Every time I travel, I take a quick moment right before I open my hotel room door to breathe, look up at the sky, and hope for the best.
In the United States, I shouldn’t have to do this. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is supposed to provide legal guidelines and requirements that hotels have to follow in order to ensure guests with disabilities are comfortable. The ADA specifies measurements for doorway widths and toilet and sink heights. It says how many accessible rooms and parking spots a hotel should have. It also helps ensure that all hotel public areas, to include swimming pools, are accessible.
So why do I say a little prayer before I enter every hotel room I have reserved, hoping their definition of “accessible” is the same as mine? Because the vast majority of hotel managers, architects, and interior designers have never rolled a mile in our shoes.
Sometimes the beds are way too high for me to transfer into. Sometimes there’s no space beneath them to slide a lift underneath. Most roll-in showers double as the set of The Poseidon Adventure with a lot of water clean-up necessary after each use. It’s not common to find shower faucets, shower heads, and soap dishes that are all reachable from a seated position on the fold-down bench. I’ve been blocked from reaching curtain pulls by extremely heavy and poorly placed furniture. Finding conveniently placed electric outlets where I can charge my power wheelchair can be very difficult. Putting on makeup is anything but fun since I can only see myself in the bathroom mirror from the edge of the counter, and often only from the chin up.
Whenever I come across these situations, I ask the hotel manager (or engineer) to visit my room so I can point out changes that can be made. Many times the manager is powerless to do anything because authorization for major structural changes have to be made at a headquarters level. However, they can do things like lower beds or remove box springs, move or remove furniture, change the placement of soap dishes, or add moveable vanity mirrors.I personally believe the best way for hotel managers to more clearly understand the challenges faced by guests with physical disabilities is to become disabled for a day. I would love to see hotel managers rent a wheelchair for 24 hours and stay as a guest in an accessible room in their own hotels. *They should imitate as best as possible the complete loss of the use of their legs and attempt to bathe, sleep, and otherwise maneuver in their hotel room and around the hotel property. The may start to notice that soap or paper towel dispensers in the lobby bathrooms are too high. Or that they can’t reach certain food items in the breakfast buffet. Or that (if male) they have difficulty shaving because they can’t see their faces properly in the bathroom mirror.
This isn’t a silver-bullet solution to all ADA accessibility problems at hotels. However, it’s a great way to spread awareness and education among hotel chain management, and possibly prevent repeatedly having to hear the routine response of, Oh, I didn’t think of that.