How to: a simple guide to booking wheelchair accessible hotel rooms

If you’ve ever had a similar experiences to me and experienced difficulty fitting your wheelchair/walker in a hotel room then come to find there isn’t enough room to get around, or got stuck on the toilet because it was too low, or found that there is no way in hell that you’ll be taking a shower with that bathroom set up – you definitely want to book accessible hotel rooms.

Let me first start this process by laying out what you’re actually getting, by law, when booking an accessible room. It’s nice to know what you are guaranteed in terms of room… At least in the US.

Facilities and Reservations

  • Persons with disabilities have the right to reserve accessible guestrooms/suites in the same ways and on the same terms that other persons can reserve guestrooms/suites [28 CFR 36.302]
  • All reservations staff must have access to information about the lodging facility’s accessible guestrooms/suites (including specific information on types and sizes of accessible showers, bathtubs and other features such as, tub seats). [28 CFR 36.302]
  • Accessible guestrooms/suites must be held for possible use by persons with disabilities until all other rooms in the same price category have been rented. [28 CFR 36.302]
  • Rates for accessible guestrooms/suites must be same as rates for guestrooms/suites that are not designated accessible. [28 CFR 36.301(c)]
  • Accessible guestrooms must be arranged so that persons who use wheelchairs, crutches and other mobility aids can approach and use beds; bathrooms; closets; heating, air conditioning and drapery controls; lamps and light switches; telephones; computer outlets; mirrors; televisions; balconies; and other room features without moving furniture. (Note: wheelchairs need 36″ of clear passage width) [28 CFR 36.304(b)(4)]
  • If the facility offers transportation services for guests, there must be accessible transportation options readily available for guests who use mobility aids without additional charge. [28 CFR 36.310]
  • Newly constructed or altered swimming pools, wading pools, and spas have an accessible way for people with disabilities to enter and exit the pool. [242.3 and 242.4]

Interior

  • All doors offer at least 32 inches of clear passage to accommodate persons who use wheelchairs, crutches, and walkers. [ADA Stds. 9.2.2(3); 4.13.5]
  • Door hardware (levers, pulls, panic bars, etc.) must be usable with one hand, without tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist.[ADA Stds. 9.2.2(3); 4.13.9]
  • Security latch or bolt on the hall door mounted no higher than 48″ above the floor so it is within the reach of persons who use wheelchairs and is operable with one hand, without tight grasping, pinching or twisting of the wrist [ADA Stds. 9.2.2(3); 4.13.9]
  • At least a 36″ wide route on each side of the bed to allow persons who use wheelchairs to transfer onto the bed from either side [ADA Stds. 9.2.2(1)]
  • Drapery wands and controls on fixed lamps easily operable with one hand, without tight grasping, pinching or twisting of the wrist and placed within 54″ of the floor. [ADA Stds. 9.2.2(5); 4.27.4, 4.27.3]

Bathroom

  • Not all accessible rooms are required to have roll-in showers but they must include an accessible bathtub or shower
  • Toilet in each accessible guestroom bathroom must have a horizontal grab bar along the adjacent side wall that is at least 42″ long and a horizontal grab bar on the wall behind the toilet that is at least 36 “ long, both mounted 33”-36” above the floor. [ADA Stds. 9.2.2(6)(e); 4.23.4; 4.16.2]
  • The toilet seat must be between 17″-19″ above the floor. Note: Standard toilet seats range between 14”- 16” in height. [ADA Stds. 4.16.3]
  • The sink will be no more than 34″ high with at least 29″ high clearance under the front edge to allow persons who use wheelchairs to pull under the lavatory and use the faucet hardware. [ADA Stds. 9.2.2(6)(e); 4.23.6; 4.19.2]
  • Drain and hot water pipes are insulated or otherwise configured to protect against contact [ADA Stds. 9.2.2(6)(e); 4.23.6; 4.19.4]
  • Faucets are easily operable (i.e.: levers, wrist blades, single arm, etc.) and usable with one hand, without tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist. [ADA Stds. 9.2.2(6)(e); 4.23.6; 4.19.5]
  • Bathroom floors must be slip-resistant [ADA Stds. 4.5]

Bathtub / shower

  • A 36″ wide by 48″ long clear floor space directly outside the shower for persons who use wheelchairs to approach and use the shower.
  • Roll-in showers must have a securely fastened folding seat at 17″-19″ above the floor. [ADA Stds. 4.21.3]
  • Faucet controls and shower wand positioned on the wall along the side of the shower seat so they are operable from the folding shower seat or from the shower wheelchair [ADA Stds. 4.21.5]
  • Faucet controls that are easily operable with one hand (i.e.: levers, wrist blades, single arm, etc.) without tight grasping, pinching or twisting of the wrist. [ADA Stds. 4.21.5]
  • Horizontal grab bars on the wall alongside and on the wall opposite the shower seat (but not behind the shower seat) for stabilization and aid in transfer. [ADA Stds. 4.21.2]
  • Provides a transfer tub seat (that can be securely attached to the tub) available for persons who may not be able to stand in the tub to bathe. [ADA Stds. 4.23.8; 4.20.3]
  • Adjustable height hand-held shower wand with at least a 60″ long hose [ADA Stds. 4.23.8; 4.20.6]
  • Horizontal grab bar at the foot of the tub (by the controls) that is at least 24″ long for stabilization while a person with a disability adjusts the water controls [ADA Stds. 4.23.8; 4.20.4]

These are the bare minimum requirements that should be provided to you when booking an accessible hotel room in the US. However, everyone has their own unique needs and they are not always covered under the law.

