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Visual Impairment and Hotels: How to Ensure Quality Service

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: The following article is re-printed from the Puget Sound Business Journal, January/February 1998

As I travel across the United States and Canada, the process of checking into hotels is usually among the most interesting parts of my adventure. This, of course, is because I am blind and rely on Toddy, my German shepherd guide dog, to help me find my way.

When booking travel accommodations, whether for business or pleasure, I always inform the hotel's reservation staff that I am blind and traveling with my dog. Usually, I am happy to report, this information is met with a great deal of courtesy. However, as has often been my experience, even the most accommodating attitudes do not prepare me for service I receive once I actually arrive. Put yourself in my shoes for a moment: Imagine yourself walking into a hotel lobby, blind, using a white cane or guide dog to navigate. What type of reception do you think you might receive?

With this scenario in mind, I like to ask hotel industry executives a very important question: How well do your guest services staff interact with the blind and visually impaired? Surprisingly, I've found that even some high-profile hotels are ill-equipped to adequately serve their visually impaired guests. Following are a few tips that will make any hotel friendlier to the sight-impaired:

Credit card receipts Sometimes the most embarrassing moment -- for me and the person checking me in -- comes when I need to sign a credit card receipt. It may sound simple, but this is a point in the check-in process where blind people need good service. Often, front desk agents, realizing I am blind, either automatically assume I am unable to sign the receipt, or worse, freeze and don't have a clue what to do. Neither situation makes a good impression on me. Needless to say, I prefer spending my money where people make me feel good. People who are blind are fully capable of signing their names to a receipt. Most use what is known as a signature card. It looks like a credit card with a rectangular opening cut out of its center. When given a receipt to sign, the agent can assist by positioning the opening of the signature card over the space where the signature is required.

If a signature card is not available, the credit card can be positioned with its top edge along the signature line. Either way, tactile information is used to locate where the signature belongs. Card keys Card keys should provide tactile information so the blind user can determine which end and face of the card should be inserted into the lock. Room numbers Rather than ask blind guests to check every door in the hall to find their room, doorplates with raised numbers and Braille on each door are a better alternative. Newspapers Notify those who are visually impaired that newspapers are provided to guests, and ask if they would like one. If so, holding it at the front desk rather than putting it in front of the door will help to prevent any accidental tripping.

Exercise facilities Today's business traveler wants to stay in shape. Today's blind business traveler is no different. Braille labels affixed to the equipment will facilitate access. Guest services staff members should be instructed on how to orient blind people wanting to use the machines.

By making these few simple changes, hotels will be putting out the welcome mat for blind and visually impaired travelers.