The Australian Hotels Association (AHA) has introduced a new category in its awards, the All Abilities Award, which was developed alongside accessibility consulting firm Get Skilled Access.

The category is being introduced nationally across all AHA Awards programs, with Victoria being the first state to hold the award. The Victorian finalists were the Mail Exchange Hotel and the Corner Hotel Richmond, and the Drouin Family Hotel which ultimately took home the inaugural All Abilities Award.

“Our role as industry leaders is to welcome and include all walks of life,” explained Kimberly Malcolm, AHA Victoria general manager of member experience and compliance.

“The finalists in this category are leading the way in the hotel industry.”

According to data compiled by Get Skilled Access, more than four million Australians live with a disability. Accessibility is a diverse term, and the award makes considerations beyond legal wheelchair access requirements. Among people with disabilities (PwD), only 4.4 per cent are wheelchair users, and 80 per cent have an invisible disability. Deaf Australia estimates that 20,000 Australians primarily communicate using Auslan, and Vision Australia estimates that 357,000 have vision loss.

Malcolm believes that accessibility is key to the hospitality industry.
“The pub, by the very nature of its origins, ‘the public house,’ welcomes all abilities to enjoy the amazing hospitality Victorian pubs offer,” she said.

By debuting the award, AHA aims to increase awareness and accessibility across the AHA network, as well as alerting PwD about AHA venues that will accommodate their needs.

“We think the inclusion of this award will help members develop a better understanding of what disability access and inclusion means for their pubs and hotels,” Malcom added.

Drouin Family Hotel

For the Drouin Family Hotel, providing access to customers with disabilities was a natural extension of the venue’s family atmosphere.

“We pride ourselves on being a venue that has something for everyone,” said Drouin Family Hotel manager Simon Appleby.

“We hope that providing an accessible environment will provide a satisfying experience for all customers with and without disabilities.”

As well as being a fully wheelchair accessible venue, the Drouin Family Hotel provides table service to blind or visionimpaired customers and gives preferential seating to Deaf customers who need certain environments to communicate effectively. The kitchens also regularly vitamises customers’ food, a process by which all food is given a smooth and even consistency. This allows customers to enjoy traditional pub meals that they would not otherwise be able to eat.

“We have a young lady that dines with us weekly and she comes to us purely because the chefs are happy to cook and prepare her order in a way that enables her to enjoy her meal,” Appleby described.

Though it is not part of the judging criteria, the team at the Drouin Family Hotel also ensure that the venue is inclusive for its staff.

“One of the most important things our venue does is offer opportunities for some of our staff who find it difficult to find employment elsewhere. This is across our venue, in our bistro, bar and kitchen,” commented Appleby.
Some future goals for the Drouin Family Hotel include providing different methods for vision-impaired customers to read the menu, and more accessible school holiday activations.

“Accessibility is not only important to the hospitality industry, it’s a social responsibility,” Appleby argued.

“It enables all people independence and motivates and encourages people to leave their homes and allows everyone to participate in a social life.”

Appleby and the rest of the Drouin Family Hotel team are overjoyed about the win.

“We applaud the AHA for including this category in this year’s awards, and for shining a light on the need for the hospitality industry to provide facilities and a willingness to enhance or establish a more inclusive venue. We are honoured to be recognised for this award and we will continue to improve our business through the needs and advice from the All Abilities industry groups, customers and our staff,” Appleby commented.

Mail Exchange Hotel

Staff are also a key focus for the Mail Exchange Hotel. Members of their kitchen staff have learned AUSLAN to communicate with one of the chefs, who is Deaf. They also employ staff with vision loss and learning difficulties, working with staff members to determine how they can contribute to the hotel.

“Everyone brings something different to the table. You just have different chairs for different people, and we’re all one big family when we sit down,” explained manager Nici Nicholson.

At first, Nicholson did not think that the Mail Exchange Hotel would be eligible for the award, as their focus is much more on creating an equitable environment for staff with disabilities. However, she soon realised that the venue approaches guests with the same attitude that it has towards its staff.

“Someone said to me, ‘You really should go for that award,’ and I go, ‘But it has nothing to do with staff, it’s all about customers.’ But then when they said that, I was thinking that we treat our customers like that anyway. Why wouldn’t you offer someone what they need?” Nicholson said.

For example, though the Mail Exchange Hotel doesn’t have audio menus, the staff read menus aloud to guests who are unable to for reasons such as vision loss.

Additionally, Nicolson emphasised that creating an accessible venue requires cooperation from all levels of organisation.

“If I didn’t get the support from everyone who’s above me, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. Michael Robertson is our operations manager and Mark Robertson is our director, who is proud that we do all this,” she explained.

Corner Hotel Richmond

During renovations about seven years ago, the Corner Hotel Richmond had the opportunity to reflect on the venue’s accessibility. This was the beginning of making physical improvements such as ramps and lift access, but for venue manager Lara Whalley, accessibility doesn’t stop there.

“A lot of people focus on pubs or old buildings with physical barriers, but there’s a lot more stuff that you can do that starts with information and communication,” she explained.

The Corner Hotel’s website provides detailed information about the venue, so customers can plan their visit ahead of time. Whalley also placed an emphasis on training staff about catering for PwD, including contracted security staff.
“Quite often, people’s first experience or interaction with someone in the venue literally starts at the front door,” Whalley said.

On 3 June, the Corner Hotel partnered with accessibility consulting firm Tibi Access to host Groove Tunes, an accessible live music event. The hotel’s focus on live music in general has opened up the opportunity for a number of grants to improve its accessibility.

Regular consultations with accessibility firms are an invaluable resource for the Corner Hotel’s ongoing accessibility journey.

“It’s been really great to have that experience and see what changes we can make,” Whalley enthused.

All finalists emphasised that accessibility is a journey and are seeking regular improvement. Particularly, they mentioned looking forward to the feedback given in the AHA’s judging notes.

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