Handicap Accessible Hotel Rooms
I attend a lot of disability events, and as soon as people find out that TravelinWheels provides information on hotel room accessibility they say, "Good! Because, I asked such and such hotel if they had accessible rooms. They told me yes, but ......" Inevitably, it was something that didn't work for them.
It's one of the main reasons why I started TravelinWheels. I did the same thing. I was a trusting traveler who figured that if I asked for an accessible room, my worries about bathrooms, beds, and being able to maneuver in a hotel room were over. I learned the hard way that accessible means many things to many people.
The problem is that the term "accessibility" is a relative term. A power chair user's meaning of access is completely different from a person with a sight-impairment. Using it as a "type" of room, space, etc., is nearly a guarantee that it won't meet everyone's needs.
According to the American's with Disabilities Act, Accessible is defined as: referring to a site, facility, work environment, service, or program that is easy to approach, enter, operate, participate in, and/or use safely and with dignity by a person with a disability.
The definition is so broad, that its interpretation is difficult to turn into functional usability.
Have you ever tried reading the ADA requirements for lodging? The guidelines can be very difficult to understand and definitely leave room to interpretation. It has been my experience that between the architects and designers, sometimes common sense is lost to a strange adherence to compliance with little thought of actual functionality. For example, I have been in countless rooms with roll-in showers that have ample space, but the shower bench is placed either outside of reach of the shower controls, or so close that a person would have to contort themselves to turn on the water.
Then, there is marketing interpretation. I have seen many, many websites, especially in the handicapped accessible vacation rental home space, that list properties as "wheelchair accessible". However, in many cases, this simply means you can get in the door. That's great if you don't ever need to bathe, use the restroom, the kitchen, or even the bedroom.
With all this vagueness, lack of information, misinformation, and general misunderstanding on what accessibility means to us, it's enough to never want to leave the house, isn't it?
Well, I for one, refuse to live life without the magnificent experiences that travel provides. I further refuse to cheat my daughter, who is in a wheelchair, of all of the lessons that travel can teach about cultures, tolerance, and empathy. Our world is incredible, and it is there for us to experience, whether it be down the block or around the world.
In our travels, we have learned many, many lessons, and I have learned even more when talking to the General Managers of the countless hotels that I have had the fortune to visit. I'd like to share them with all of you so that, hopefully, your next stay will be easier and more enjoyable.
Choosing a Hotel
While price is certainly king, consider a couple things:
Where will you be spending your time?
What are your needs?
Think about where you plan to spend most of your time. If you plan to spend the majority of your time in the center of a city, look for hotels that are closest to where you will spend most of your time. It is sometimes tempting to find the discount hotel that seems just outside of town, but I have found the small difference is sometimes not worth the trouble.
I have been the victim of my own frugality, thinking that if I stayed somewhere cheaper and further away from where I planned to spend the majority of my time, I could just take transportation to get there. Then, I got to my hotel and realized that I had made it inconvenient for myself. I spent valuable time, money, and energy trying to get to the places that I wanted to see. That is even more so when traveling with my daughter. I've waste a lot of energy planning and navigating transit systems, sitting in traffic, or hunting for parking, when I could have stayed somewhere that was walking/rolling distance from the things we wanted to do.
I also recommend that you think about all the things that you will need in the hotel to make your stay comfortable.
If we are going to be somewhere for a period of time, I like to have a kitchen. If it's just a few days, a refrigerator is a must. If you require a refrigerator for meds, hotels will waive any fees they might normally charge. Some hotels actually have microwaves upon request, too. We travel with a wheelchair, so a spacious room is a must. Also, my daughter has trouble getting into any bed that is over 26 inches high, so as much as I might like my cushy pillow top bed, I know that I may have to forgo, or ask the hotel to remove the legs of the frame, which they will usually do if given advance warning. In the bathroom, my daughter needs grab bars, turnaround space, a roll-in shower, handheld shower controls, and a wide shower chair with a back. She also needs a grab bar and ability to reach the shower controls, herself. These are non-negotiable.
Many hotels now have platform beds. If you require a hoyer lift, these hotel beds are not for you. If you require a hospital bed, hotels will switch out their beds for a hospital bed, provided you give them notice.
Once you have your list of must haves, it's time to search. Websites like TravelinWheels make it easy to get the accessibility details. You can see everything from the parking situation, to the lobby entrance, pool lift information, down to the individual accessible room's bathroom details. Most sites don't provide this information, so you will need to rely on a travel agent or a phone call to the property.
First, my advice on travel agents... Don't use the nice travel agent down the street who has NEVER booked accessible travel. She may be well meaning, but she is not going to know the right questions to ask and will not know who to go to if all goes awry. If you have special needs that require a lot of planning and really don't want to book it yourself. Use a travel agent that specializes in disability travel. We have some on this site in our Related Links area.
If you choose to do the research yourself, look at the items we collect on our website, and become your own detective. Just remember; never, ever just ask if the room is accessible. You will get a definitive yes, and may be very surprised when you get there. Also, don't talk to the first person who answers the phone. Always ask for the front desk manager if it is a larger hotel, or the manager on duty if it is a smaller hotel. Expect that they will not have the answer to your questions immediately. Consider emailing them the list if you have enough time before your trip. They will need to inquire with engineering and housekeeping to get the most accurate information.
Booking Your Room
So, you've found the hotel that you believe most directly meets your needs. It's affordable, has a great location, and they have answered your questions to your satisfaction.
Now, you are ready to book. Whether you book online or directly with a property, be sure to be very specific about your needs again. State exactly how high the bed must be, what type of shower chair you will need, whether a roll-in shower is necessary, how much clearance you need to move around, whether you need a refrigerator for meds, etc. Hotels will remove or reconfigure furniture to make life easier for you. It's important that you give them the notice in advance so that they can alert housekeeping, engineering, and anyone else who needs to set up the room for you. We have had shower heads swapped out, and many other requests met without issue.
Getting Ready to Depart
I always recommend calling the hotel the day or two before and talking with the Front Desk Manager to confirm that they will be ready for you. Most hotels look at the lists of incoming guests the day before and plan who gets what room; they should have your needs recorded, but you want to be top of mind and ensure that everything you requested is being acted upon. Always be sure to record the name of the person you have spoken to.
Day of Arrival
If you took this advice, and the hotel is a good property, you should be very comfortable in your temporary digs. However, if you have any issues, talk to the Manager on Duty, and if necessary go to the General Manager. They should be able to make it right for you. They are there to provide your comfort and are measured on customer satisfaction, so it is in their best interest to work things out. Be very calm and businesslike. Explain the situation and request a solution. 99.9% of the General Managers I talk to want to be of service, take pride in their hotel, and want your business.
After the Trip
Write a review and share your knowledge. Whether it be on TravelinWheels, Trip Advisor, or another review site, your feedback is important, and hotels watch this information closely. If you had a great stay, that information is just as important as a bad stay. Other travelers really do use the information you are providing, so be accurate and descriptive.
Staying in a hotel can be a fun and exciting experience, especially when it is set up for your needs. A little planning and a lot of communication will help in making your stay a positive one. As always, I love hearing your comments and sharing any additional tips you may have.
In the meantime...