Diane Green: “Accessibility is about being able to blend in!”
In this edition of The Para Equestrian Digest, Grade I Para Dressage athlete Diane Green (GBR), a hospitality consultant, provides her view of what hotels and other leisure facilities can do to better cater for people with disabilities..
As well as being an international athlete, Diane also founded the Para Equestrian Foundation in 2021 to offer both therapeutic riding and competition riding experience to a large number of athletes across the globe, through mentorship and training for both riders and their coaches...
"Accessibility is about being able to blend in!"
I was injured some 25 years ago while leading a horse that was sedated for turn out, following several months of box rest. It was a cold January day and the horse woke up, fully fly bucked, and got me in the face with his hind leg.
I had eye socket, nose and cheek bone fractures and it is now believed a bleed on the brain had occurred but was undetected. I was later diagnosed with trauma induced Multiple Sclerosis and have very limited mobility. But I still ride and compete for Great Britain as a Grade I.
I worked as a full-time consultant for the hotel industry prior to my accident.
Now alongside my work with the Para Equestrian Foundation, I still consult in the world of hospitality and I’m a disability expert, helping hotels better service the needs of their customers.
Whether that is helping to design bedroom and bathroom concepts, restaurant layouts or general accessibility, I have a wealth of experience and understanding to call upon. I also offer a hotel booking service to help customers book the perfect place for their visit, so they can be sure of an accessible stay to remove any drama. There is nothing worse than not being able to access a property or use the equipment provided because it just hasn't been thought through.
As I’ve been able-bodied and I’m disabled now, I can see the accessibility issue from both sides.
While we do have disability compliance laws in the UK, there is still a great deal of old infrastructure in this country, which makes it difficult to put ramps and lifts into every single building. It’s easier if it’s a new build. But older buildings are difficult to alter.
Accessibility is usually not a problem at equestrian centres, where there is enough open space and assistance available. But often, when I have to stay overnight for a competition, I have to carefully consider my accommodation choices.
A lot of hotels have few accessible rooms. There may be 100 bedrooms in a hotel for example, but only four of them will be accessible. So if you’ve got a lot of para athletes all coming into one area, it doesn’t take long for those four bedrooms in each hotel to get booked up.
The reason for the low numbers of accessible hotel rooms is that able-bodied people are reluctant to stay in a disabled room because they look too clinical.
The hospitality industry is now looking at ways to make hotels rooms more accessible and aesthetically appealing. Fortunately, this is not difficult to do because things like bathroom fittings, for example, are functional and modern these days. It’s just that there hasn’t been much emphasis given to how these rooms have looked until now.
But I’m pleased to say that things are starting to change.
The FEI launched The Para Equestrian Digest in February 2022. The online magazine was created for Para Equestrian athletes and the people connected to the sport so they can share – in their own words – their personal experiences and disability stories. Every month, the Digest will put the spotlight on an athlete or project in Para Equestrian sport with the aim of improving disability awareness and inclusion.