raised new fears of a shortage of accessible hotel rooms when thousands of disabled visitors descend on London for the 2012 Paralympics.
The investigation also highlighted flaws in Inclusive London, a website launched this summer by the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and the Greater London Authority (GLA).
Johnson has promised that London will host the “most accessible and inclusive Olympic and Paralympic games ever”, and his website details the access features of London hotels, as well as restaurants, pubs, tourist attractions and 2012 venues.
But the investigation found that, although Inclusive London lists the access features of more than 1,500 hotels, only 12 per cent have been fully audited, while 27 per cent have been audited by the hotel itself or a member of the public, and 61 per cent have no access information at all.
Many of the hotels were not even aware they were on the website.
The investigation was filmed by the award-winning production company markthree media – which is owned and run by disabled people – and screened on the BBC’s Inside Out London strand this week.
The company, which enlisted volunteers from the Trailblazers network of young disabled campaigners to help with its research, concluded that the information on the website could be “misleading”.
One of the hotels – a boat – was now moored in Nigeria, another was just a building site, while some were not hotels at all but the headquarters of hotel companies.
And about two-thirds of the audited accessible hotel rooms they researched from the website averaged a price of well over £100 a night.
Presenter Martyn Sibley, co-founder of the website Disability Horizons, concluded: “I honestly think that the GLA are hiding from this problem. And with just 10 months to go before the games, I really can’t see them having enough time to resolve it.”
A GLA spokesman told Disability News Service that the programme’s figures “seem about right”, although he said the number of audits may have risen slightly since the research was completed.
He said the website was a unique resource but was “a work in progress”, and that it was “too early to say” whether there would be a shortage of accessible hotel rooms during London 2012.
He appealed for disabled people to review hotels on the website, and for businesses themselves to add their information.
The GLA is to launch a disability awareness training programme in January for staff and managers of hotels, bars and restaurants across the city, which will include advice on improving access.
The GLA spokesman said it was clear there were “some hotel groups and some individual hotels that are more committed to accessibility than others”, while the GLA would “strongly encourage hotels at the top end or the bottom end to make any improvements that they can and invest in something that is not only in their customers’ interests but in the interests of their business”.
But leading disabled activists have warned that time is running out to make the necessary access improvements.
The actor and broadcaster Mik Scarlet said 2012 was now “too close for comfort”, while there had been “almost no campaigns to promote the need for more accessible hotel accommodation”.
He said: “It has been left to the various hotel chains themselves, and the cheap and smaller hotels just don’t have the ability to become accessible in such a short time, both because of cost and timescale.”
He said the issue of access had been “ignored almost throughout the capital”, with public transport, buildings and hotels all “woefully inaccessible”.
He added: “I think that many visitors that come here in 2012 are going to be massively disappointed and this will damage our reputation on a global scale, as well as affecting future tourism.”
Scarlet helped persuade the International Olympic Committee that London would be a more accessible city by 2012, but said he now felt “let down” because commitments made by London’s 2012 bid team had not been met.
He said: “We wanted London to become a much more inclusive place to live and visit, but instead we got one small area on the outskirts being redeveloped with most of the inner city seeing little or no change.”
He was working closely with David Morris, the mayor’s disability adviser, who was on secondment as 2012’s external access and inclusion coordinator at the time of his death last year.
Scarlet said: “When he died, all work in this direction stopped and no one took over from him for nearly a year, by which time it was too late. I don’t think anyone can over-estimate how much his loss affected the legacy for disabled people [from the games].”
Three months ago, disabled activists angry at the failure to put access and inclusion at the heart of London 2012 launched their own website, Inclusive London?, which they say allows disabled visitors to see “how inclusive and accessible London really is”.
“Spasticus”, the anonymous disabled activist leading Inclusive London?, said: “Anyone who has tried to find an accessible hotel room in London knows just how hard it is whatever your budget – and how inaccessible the majority of so-called ‘accessible’ rooms are to a wide range of disabled visitors.
“The mayor and LOCOG [the 2012 organising committee] are in complete denial about the city’s accessibility compared to other major cities worldwide, and seem determined to expose London to criticism and ridicule rather than acting now to achieve the necessary change.”
A spokesman for the mayor said: “With more than five million hits since its launch, Inclusive London has proved to be a really valuable resource for people with access needs who are planning a trip to the capital.
“Investing in accessibility is in everyone’s long-term interests and we urge all hotel operators to look seriously at making improvements and publicising them through the site.”
A London 2012 spokeswoman said: “LOCOG is committed to making sure that as many disabled people [as possible] can be part of and enjoy the London 2012 games.
“We are working closely with stakeholders to ensure that disabled people are aware of accessible hotel rooms in London and can have a fantastic games-time experience.”
10 November 2011