I hope that you are all back from a great holiday and ready to rumble in 2020. I have no doubt that some of you could do with a belly laugh to cheer you up – after all, returning to the responsible life after a holiday can make one a bit glum. So I thought I’d give you a bit of a run through of my overseas holiday to Phuket to showcase how disability is not so disabling when you have the right sidekick, the right sense of humour, and the right intention to include.
Picture the scene – it was a tranquil, hot day in Patong where my finance, Bruce, and I have arrived on a bucket list holiday in Phuket. After a long flight, which went very smoothly considering the usual fun and games of travelling with a wheelchair, we arrived at our hotel which proudly advertised itself as “disability accessible”. Full of enthusiasm, we rushed to the hotel entrance to check in (taking a run up the 45 degree ‘suicide’ ramp) and proceeded to be shown to our room for ‘the disabled’. It was, of course, on the ground floor, but featured a step into the room itself (not a problem here, as it was a minor step), showcasing a beautiful room with a beautiful bathroom, which was obligingly fitted with handrails and a hand shower, and yet there was a huge step up in order to make use of the bathroom – so near, yet so far!
Still unperturbed, we dashed back to reception, explained how the steps were, in fact, a bit of a problem since one couldn’t put one’s mobility impairment on hold when required, and suggested that a bit more logistical thought should be applied in future. It was at this pivotal moment where, despite all the logistical barriers we were still to face during our time in Phuket (from a wheelchair accessibility perspective), the value of customer service was truly realized and appreciated!
So here’s how the next 9 days went:
- We were immediately bumped up to the executive suite which not only boasted no steps, larger space to maneuver, and a far larger bathroom, but a magnificent mini-bar and view to boot!
- We discovered that all sidewalks in Phuket have a step on one side, and a ramp on the other, but thanks to the millions of sidewalk shops and friendly people, we were never short of a helping hand and people willing to drag their shop contents onto the streets for me to see!
- The beach in Patong had an accessible promenade which made long walks on the beach possible just fabulous. However, eager to explore the postcard beaches elsewhere, we hired a ‘tuc-tuc’ to explore the island – an amusing way to travel as it was easier to get me in and out the window of the ‘tuc-tuc’ rather than the door! Belting around to every beach which had less than 30metres to traverse between the car park and the water (it is amazing how far 30 metres is to carry someone). We had beach dwellers watching with bewilderment as my fiancé staggered across the beaches with me in his arms, practically throwing me with relief into many a surging ocean! I won’t go into the details of the odd occasion where he mis-timed the waves and I was dragged by my ankles into ‘deeper water’! Again, once these locals realized the reason behind this odd behavior, offers of help and friendly smiles became the norm.
- And finally, my best part of the whole trip! Knowing that boat trips are not always the easiest experience with me, we were assured by the tour operators that our every need would be met and their staff were well versed at making a plan to ensure I experienced everything possible. Whether it was some strapping ‘kick-boxer by night’ carrying me on and off the boat, a skilled guide to paddle me through the mangroves, or a smiling skipper moving the boat to the best position for me to plop in and out the water to snorkel, a plan was indeed made. We were given nothing but personalised service, friendly smiles and a complete willingness to make sure that I was able to enjoy the full experience with minimum strain on my ever-ready-to-step-in fiancé.
Customer experience made our trip – I have never felt so ‘enabled’ on a holiday as I did on that trip to Phuket. Not because the environment was free from barriers, nor because people took pity on me, but rather because of the customer-centric approach taken by the tourism industry which recognised my money and value to be the same as everyone else’s.
And that, right there, is what it means not to be treated the same as everyone else, but rather to be treated as equal to everyone else. Disability inclusion in the workplace comes down to recognising one key fact – the value of persons with a disability to business as consumers, employees, brand ambassadors and economic assets. Recognise this, level the playing field, and realize the benefits!