For instance, the two most highly rated needs for disabled travelers are A) access to an accessible toilet and B) access to a bed with proper height for the individual. Make sense, that’s all most people use their actual hotel rooms for on vacation – you know, our private business stuff and sleeping.

The laws creating a comfortable and accessible place to handle going number one or number two are relatively comprehensive and you will likely get what you need there when booking an accessible room. However, bed height is not guaranteed in any hotel and you want to verify with the staff before you book.

One thing travelers that use a Hoyer lift need to always consider is the space under the bed. It’s nice to know that you have the space to transfer into bed and won’t be left to rely on your circus training in an attempted swinging dismount to land on the bed. I can pretty much guarantee that many of the hotel staff don’t know how much room from the floor there is, but it should be very easy for them to go find out for you.

Pro tips:

  • All Hyatt Hotel beds have bed frames that are solid and leave no space under the bed.
  • If the bed is too high to transfer over, ask the hotel staff if they would remove the box spring and place a mattress right on the frame.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need and suggest solutions. Many hotels are happy to accommodate.

Where to start

Web search

Like most people, this is the single best place to start. I don’t even know where to find the phonebook, let alone use one anymore. You can find the most amount of information in a small amount of time. This is where you start your list of maybes.

Almost every online search engine for hotels will have a filter that lets you check the accessibility options that you would like to include in your search. I usually start with TripAdvisor to find a good neighborhood and then tinker with Kayak, booking.com, or a smattering of other sites.

Although I love to book smaller, boutique hotels, sometimes the best bet is to look for a large hotel, or chain. There are specific ADA laws that require Hotels of a certain size to include a specific amount of ADA rooms and rooms with a rolling shower. Check out this graphic to give you an idea.227022B7-3CA8-4BD6-AE8E-9A06C6DF4AC4

Call!

I know, I hate calling, talking on the phone like some type of primitive prehistoric human. If you are unclear about anything listed online, or want to confirm that what they have listed is true, this is absolutely the best way to make sure you get what you need. Although many times you can book an ADA room online, it can be confusing about what you are going to get. Additionally, because hotels have to hold back accessible rooms until all the other ones are full they may actually not be advertised online, but are available if you call and ask.

Question time

While traveling in the US you can count on many features as standard in accessible rooms. However, for a more seamless experience you want to make sure to ask those important questions like:

  • What is the height of the bed?
  • Is there room underneath the bed?
  • Is the room is on the first floor?
  • Will this room have a shower bench or chair?

Booking internationally will definitely take a little bit more finesse

When I was booking a hotel in Berlin I did the responsible thing and called the hotel to ask if they were accessible. Good news! – they said yes and I went along my merry way planning the rest of my trip. When I arrived I found that we had very different definitions of accessible. To them that meant they had a room on the first floor. When I checked in I saw the bathroom wasn’t quite wide enough for my wheelchair to squeeze in and didn’t have a shower – only a large Jacuzzi tub. When I asked if they had some type of shower bench or shower chair, they kindly provided me with a patio chair from the outside pool area! Yes, it makes for an excellent story – but I didn’t necessarily have to have this ridiculous experience because there are SO many truly accessible hotels in Berlin!

So where should your questions start?

So tell me what kind of accessible, or barrier free amenities your hotel has.

You should be listening for ramps, elevators, lifts, no stairs, wide hallways, wheelchair friendly bathrooms, table tops and restaurants that are wheelchair assessable. If the person on the phone can’t think of a whole lot, go ahead and consider that a yellow flag.

What about the room? What makes is wheelchair friendly or assessable?

You’re hoping they mention something about grab bars in the bathroom, roll-in shower or shower bench, room to get in to the bathroom, and maybe something about a bigger room or having no obstacles to maneuver through. If the person on the phone doesn’t know what would make an accessible room – this place will not be your friend. Get ready for that patio chair!

Make sure to include  inquires about

  •  Space under the bed
  • A large enough elevator
  • Having a shower chair provided
  • Ensuring there are no steps into the hotel itself.

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Being disabled or lower mobility means we deal with life’s inconveniences daily and can adapt better than our nondisabled counterparts in odd or difficult situations. By planning ahead and telling people what you need in advance, you not only help yourself, but you help others and create more awareness for all.

Travel on friends!


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