Travelling when disabled: The receptionist offered to lift me into bed

As you can imagine, it can be challenging to find a good range of accommodation to suit my needs (Picture: Joshua Reeves)

It was meant to be a guaranteed good night’s sleep, but sadly not for me.

Instead, I travelled 151.3 miles to exasperatingly and sarcastically ask hotel staff: ‘Shall I sleep in my chair then?’

I expected them to laugh it off, but to my horror, I was left with the impression this was an option they expected me to take.

I work for a leading UK disability charity, Leonard Cheshire – and I have cerebral palsy.

My physical impairment puts me in a position where I cannot bear weight to get into bed. The only approach is to be hoisted or moved by two trained people in a safe circumstance, and the latter is something that should only be done in an emergency.

As you can imagine, it can be challenging to find a good range of accommodation to suit my needs when taking trips – even today.

So when I took a trip to London last month for a work event and booked a room at a Premier Inn in Archway, I was apprehensive. However, things with this Premier Inn seemed to be positive.

Reviews online were great: ‘They have nine working ceiling hoists, and the hotel was remarkably accessible!’ This might not seem like a big deal but getting around in the UK is difficult for wheelchair users.

We face stair-filled train stations, a dearth of dropped kerbs making road-crossings impossible, ‘accessible’ hotel rooms that are not actually accessible and taxis that cannot accommodate powered wheelchairs.

So, I was ecstatic to come across such an accessible hotel. Nine working hoists was quite something.

Needless to say, it was too good to be true. 

A couple of weeks before my planned stay, I phoned to ask if I could book a mobile hoist by a private company to be delivered to the hotel before I checked in.

No need! I was told I would be booked into a room with a ceiling hoist. ‘I would just need to bring my personal hoist sling’.

I was so ecstatic that a hotel was finally taking the needs of its wheelchair-using customers seriously that I even took to social media to praise them.

Unfortunately, my excitement was short-lived.

On check-in with my support worker by my side ready to operate the hoist, I learned I had been allocated a standard accessible room without one. I was also told that the hotel only had five ceiling hoists, as four of the remaining ones had been condemned.

I knew from what I had read online that there were meant to be nine working hoists, so I questioned them. I almost wished I hadn’t, as it then turned out that four of the remaining five hoists were broken.

And the remaining hoist room was used by another wheelchair user. I could not help wondering what serial Luddite had been raging war against their hoists.  

‘OK,’ I said. ‘Could you get me a mobile hoist then?’ 

Joshua Reeves pictured in wheelchair at a festival, wearing a black t shirt and black shorts

It felt like no one except the support worker I was with really tried to help me (Picture: Joshua Reeves)

The receptionist stared at me blankly. I quickly learnt that the Premier Inn did not have an emergency repair number or a mobile emergency hoist that could be used.

The receptionist offered to physically lift me out of my wheelchair, apparently oblivious that lacking training, this would have been physically dangerous and embarrassing for me. 

Exasperated, I hit the phone. Unfortunately, while several companies in London provide mobile hoists, 5pm is a bad time to start calling them. If they were not closed, their hoists were already in use.

Several hours later, I was drawing a blank and wondering if I would spend the night in my chair. That’s when the exchange about sleeping in my chair took place. By then, I had phoned other hotels and considered asking if I could stay at a nearby care home.

I’d also called a registry nurse team in London and they said that no one was available to help put me into bed until 4am. But I had work in the morning, there’s no way I could’ve stayed up that late.

This all took place in the Premier Inn lobby and it felt like no one except the support worker I was with really tried to help me.

Joshua Reeves in black and white close up selfie, smiling at camera. He is wearing black glasses, black headphones and a leather jacket

To make matters worse, without a hoist, I couldn’t safely use the shower or toilet (Picture: Joshua Reeves)

Eventually, I remembered a wheelchair user friend of mine lived nearby so I called him to ask if I could borrow his carer for the night. Both he and his carer agreed, so I then had two trained support workers to assist me in getting out of my wheelchair and into my hotel bed for the night.

But if my friend and his carer hadn’t been there for me in my time of need, I dread to think what I would’ve had to do – or the money I’d have to fork out. Thankfully, because it was a favour, there was no financial cost for me.

Once in the room, I was placed into bed. I have scoliosis, so physically lifting me out of my chair can hurt my back, which is why I always generally use a hoist. Thankfully, no injuries were sustained but that’s not the point – why was I made to take this risk?

After the dust had settled and I was lying awake, I was fuming about the whole experience. To make matters worse, without a hoist, I couldn’t safely use the shower or toilet so I had to hold it in all night.

The next morning, the manager of the Premier Inn apologised but offered no refund or real explanation and did not enquire how I had managed to safely use the room facilities. Maybe he thought I had grown wings and flown around the place.  

I was shocked by my experience. And the thing is, I knew having a working ceiling hoist in a hotel was too good to be true.

I felt like Charlie from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – like I had got a golden ticket. However, all too quickly, my hopes turned to dust; my ‘golden ticket’ must have expired. 

Joshua Reeves pictured in wheelchair smiling at the camera, wearing black glasses, a smart black shirt and black trousers

The hospitality sector needs to take accessibility more seriously (Picture: Joshua Reeves)

I am a disability rights activist, and it is discouraging that we still live in a disability-discriminatory world. This situation has made me distrust hotels that claim they have a hoist and it will definitely impact how I book trips in future.

Since this incident, I’ve had to travel to a Labour Party conference for work but I booked a Travelodge and not a Premier Inn. They’ve really lost my trust and it’s a shame that people like me have to feel traumatised like this. 

I know that my experience will not be a one-off incident. It is this type of thing that can really put disabled people off from booking trips. It is isolating, not to mention expensive if you do have to hire your own hoist.

The hospitality sector needs to take accessibility more seriously. Moreover, disability awareness training is an absolute must – no one should think it is acceptable for a disabled person to spend the night in their wheelchair.

It is excellent that London Archway Premier Inn has invested in ceiling hoists. However, if you do not maintain them, or tell wheelchair users they need to arrange their mobile hoists in case of a breakdown, you are making a bad situation even worse.

And that takes some doing.

In a statement provided to ITV, Premier Inn said:

‘We are so sorry for the issue Mr Reeves encountered at our London Archway hotel, which has arisen from confusion over the availability of specific facilities in the accessible room he booked. Upon the hotel being informed of the need for a hoist, and the obvious problem not having one would cause, our team tried hard to resolve it, including by exploring whether any other guests could switch rooms – (unfortunately none were free) and whether a private hoist was a possibility. The team of course profusely apologised at the time and proactively sought Mr Reeves out the next morning to check on the stay. It is important to note that at no point did they suggest he should sleep in his chair. We do hope we are able to welcome Mr Reeves back to Archway in more positive circumstances and are reaching out to him through Leonard Cheshire.’

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