Bespoke Hotels President campaigns for new term for accessible hotel rooms

A hospitality leader championing disabled advocacy is calling for a change in perception of accessible rooms in hotels – coining the term ‘liberty’ to replace the word accessible, in a bid to promote the rooms in a more positive, celebratory light.

President of Bespoke Hotels and co-founder of the Blue Badge Access Awards alongside Fiona Jarvis (CEO of Blue Badge Style), Robin Sheppard is campaigning for hospitality venues to implement the term ‘Liberty’ for disabled-access rooms.

Following COVID-19 and its associated closures and restrictions, Robin, a keen advocate of disability rights and inclusion, believes the time is now to enact fundamental and positive change in the hospitality sector. By rebranding rooms to Liberty, hotels can provide a sense of empowerment.

Bespoke Hotels is the owner of Manchester’s Hotel Brooklyn, dubbed ‘the most accessible hotel in Europe’ by Ed Warner of Motionspot. Brooklyn has 20 accessible bedrooms – twice the mandatory requirement – all of which are branded Liberty rooms.

Speaking of the initiative, Sheppard said, “We believe this is the perfect time to innovate change. The COVID-19 lockdowns have given non-disabled people an unprecedented insight into how it feels to have their freedom restricted, every hour of every day.

“A frightening, invisible danger has opened people’s eyes to what it’s like when you have to meticulously research and plan every trip, rely on other people, and sometimes decide that it’s simpler and safer to stay at home.”

He continued, “Since helping to establish the Blue Badge Access Awards in 2015, I’ve been sending out the message that the way in which hotels, restaurants, bars and other hospitality and visitor venues set up their facilities is inadequate, not just for wheelchair users but for people with invisible disabilities – from limited sight through the range of spectrum disorders.”

Sheppard added, “It’s not just that facilities are lacking in practicality, but style, vision and the joie de vivre that says, ‘you’re equal – you deserve to enjoy this place as much as everyone’.

“To achieve this, we at Bespoke Hotels launched Hotel Brooklyn, comprising 20 accessible bedrooms which we branded Liberty rooms. We believe the quality of the bedrooms is integral, which double as suites and family rooms and are regarded as an upgrade.

'This works in stark contrast to the typical accessible room, which will elicit an apologetic, ‘this is all we’ve got left’ from the receptionist and a request for a discount from able-bodied guests.”

He went on, “Traditional thinking around accessibility and disability has been about mitigating rather than celebrating, which is why we needed to change our hotel's accessible room names to reflect this and encourage others.”

“And here’s the thing for hoteliers. When you take the ‘celebrate, don’t mitigate’ route, occupancy and revenue go up. Subsequently, you get to increase your share of the £12 billion accessible tourism market in England.”

Sheppard concluded, “So, encouraged by this work, by the public response and by the revenue that our Liberty bedrooms started to generate, we are using this ‘down’ time to up our accessibility game and to spread the message – now that lockdown is over, let’s make sure it’s over for everyone.”

Alongside spearheading the Liberty rooms initiative, Robin Sheppard co-founded the Blue Badge Access Awards, which encourage hospitality industry bosses, architects and designers worldwide to consider ways in which they can address the current and future needs of disabled people.