As a frequent traveler with a disability, one of my most important tasks before any trip is making a wheelchair accessible hotel room reservation. I use a power wheelchair due to cerebral palsy, and need physical assistance with basic tasks, so an accessible hotel room is essential to me. I also need a roll-in shower and two beds, which can be difficult to find in the same room. But over the years I’ve learned a lot, and I hope my experience can help other people with disabilities who travel. Here are my 7 tips for making a wheelchair accessible hotel room reservation.

1) Determine your needs in a disability-friendly hotel room.

The disability community is very diverse in terms of our requirements and preferences. What works for one person may not work for another. So before making a wheelchair accessible hotel room reservation, take some time to figure out your needs and goals for your trip. Do you need an accessible bathroom? Do you prefer a roll-in shower or bathtub? How many beds do you need in the room?

2) Consider the accessible hotel’s location and amenities.

Are you looking for a budget hotel, or luxury, or in-between? Do you want to have a restaurant with room service, or free breakfast, or free Internet? Do you need to be located near a particular convention center or tourist attraction? If you will have a vehicle, is there parking and does it cost extra? If you don’t have a vehicle, how close is the hotel to public transportation? Does it have an accessible shuttle to popular destinations? Are wheelchair accessible taxis readily available?

It’s usually possible to find an accessible hotel that meets your needs and your wants, but occasionally you may have to make a trade-off or two.

3) Stick with well-known hotel chains.

I like to support small businesses whenever possible, but when it comes to hotels, bigger is usually better. Large hotel chains have plans and policies for accessibility built into their corporate structure. They tend to renovate properties more often, and accessibility improves every time. If you encounter problems, they have a large customer service department and are more likely to resolve your issue.

4) Look for photos of the wheelchair accessible hotel room before making a reservation.

Many hotel websites, as well as informational sites such as TripAdvisor, now include images of rooms. It can be a useful way to get a sense of room layout, space available around beds and tables, and possibly bathroom accessibility.

5) Make your wheelchair accessible hotel room reservation directly through the hotel.

Unfortunately, many discount sites can’t book and/or guarantee wheelchair accessible hotel rooms. It’s best to make your reservation directly through the hotel’s website. I also recommend calling the hotel directly to make sure they have your reservation listed properly in their computer. I usually call immediately after booking, and again a day or two before arrival, especially if I’m not familiar with the hotel or I’m concerned about the status of my room.

6) Join a rewards program for your favorite hotel chain.

When you make a wheelchair accessible hotel room reservation, be sure to join the hotel’s rewards program if it’s free or very low cost. Once I find a chain I like with reliable accessibility (my favorite is IHG, which includes Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, and Candlewood Suites among others) I try to stick with them. I can then build up points to use for free or discounted stays and other benefits. I find that hotels are more responsive to rewards club members — they value their repeat customers! I’ve had problems with Holiday Inn hotels on two occasions, and got a satisfactory response the second time when I contacted the rewards program customer service. Of course if you’re routinely unhappy with accessibility or service, it’s better to try a new company than staying with one you dislike.

7) Take pictures and post reviews on the big travel websites, for your benefit and to help others.

A couple of years ago, I had a terrible experience with wheelchair accessibility at a Holiday Inn location in New Jersey. I took a couple of photos, but didn’t post a review and wish I had. But more importantly, I wanted to come back to the area and couldn’t remember which hotel to avoid! I searched my email receipts, everything I could find, but I don’t seem to have a record of it. Short of going through old credit card receipts or actually visiting the hotels, there’s no way for me to be sure. So do yourself a favor and make note of the great hotels and the not-so-great ones — you’ll be helping yourself and many other travelers with disabilities.

Believe you can do this!

Making a wheelchair accessible hotel room reservation can be stressful. There’s always that thought in the back of your mind that something could go wrong. In part two (coming soon) I’ll address the most common problems I’ve encountered with wheelchair accessible hotel rooms, and how to avoid them or resolve them if they occur. But if you follow this guide, you’ll be far more likely to have a great experience. So get out there, live your travel dreams and I’ll see you on the road!

Read Part Two

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