8 December 2014A day after the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities, an innovative and unique hotel was opened in Cape Town – Park Inn Newlands.The 122-bedroomed, mid-market, three-star hotel is designed and built for universal accessibility for disabled people, and a third of staff members is deaf. The hotel is also 40% owned by DeafSA, which has its offices on the first floor.The balance is evenly split between the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), which funded construction, and Meridian Property Holdings, a Cape Town developer. It is operated under the Radisson brand by international hotelier Rezidor.DeafSA has about 800 000 hearing impaired members countrywide. For it, the hotel is a key broad-based empowerment initiative that has created income generating, skills transfer and employment opportunities for its members. As a shareholder, it will mean the NGO is less reliant on donor funding.Speaking on the sidelines of the opening on the night of 4 December, Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom called Park Inn Newlands a “shining example of what is possible” and “an inspiration”.“We will be announcing a programme early next year to give incentives to product owners to retrofit their establishments. Will be starting modestly, targeting only graded establishments, because we will be piloting not only for universal accessibility for disability, but also retrofitting for energy efficiency.”Raising the bar“It is a hotel where 30% of the staff is deaf. This kind of raises the bar altogether. It sets kind a new standard, if you’d like,” he said. “It also speaks wonderfully of our tourism sector and adds to the awards we won for responsible tourism at the World Travel Market in London about a month ago.“It is a real shining example of responsible tourism and inclusion, ensuring not only that there is community inclusion but that [the deaf community has] real ownership of the hotel.”Starting on a pilot basis, his department’s incentive programme would support retrofitting of establishments through modest redesign, beginning with assessments of needs.“We have done some of that already, doing a needs assessment of 187 graded establishments in Cape Town and Durban. Of these, 15 were not even compliant with grading requirements. So we must be aware that some establishments don’t have the cash flow to do this retrofitting.”IncrementalThe pilot phase would show what was possible. “We have approximately 6 000 graded establishments and we can’t reach all of these at once. We have to tailor our programmes to incrementally reach the goal of more efficient energy use and better design. We will announce a more detailed programme in the next two months.”Regarding energy efficiency, the incentive programme would begin in the accommodation sector. “There will be an element of self-selection, if you’d like – serious people who do the right things. Over time, we hope that it will be clearly demonstrably that it makes sense on the economic front.”Regarding universal accessibility, it would extend to other tourism products. “We will, for example, train tour guides in sign language. At the moment we are trying to enhance our tourism offerings and make sure that people with disabilities can enjoy what our country has to offer,” Hanekom said.It would also offer sustainable employment for disabled people. “There are over a million people in South Africa who are extremely hard of hearing or deaf,” said Hanekom. “These people can be described as having a disability; of course, it poses challenges but it ought to be a really limited challenge. There is not a lot I can do that a deaf person can’t do.Pride“Deaf people could be our leading scientists, engineers, hotel managers, even our minister of tourism. There is very little that deaf people cannot do, and this project demonstrates this in very real terms.“In truth, we must express our pride in what so many people have done to make this project a reality. We must applaud the many people at DeafSA who said, ‘we can do it’, and did something that has not been done anywhere in the world.”His department would showcase the hotel worldwide “because it is inspirational. But it is terribly important that it should be a success story, and a sustainable success story. Because that’s when you say five years later that not only did they do the right things, but they achieved great success when they did the right things.”Park Inn Newlands is built on the premises of the old Bastion of the Deaf, a landmark for the deaf community and the Cape Town offices of DeafSA. The hotel is a landmark project that has been designed to cater for the needs of all disabled people. It welcomed its first guests on 13 October, and in the first six weeks of trading has exceeded projections. It has a staff complement of 92, of whom 28 are deaf.It is close to several sport stadiums and institutions, such as Newlands Cricket Ground, Newlands Rugby Stadium, South African Rugby Union headquarters and the Sports Science Institute of South Africa. The University of Cape Town is only a short distance away, as are many office parks and company headquarters.