Celebrating accessible interior design: the Blue Badge Access Awards

We find out more about the Blue Badge Access Awards, and speak to Robin Sheppard to discover why accessible interior design is so important

Launched in May with the support of disability charity, Leonard Cheshire, the Blue Badge Access Awards is a new global competition that aims to celebrate stylish, innovative and inclusive design across the globe. Combining two major design competitions – the Bespoke Access Awards and the Blue Badge Style Awards – the Blue Badge Access Awards recognises extraordinary buildings and venues around the world that are both stylish and accessible.

The Awards’ mission is to inspire designers, architects, developers and businesses to work together to create spaces that make “everyone feel like a first class citizen”, and to highlight the importance of inclusive design. Categories for the Awards range from the ‘Leonard Cheshire Inclusive Employment’ award to ‘Best Hotel’ and ‘Best Bar’. There is even a ‘Ludicrous Loo’ award; this, while being light-hearted, showcases bathroom design where accessibility is an afterthought and demonstrates the challenges still faced by people who rely on accessible design.  

Before the winners of the various Blue Badge Access Awards are announced at a black tie ceremony - taking place this Monday, 7th October – we spoke to the chairman of Bespoke Hotels and hotel sector champion for disabled people, Robin Sheppard, to find out why it’s so important to showcase the best in accessible interior design.

Why create the Blue Badge Access Awards?

The Blue Badge Access Awards were created to recognise venues and businesses with a stylish approach to accessibility, as well as to praise innovative and forward-thinking solutions to the issues experienced by disabled guests when travelling.

What does it mean for the Bespoke Access Awards to be joining forces with Blue Badge?

The Blue Badge Access Awards are the result of two major design competition initiatives coming together with the support of Leonard Cheshire.

The Bespoke Access Awards was created in 2016, and joined forces in late 2018 with the Blue Badge Style Awards to give a consumer breadth to a predominantly B2B conceptual design competition. The aim was to create a single platform to promote better design for people with disability, with further support from Leonard Cheshire, who have added their considerable expertise in the area of employment opportunities for those with disabilities.

Why is it so important to showcase inclusive designs?

We believe it is absolutely vital that hospitality venues and public buildings across the globe demonstrate a warm welcome to all customers. Able-bodied or not, everyone should feel like a first-class citizen no matter where they are visiting, and no matter what disability, sight or hearing impairment, allergy, or access requirement they may have.

We want to inspire architects, designers, staff and proprietors to aspire to higher standards, and have the desire to win one of the awards for ‘exceptional venues that have both accessibility and style’. The collective philosophy is that showing interest and commitment can be just as important as smart design.

How did your diagnosis of Guillain-Barre Syndrome change your perception of accessibility in the hospitality industry?

Upon leaving intensive care and beginning to work and travel again, I was immediately struck by the way in which hotels, restaurants and bars provide for disabled guests. At best, this could be described as re-actively slow, and at worst outright hostile. It became clear that, while we may have provision through the law to ensure compliance in the physical fit out of disabled spaces, there is often no provision for emotional or aesthetic intelligence.

The results can be seen in over-medicalised bedrooms and bathrooms with gloomy fixtures and fittings. Sadly, the defining trend is a singular lack of wit and panache.

Do you think the design industry needs to do more for accessibility? If so, any examples of what it could do?

A personal vision of mine involves the words ‘I would like an upgrade to a disabled suite please’ – something the vast majority of travellers will never have contemplated. There are two imperatives here, both moral and commercial. The moral point is obvious: we should all be treated with the same respect and care, whether able-bodied or otherwise.

The commercial aspect is even more obvious, and yet largely unseen. Why build bedrooms that, when full, need to be sold to any guest? We know that 83% of able-bodied guests will feel they have been somehow “downgraded” to a disabled room. Discounting invariably follows by way of apology, but this need not be the case. 

The industry is missing a trick by restricting its ability to charge fully, while irritating its main customer base into the bargain, before even considering how the disabled guest might feel. This is something I would urge hoteliers across the UK and beyond to reconsider!

Anything else to add?

Please keep an eye on our upcoming Hotel Brooklyn project in central Manchester, opening February 2020. We engaged with the inaugural Bespoke Access Awards winners from 2016 when designing the accessible rooms, and we are very pleased with the results!

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