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Making your hotel a better and safer place for deaf guests

by Ruthy Fletcher

However, the number of hoteliers who provide facilities for those who are deaf or with impaired hearing is minimal. An occasional hearing loop in a reception possibly, but many do not think about the practicalities for guests whose hearing is impaired.

As a deaf awareness tutor, I am always amazed when I go into hotels to talk to and train staff, and ask them how they would wake a guest who was deaf in the case of a fire. Many say that they would knock on their door, or use a key to enter their room. Obviously, both strategies do not really have the guest in mind. 

Since the Fire Safety Order came into effect in 1997, responsibility for fire safety lies in the hands of "the responsible person" at a hotel. That means the person in charge - the owner or manager. In the event of a fire, a strategy needs to be in place that has been thought out and taken as many of its guests needs into account as possible, including those who have impaired hearing.  Knocking on someone's door is obviously not going to work.  Entering someone's room, without their permission, even in an emergency, is an option, but isn't something many who have impaired hearing will find acceptable.

One of the things that can help is a good fire awareness alarm - like Fireco's Deafgard - pictured above. It is a wireless fire alarm with a high intensity LED flashing light and vibrating pad. In the event of a fire, deaf people or those with impaired hearing will not be able to hear an audible fire alarm. Deafgard works by activating a vibrating pad which is put under the pillow of the guest when a fire alarm goes off. It also flashes a LED light to warn guests of an imminent fire hazard. It is lightweight and needs no wiring or installing so can be moved from room to room easily. 

I have personal experience of this exact situation when I was once staying in a hotel and unbeknown to me the fire alarm went off.  I decided to pop out and was surprised to see the fire brigade, guests and staff outside. Luckily, it was a false alarm on this occasion.

If my room had a smoke alarm with a flashing light and vibrating pad for night time use, I would have felt safe in the knowledge that, should the fire alarm ring, I would evacuate immediately like everyone else.

Here are some more stories from deaf people or those with impaired hearing of their experiences when staying in hotels around the UK:

• "Usually when I'm travelling around and staying in hotels.  I take my vibrating alarm clock but on that day I'd particular forgotten to take it which was unfortunate. I thought I'd have to ask the receptionist, but how to communicate? I went downstairs and gestured to the receptionist 'You shake me awake at 7'o'clock'. And checked she'd understood and she nodded. I then gestured, 'Room 201' and she nodded again. As I walked away, I wasn't sure that she'd fully understood because I think she'd been thrown by the fact that I'd gestured that she should shake me awake. "

"Of course that doesn't sit well in a hearing culture which is different from ours. Anyway I went off to bed and the next morning I woke up and it was about 7.30 am. and I thought "No one came to wake me up".  And I wondered about that. As I went to take a shower, I passed the bedroom door and noticed a white piece of paper that had been shoved underneath. It said 'Wake up now!" It's 7 o'clock' and there were exclamation marks next to it.  They obviously knew I couldn't hear but I think what happened was they'd knocked on the door, saying 'Wake up now, it's 7'o'clock'. And when there was no response, they wrote the note and pushed it under the door." Obviously,I couldn't hear the knocks on the door as I switched my hearing aids off when I am in bed."

• "I went to a hotel which had about 16 floors.  When I got to my room, I noticed I could order room service over the phone. Of course I would have had to go down the stairs or take the lift to the ground floor to make my order and probably have communication problems. So I thought 'How can I do this in a different way?'. I decided to text my daughter, I was staying in a hotel in Brighton and I live back in Birmingham. So I texted my daughter and asked her to order the food that I wanted.  She then rang the hotel and texted me back to say that it had been done. It then occurred to me that I wouldn't hear when they came to deliver the food. So I opened my door and wedged the door open with my shoe. I sat, watched television and then the food arrived. I thanked them and started eating. They've forgotten about access for deaf/hard of hearing people and need to reconsider adaptions."

"It would be good to have a Minicom in the hotel room which deaf people can use to order room service, which they can phone direct to the receptionist to take orders rather than using an ordinary telephone."

In many incidents such as ordering food it is just an inconvenience not being able to communicate with hotel staff, but in the event of a fire it really could be a matter of life and death.

The Deaf Messaging Service (DMS)
For those hotels that are larger in nature and possibly need something that works for a number of deaf or guests or employees with impaired hearing, there is also another alternative - the Deaf Messaging Service (DMS).

Like paging, DMS works by allowing employers and hoteliers to comply with current legislation while allowing those who are deaf the freedom to move around buildings without the worry of missing an emergency situation.

When a deaf or person with impaired hearing enters a building where DMS is installed, they will see clear signage asking them to text a location code to the DMS number. Once a connection text has been sent, the person will be connected to DMS for that location. After 12 months they will receive a text asking them to reconnect, connection text costs the same as a standard SMS text messages and are included in free message 'bundles'.

When the fire alarm sounds, the DMS controller, which is hardwired into the fire alarm panel, will trigger a process that within seconds sends a text message to all the people connected to that location.

Again, easily installed and with annual maintenance provided, it is the ideal solution for hoteliers who want to ensure they are offering the best solutions for their staff and guests.

We all know that customer satisfaction is the best way to ensure our guests come back and recommend our hotels, so I recommend to give yourself and your hearing impaired guests peace of mind, take a few minutes to think about it from their viewpoint. I urge all hoteliers and accommodation providers to undertake Deaf Awareness Training and Basic Sign Language class and look to solutions like Deafgard and DMS to help to make deaf and hearing people have equally enjoyable experiences.

For further information, please contact:
Ruthy Fletcher, Deaf Awareness Tutor and Consultancy,
Email: ruthy@supportthedeafpeople.co.uk 
For more information about Fireco, please contact Peter Davies at help@firecoltd.com or visit www.firecoltd.com

 

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