In my experiences traveling with a disability, I often have to book a wheelchair accessible hotel room. (See Part One of this guide for some handy tips!) It’s usually not too difficult, but when an issue does come up, I’ve noticed I tend to run into the same challenges. People with disabilities who are considering traveling often tell me they worry about reserving a wheelchair accessible hotel room, and whether that room will actually meet their needs. Here is a list of the most common problems I have experienced with wheelchair accessible hotel rooms, and how to resolve or plan for them.
1) The only wheelchair accessible hotel room with a roll-in shower has one bed.
This is by far the most common and irritating problem I face when trying to book a wheelchair accessible hotel room. Since I travel with a personal care assistant and/or friend, we need separate beds. Yet all too frequently, the only wheelchair accessible rooms with a roll-in shower only have a single King sized bed.
Sometimes, this can be resolved easily by requesting a rollaway bed. But as I discovered when trying to make my most recent reservation, some hotels refuse to provide rollaway beds, citing fire codes. Whether this is true or an excuse to get the customer to purchase a more expensive room is debatable, but I have been given rollaway beds or been denied them at hotels with the same parent company and even the same brand, so there may be a variety of factors at play.
You have a few options to resolve this. You can try other hotels in the area. If you’re staying in a major city, chances are you will find what you need. If you want to push the original hotel, you can call the main reservations line to complain. Sometimes they will give you an upgrade if there is a higher category room with the accessibility feature you need.
2) You arrive only to find they have given your wheelchair accessible hotel room reservation to another guest.
I can (usually) prevent this problem by calling the hotel directly a day or two before arrival to make sure they have the correct room reserved in their system. Don’t trust the online or central phone reservation system to get it right. But this still happened to me a couple of years ago, and I regret not finding an attorney to pursue the case. I had booked a two-week stay and was massively inconvenienced for two days until they could free up the room I had reserved. If this happens to you, ask them to transfer you to another hotel and compensate you for your inconvenience with a free or discounted day. In my case, the hotel they sent me to was even worse, but usually they should be able to find something else that meets your needs.
If you have no other options, here’s a tip I learned from that experience: check the hotel gym and pool area. If the hotel has any roll-in showers in rooms, they may also have one in public areas. While this is not ideal, it’s better than going without a shower at all.
3) The shower seat is flimsy or unstable.
One reason I prefer a roll-in shower wheelchair accessible hotel room is because many have a built-in shower seat that is securely bolted to the wall. But some hotels just have a flimsy plastic seat on metal legs, sometimes without a back or adequate support for people with more serious mobility limitations.
If you’ve arrived at the room only to find one of those flimsy little seats, you have a couple of options. You can talk to the management, explain the situation and ask them to purchase one that would meet the needs of all guests. Most medical supply stores and even some drugstores have decent shower chairs available. Another option, which I always do just in case, is to bring your own shower wand with an extra-long hose. You can then unscrew their shower wand and replace it with your own, enabling you to wash your hair in the sink and rinse off on the toilet. Just be sure to put down extra towels and be careful that you and/or your caregiver don’t slip if the floor gets wet.
4) The Great Flood.
The roll-in shower is accessible, but by the time you’re done bathing, it looks like you should have built an ark. Unfortunately roll-in showers, especially those in hotels, are often improperly installed and flood easily. Since there is only a small drop from the floor into the shower pan, water can easily splash out or overflow.
When you check into your room, I recommend requesting extra towels. You can put them along the edge of the shower to absorb some of the water, and/or dry the floor afterwards to prevent slipping. You can also talk to the management about purchasing a rubber floor barrier that squishes down when a wheelchair rolls over it. This can keep more of the water in the shower.
5) Hazardous towel racks or toilet paper holders.
I have stayed at many hotels where the towel rack is mounted above the grab bars next to the toilet. This can be a hazard to a person assisting with transfers, or even someone who stands and pivots. It’s too easy to accidentally hit your head or smash a bar into your back.
Hotel bathroom designers need to recognize that this design is unsafe, and put the towel rack elsewhere. In the meantime, I suggest bringing a screwdriver so you can remove the rack from the wall during your stay. I have done this several times and never received a complaint from the hotel, as I replaced it before I left.
6) The bed is not accessible.
This issue doesn’t affect me as often, but I’ve heard complaints about it from many people in the disability community, so I feel it’s essential to include here. Many hotel rooms these days have beds that are very high off the ground. I have a seat elevator, so this is not a barrier for me, but it may make it impossible for those in manual wheelchairs to get in and out of bed. Also, for those who use a hoist or Hoyer lift to transfer, part of the machinery needs to slide under the bed. If the bed is on a platform, it’s difficult or impossible for the Hoyer to get close enough to move the person.
There are a few possible solutions for this. If you request a rollaway bed, they are generally much lower and can be transferred into from a standard manual or power wheelchair. They are also open underneath, so a lift can fit. Of course rollaway beds are sometimes uncomfortable, so if you have difficulty with transfers and are concerned about this problem, I recommend bringing an air mattress to place on top of the rollaway. You can also remove the rollaway mattress and just place your air mattress on the springs.
Always be sure to report your difficulties to hotel management, so they can take them into consideration when remodeling, and be able to answer questions from other people with disabilities who may call about these issues.
7) The room is too crowded with furniture.
I have been in far too many supposedly wheelchair accessible hotel rooms where I felt like a Tetris piece trying to squeeze my way in and move around with my wheelchair. Hotels seem determined to cram as much furniture as possible into a tiny room. They really should make the rooms a bit larger, or take into account that the accessible room probably has someone who uses a wheelchair, so they don’t need as many extra chairs!
If you arrive at your room and find you can’t get around, don’t be afraid to ask them to remove any furniture that’s in your way. They should be able to send maintenance staff up to do it, and can’t charge you extra for the service. Of course, give the staff a tip if you can. Since I always travel with someone, we usually rearrange the room ourselves, but I’ve still had to call maintenance to remove a chair we absolutely couldn’t move far enough out of the way.
I hope this list helps you find a wheelchair accessible hotel room that works for your needs. Traveling with a disability can present many challenges. But with good planning, assertiveness on your part and a few handy tools, you can enjoy your trip!