Our european lords and masters have decreed that physical handicap should not be an obstacle to living a normal life. So, throughout the EU we have a directive that all publicly accessible buildings should be available to anyone with any kind of handicap, and that people with such handicaps should be able to be autonomous in such buildings. It also applies generally to access from the outside too.
Fortunately this has been interpreted, at least in France, to mean "any individual handicap", so that combinations of handicap are not necessarily catered for. There is apparently, for example, no obligation to ensure that a wheelchair-bound blind and deaf person be autonomous.
The new law on accessibility of buildings open to the public came into force in France this year. There was a lot of fuss about the expense that this would invlove, especially for older hotels for example, so you could submit costed plans to meet the requirements and ask for a postponement of the obligation to inplement these plans.
Our gîte is classed as an ERP (établissement recevant du publique) so the laws apply to us. The renovations that we did in 2006 - 2008 to bring the gîte into service, were carried out with the knowledge that these laws would come into force in 2015, but at the time, one could only give a best guess as to what they would actually involve. Inevitably there were some shortfalls, so in springtime this year we got to grips with the problem.
In the context of our market, it's not our intention to focus on handicapped customers; we have no special desire to attract such groups, although they would be welcome if they came. Our customers are mostly families or groups of friends who come here to stay for a weekend, to celebrate a birthday or wedding anniversary, or simply to bring the family together for a fun time. Family get-togethers often include (great-)grandma and/or (great-) grandad, who can often be frail and subject to the degradations in faculty that old age brings. So from our point of view, the new laws represent an opportunity to enhance our offering to this important part of our market.
In France they have decided to go beyond the basic requirements of the law, and have specified a set of optional further enhancements that will allow your place to be labelled "Tourisme et Handicap", a label that confirms that the place offers a high level of comfort and autonomy to handicapped people. It covers four types of handicap: Visual, Auditory, Mental and Motor. We decided to go for it.
Here's a few of the things we did. Some are just good sense when you think about it, others seem pointless. For example, no pedal bins in toilets intended for wheelchair users. Obvious when you think about it. However, loo seats in contrasting colours for the visually impaired? Not convinced. I happened to have to use a loo in the pitch dark last week (long story, not relevant), and the toilet wasn't hard to find. I had to add a sink in the disabled toilet, which was annoying on account of the fact that the pipework is necessarily exposed (I hid it in electrical conduit), and would ideally be behind the plasterboard.
Given that deaf people lock themselves in toilets and can't hear any fire alarm, we had to add flashing lights in all of the disabled access toilets. Well I suppose if you're going to have a fire alarm, it has to work for everybody, and we don't necessarily know if any of our guests are deaf. The installers did a good job of integrating it into the decor, but it would have been better done as part of the renovations.
Apparently there is no requirement to automatically wake sleeping deaf people, although you can get (for example) vibrating pillows that are activated by the audible alarm. We might get one; if you're going to look after deaf guests, you might as well do it properly.
For partially sighted people, you must contrast the risers of the first and last steps in any staircase with three or more steps. And the edges of the steps should be contrasted and with non-slip material.
The stair bannisters had to changed - the rules say they must continue past the steps by an amount equal to the width of the step. This wasn't possible for the stairs in the lodge so we compromised on this handle to guide people around the corner onto the floor.
The step from the dining room was high and we have had some guests for whom this presented some difficulty. The step required by the new rules was a good idea anyway.
At the end of the day, we're pleased to have the "tourism & handicap" rating, but it was a significant investment out of our revenues in 2104. The T&H label has not been promoted much in France, so I doubt that it will bring us much extra business, although it might reduce the need for prospective customers to ask about the facilities.