Hilton Welcomes the Blind

-by LightHouse guest blogger and volunteer Brian McCallen

Accessibility for the blind and visually impaired at some of America’s major hotels may get better! Hilton Worldwide, who owns the Hilton, Doubletree, and Hampton Inns, announced an agreement early this month with the U.S. Department of Justice to take steps to improve accessibility at its hotels, websites, and reservation systems. The chain is responding to a decree recently filed by the federal court for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by its franchised hotels. The decree says that Hilton failed to provide accessible provisions at their hotels built after 1993 and calls for improvement.

The decree requires Hilton to survey the chain’s hotels for ADA violations in public areas and guest rooms. The Hilton chain will need to guarantee disabled customers an accessible room. Furthermore, the hotels will provide accessible room information, such as amenities offered to disabled customers over its Internet reservation system. Speaking of reservations and the Internet, Hilton plans to improve its website and follow the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, Level A. The guidelines call for companies to provide website text for disabled individuals in alternate formats (e.g., audio).

This agreement sounds great to me. But as a visually impaired person, I wonder how Hilton plans to make its hotels more accessible for the blind and visually impaired? So I contacted Hilton worldwide in McLean, Virginia and asked them.

Their spokesperson provided the following official statement: “Hilton Worldwide has taken a number of steps in the past to ensure compliance with the ADA at the hotels that it owns or manages, including not charging extra fees for service animals, offering service animal training and providing qualified readers or brailed materials. As part of this agreement, Hilton Worldwide developed a package of changes to enhance accessibility at hotels within the Hilton Worldwide network, on its websites, and through its reservations system. The proposed changes Hilton Worldwide will make are incorporated in a Consent Decree with the DOJ and include conducting a survey of all post-1993 owned hotels to ensure their compliance with the ADA. Hilton Worldwide will also designate a national ADA Compliance Officer who will serve as the company’s primary administrative contact on disability issues for all hotels.”

The spokesperson explained further the enhancements to their reservations process, as mentioned above.

Despite the hotel chain’s past troubles in their service to the disabled, I’ve actually had a great experience with the Hilton family of hotels as a visually impaired person. Over a year ago, I stayed at the Hilton in Southern California on a family vacation to Universal Studios Hollywood.

The hotel in Universal City was very spacious! It had plenty of room between the double beds and the TV to move around in. So I wasn’t worried about bumping into them and hurting myself. The elevators and hotel restaurant were easy for me to find, since they were close to the front desk. But the best part of the hotel was the soft pillows and sheets that helped me fall fast asleep for a full eight hours during each night of my stay. Coincidentally, during my visit, the Universal City Hilton was hosting the annual Braille Challenge with teenage blind and visually impaired contestants, making me feel more welcome as a low-vision person to this spectacular hotel.

The only issue that posed some challenge was with access to the nearby park and shops. The path to Universal Studios had no obvious signs showing the way and was poorly lit. I even found myself walking in the roadway because the direction and path to follow was not clearly marked. However, the hotel provides a free shuttle directly to the theme park and is definitely the option any disabled person should consider. A really neat thing offered by Universal Studios is a VIP pass for the disabled at no extra charge. However, we learned about this accommodation from the theme park gate attendant and not from the hotel’s concierge where we purchased the tickets. With the VIP pass, the theme park workers let me and my family be one of the first admitted to each park attraction.

Even though there’s room for improvement, the Hilton Worldwide hotel chain appears to be working hard to make a blind person’s travel experience a more enjoyable and memorable one.

For more information on the decree, check out: http://travel.usatoday.com/hotels/post/2010/11/hilton-and-doj-announce-precedent-setting-accord-for-alleged-ada-violations/130487/1. You’ll find links to PDFs of the full decree and its key provisions. Also, to check out all of the Hilton hotels and to make reservations, log onto: www.hhonors.com. You can find hotels by city and state, country, address, or airport code.

Brian McCallen is a resident of Livermore, California. Brian is visually impaired with core vision in his right eye and distortion in the left. He is currently volunteering for Access to Information Services at the LightHouse. In his spare time, Brian surfs the web, listens to the radio, or watches TV. He loves Japanese animation (anime) and the late local news. Brian also likes to travel. His favorite places are New York, L.A, and Las Vegas.

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