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Communicating with Guests with Disabilities

Communicating with Guests with DisabilitiesBy Stephanie Wharton, Hotel News Now 3/16/2012NVRC Note: This article is based on a webinar “Communicating with Customers with Disabilities—Understanding Your Obligations”. The first part of the article is about serving guests with visual impairments. Below is the second part in which Howard Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf, shared important points to keep in mind regarding communication with hearing-impaired guests.


Tips for effective communication

• Safety: If there is a fire alarm, the hotel staff must provide notification to deaf and hard of hearing just as everyone else has that knowledge. “The old system in 1991 would allow for mobile alarms to be used, but that is not the case anymore.” Portable alarms only work if there is an actual fire in the room, Rosenblum said. Alarms must now comply with the NFPA 71 National Fire Alarm Code.

• Alerts for doors and phones: A visual device, such as lights for doorbells and knocks at the door as well as for phone calls, would make the room more accessible to a deaf or hard of hearing guest.

• Wake up devices: “Deaf individuals don’t have the option of using an alarm clock to wake up,” Rosenblum said. A bed shaker is a good alternative.

• Televisions: Televisions have captioning built-in from previous regulations, but it is still reasonable for hoteliers to check with movie companies they have contracts with to ensure captioning for those services.

• Hearing dogs: “Access is required for hearing dogs … even when there is a ‘no pet’ policy,” Rosenblum said. The hotel staff is only allowed to ask two questions to a guest with a service animal—if the dog is required because of a disability and what tasks the dog performs. Although the hotel can assess any penalties for cleanup required because of the dog staying in the room, it cannot charge for the dog’s stay.

• Guest-staff interactions:

o If the guest arrives and the front desk does not understand his speech or doesn’t understand sign language, “pen and paper should be sufficient,” Rosenblum said. However, if there is a conference with the majority of attendees being deaf or hard of hearing, hiring an interpreter would make the check-in and check-out processes run more smoothly.

o “(Hotel staff members) should know how to handle phone calls,” Rosenblum said. “Sometimes people think a call sounds strange … people need to be aware not to hang up on those calls.” Relay calls often sound like telemarketing phone calls, but hotel staff members should be patient as the operator communicates with the customer and hotel staff.

• Emergencies: If a hearing-impaired guest is stuck in an elevator and hits the emergency call button, they probably will not be able to reply to the person on the other line. Rosenblum said it is important not to assume there is no one in the elevator if there is silence on the other line.


All communication features for hearing-impaired guests are portable, with the exception of the fire alarm, Rosenblum said. The teletypewriter required for phones and bed shakers can be moved from room to room to accommodate guests as needed.

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