Oct 10

By Elizabeth Johnson

It’s ADA with a Twist—Provide Superior Service to your Guests with Disabilities

A guest with a guide dog enters your hotel. How do your employees respond?

If they’re like the hospitality employees that hotel consultant Peter Slatin has encountered, they might uncomfortably ignore him or “help” him by grabbing him without notice to guide him where they think he needs to go.

Or perhaps when a guest using a wheelchair enters the hotel spa, the receptionist greets her with, “Oh, I’m so sorry you’re confined to a wheelchair.”

These and other similar responses can cause your guest’s distress.

There are more travelers with disabilities than ever before. The accessible/inclusive travel market is growing at the rate of 22% annually, according to Travel Agent Central. From 2014-2016, 26 million Americans with physical disabilities took 73 million trips, spending $17.3 billion, according to Open Doors Organization.

That’s a market you want to be a part of, and if you’re going to attract travelers in that segment, your employees need to know how to confidently and effectively serve guests with disabilities.

Elements of Service training builds confidence

Fortunately, AHLEI can help. The newly revised online program, Elements of Service: Serving Guests with Disabilities, is ADA training with a twist, according to its co-designers, Slatin and Jason Willensky. Rather than focus on compliance issues such as ramps and parking spots, it dives deep into guest service.

“People feel much more confident and comfortable after the training,” said Slatin. “They feel armed with information they wished they’d had a long time ago. The Elements of Service themselves are really the guideposts of protocol. We lay them out and give concrete examples of how they might work in real-life situations with people who are blind or vision impaired, deaf or hard of hearing, or mobility impaired.”

The five elements of service are:

  • Observe
  • Ask
  • Listen
  • Respond
  • Follow through

Elements of Service helps your employees feel comfortable and calm when providing service to people with disabilities so that those guests can expect and receive the same quality of service as your other guests.

For example, one thing the course teaches is to “ask, don’t apologize.” Employees shouldn’t express sympathy for the disability, but they should ask how they can help.

“The most common mistake is assuming you know what they want, assuming you know how to help them without asking,” said Slatin, who is blind.

According to Willensky (a training specialist with an M.Ed. in Educational Technology), the course’s major learning objectives are:

  • Describe and apply the Five Elements of Service
  • Describe the breadth of disability in the United States
  • Engage guests with disabilities with useful dialogue
  • Serve people with disabilities effectively and confidently

The program is designed to work for the guest, the employee, and the hotel property. It is also geared toward all levels of the property, offering useful information for front-line employees, back of house employees, supervisors, managers, and even corporate executives.

“We’ll see more people with disabilities out in the tourism marketplace,” said Slatin. “That is absolutely inevitable. Hotels that participate now can be at the forefront of welcoming this group rather than trying to avoid or trying to minimize their interactions.”

Your employees, with the best of intentions and the highest of commitment to guest service, may feel nervous about how to interact with someone who has a disability. Elements of Service instills them with the confidence they need to do things the right way and to effectively communicate with all your guests.