Over the past three years, I’ve spent over 300 nights in [supposedly] wheelchair accessible hotel rooms. I can’t use a bathtub, so I always require a room that has a roll-in shower. Specifically, I need a shower with a fold-down bench, as I don’t travel with a portable shower chair. However, I have discovered in my extensive travels that just because a roll-in shower is in the hotel bathroom doesn’t mean I’m going to have a pleasant bathing experience.
The Americans with Disabilities Act has several rules and guidelines that dictate physical specifications for buildings and rooms. In the case of bathrooms, it provides guidelines for handrails, the height of sinks, etc. The ADA also has very specific guidelines for roll-in showers. Roll-in showers must have either a zero barrier entry or can have a threshold as long as it complies with certain requirements. They also must adhere to the following:
- Must be minimum 60” x 30” from center points of opposing sides
- 60” minimum opening from top to bottom
- Folding seat placed on side wall no more than 3” from front entry
- Back wall grab bar to extend 18” from control wall
- Clearance of 30” wide minimum by 60” long minimum adjacent to opening
- Entry threshold shall not exceed a .5” change in level
- Grab bars must be 1.25” To 1.5” in diameter and are not to be placed above seat
- Grab bars must be mounted at same height where multiple bars used, 33”-36” above finish floor and no more than 6” from adjacent wall
- Shower benches must be mounted 17”-19” above bathroom finish floor,
- Shower bench distance from seat wall to back edge, 2.5” max, to front edge 15”-16”
- For a shower compartment containing a seat, the controls should be positioned on the back wall, 38 to 48 inches above the floor and no more than 27 inches horizontally from the seat wall.
- If the controls are to be located on the wall opposite the seat, they should be placed no more than 15 horizontal inches from the center line of the seat, to the left or to the right.
- For adjustable-height shower head units that attach to a vertical slide bar, the bar should not get in the way of the person being able to reach the grab bars. If the unit is the type that can be used as a fixed or handheld shower head, the hose should be a minimum of 59″ long.
The most common ADA violations I come across with roll-in showers in the US include lack of fold-down benches, improperly placed grab bars, and shower controls that are placed on the wrong wall, too far to reach from the shower bench. I don’t usually travel with a tape measure, so who knows how many other technical violations I don’t notice.
The ADA doesn’t provide specifications for amenities or furnishings in hotel rooms. For example, many disabled travelers find that hotel room beds these days are way too high. However, for other travelers that can also be too low for a caregiver to attend to their needs. Certainly in both cases, finding a hotel room with an adjustable bed is a pipe dream. Specifically in the case of roll-in showers, there are no rules for things like where the soap dish should be located, or where shower gel and shampoo dispensers should be placed. If I have nowhere to place the soap bar or can’t reach the dispensers, this can be a real inconvenience when I’m simply trying to get clean.
What’s even more frustrating is that it seems there is little that can be done to fix it. I often like to bring the hotel manager into my room to explain why certain things are inconvenient for disabled travelers. Many times the issues involve poorly placed furniture that can be moved. But because the roll-in shower issue is a structural design problem, there’s nothing the manager can do. It’s also unlikely that the hotel chain is going to spend what might be a considerable amount of money to reroute the plumbing in all of their accessible hotel rooms with this problem. Sadly, the only way to truly remedy the problem is to file an ADA lawsuit.
The ultimate root of the problem is that not enough hotel chains have disabled consultants who actually work with the room designers when a new hotel is being planned. I believe every hotel chain has ADA compliance officer, but as you’ve seen here, the ADA doesn’t cover practical issues like mattresses, soap dishes, and shower faucets. I call on executive management of every major hotel chain, if they haven’t done so already, to bring in a consultant who lives in a wheelchair full-time to go through room plans and designs for new construction, as well as existing accessible hotel rooms, to advise them on the practicality of their design decisions for accessible rooms.
In the meantime, what can we do? First, I believe in educating rather than confronting. Contact the hotel manager if you believe there are any ADA violations with your roll-in shower. Point them out to the manager and see if it’s something that can be easily remedied. If not, point out that they are likely violating the ADA and may be liable for a lawsuit in the future if they don’t take a proactive step of making the repairs. The hotel should offer to move you to a hotel room that does have an ADA compliant roll-in shower, and if not, they should offer to move you to another property in the same area — when available — that does have a compliant bathroom where you can bathe safely.
If none of these routes work, and this is a hotel where you stay somewhat frequently, then filing an ADA lawsuit and may be your only remedy. This is the only enforcement action for ADA violations, unfortunately. Not everyone is comfortable with doing that, but sometimes it’s the only way we can see positive change when it comes to ADA compliant construction. Maybe then we can simply take a shower just like everybody else.