Microtel Inns & Suites has been wooing — and wowing — its guests with disabilities for many years. This budget hotel chain offers three ADA-room designs: a single queen, double queen and suite.
Travelers with disabilities have $250 billion in discretionary income, according to the Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality, of which Microtel is a sponsor. “This is a huge, burgeoning market,“ says Roy Flora, group president of Microtel, speaking at the 2009 U.S. Business Leadership Network conference in Washington, D.C. “We want to be the preferred hotel chain for people with disabilities.”
An accessible hotel isn’t just about getting in and out of your room. For people in wheelchairs, it’s the little features that add up, such as door viewers that are positioned lower, roll-under sinks, and a removable showerhead. For little people — those who are 4′ 10″ and under — Microtel provides Short Stature Accessibility Kits at every hotel. The kit includes items such as a stepstool with handle, an ergonomic reach grabber, and door latch and closet rod adapters. “Imagine how frustrated it would be if you couldn’t reach the sink to brush your teeth, or reach your mattress and have to sleep on the floor,” says Flora.
Guests who are hearing-impaired will appreciate telephones with the ability to boost the amplification up to 20. In the gym, there are upper-body-only cardiovascular machines for those who cannot use their legs or are in a wheelchair.
Microtel is also the only budget chain to implement a training program known as Opening Doors, which teaches hotel staff to be better able to respond to the needs of travelers with disabilities. “You can have the Taj Mahal of hotels but if your staff doesn’t know how to treat guests then it all goes to waste,” Flora says.
Microtel’s web site features a special section dedicated to travelers with disabilities. There’s also a virtual tour where visitors can actually view a 360-degree view of typical Microtel ADA guest rooms and a lobby. “Accessibility is a philosophy and behavior that involves all aspects of our business,” Flora says.
Thursday 11 a.m.
Sometimes it takes a wake-up call to realize the right thing to do. That’s what happened to Randy Lewis. senior vice president of distribution and logistics for Walgreens. When he found out his son had autism, “it was a slap in the face,” he said.
Having a child with a disability has changed Randy’s perspective on the employment landscape for people with disabilities. “If my son is like 95 percent of the other kids out there with autism, he’ll never be offered a job.,” he says.
Walgreen’s highest producing distribution center in the U.S. is in Anderson, S.C. In it, 40 percent of the 700 people have a disability such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism and traumatic brain injury. We knew it would have to train differently, Lewis says. “They say once you’ve seen one person with a disability, you’ve seen one person with a disability. Everyone is unique,” he adds.
Anderson is literally the No. 1 producing facility, with very low turnover, and accident rates. It includes employees such as Angie, who has a 4.0 GPA and happens to have CP. She sent out 400 resumes after college and didn’t get one job offer, but Walgreen‘s hired her. There’s a “sense of purpose, being and teamwork” that doesn’t exist at any other of Walgreen’s many plants,” Randy says. The company also has centers that seek to hire people with disabilities in Connecticut and Texas, and finds employees through vocational rehab agencies.
The Anderson plant cost $200 million to build but “its not about technology,” he says. “It was about a real decision to step forward.” Walgreen’s goal is to hire 1,000 people with disabilities at its centers by 2010 (there are already 670 in Anderson) and 2,000 by 2018.
Thursday, 10 a.m.
Alan Muir, executive director of Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities, is on stage. As the name suggests, COSD helps students find meaningful work. They have two summits coming up in the fall. October 3-4 at the Hyatt in Bethesda, where 60 college students and recent graduates will be invited to meet with ten select employers from the D.C. area. And November 7-8, a similar event will be held in Dallas. For details and to apply to attend the summit, go to the COSD website. *** Walgreen’s shows a clip of ABC News about its factory in Anderson, S.C., where 40 percent of the 700 workers have disabilities including Down syndrome and autism.
By Suzanne Robitaille —
I’m blogging from Washington D.C. at the U.S. Business Leadership Network’s 2009 New Workforce conference. Twitter hashtag is #usbln2009