The Problem with Roll-in Showers in Wheelchair Accessible Hotel Rooms

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.

This bathroom at the Belmond hotel in Charleston was luxurious, but had numerous ADA violations

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.

Horrible bathroom at Casa Monica in St Augustine, with no lateral toilet grab bars, shower controls opposite and too far from the bench, grab bar above the seat.

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.

Great shower at the Great Wolf Lodge in Concord, NC.

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.

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  1. […] able to do that, make sure the room description clearly says if it has an accessible tub or a roll-in shower (depending on what you need). If not, you will have to call the hotel. For international […]

  2. […] I might encounter, and there were. The fold down shower bench was located VERY far across the roll-in shower from the shower head and faucet (see photo above). The hose for the shower head actually wouldn’t […]

  3. […] enthusiasts alike. I had no trouble finding a hotel with a wheelchair accessible room with a roll-in shower, and restaurants along the main road (many of which are chains) are accessible. Expect large crowds […]

  4. […] be using them. If they did, they’d know the vast majority of these dispensers are being placed in roll-in showers and accessible tubs by people who have never used a wheelchair. As a result, they’re usually in a […]

  5. Thank you! Well said!

  6. Anna

    Hey, you might want to update this. The ADA has specific guidelines that state all controls and shower heads need to be on the wall adjacent to the seat wall. It’s under “608.5 Controls” of the 2010 design guidelines and it was also in the 1991 design documentation. People doing this stuff just can’t be bothered to read a 200+ page doc carefully, I guess.

  7. […] be big enough for the wheelchair to turn around in and the bathtub will have to be replaced with a roll-in shower. Installing shower grab rails will also be a sensible thing to do. The toilet and sink will also […]

  8. sue

    The plumbing fixture placement problem may go all the way back to whoever designs the pipe locations within the stud walls. All the mechanicals are designed to be most cost efficient in placement; one floor over another. I’d bet no thought at all is given to ease of use by anyone less than fully physically-abled. A conscientious architect may follow through to make sure things are plumbed to ADA standards, But I’ll also bet building inspectors don’t look for anything beyond standard building codes requirements. That’s what they look for all day. Maybe advocating at planning commission meetings prior to construction phase and presenting to architect groups is something ADA advocates should be doing?

  9. Kate O'Hara Cohen

    We stayed at the Casa Monica in February, using our Marriott reward points. I took that exact same picture! We were there only one night and I had my husband with me. Good thing because otherwise I would never have been able to get off of that toilet! None of this was clear to me when we arrived because we checked in, dropped our bag and went immediately out for the evening. The next morning I asked to see the manager and I showed her the room and let her know what the issues were. I also suggested solutions that would be sensitive to the historic nature of the hotel. She told me that no one had complained about the room before. Ummmm. I doubt that. In any case, she did refund our points and give us breakfast.

    1. It must be a different manager. When I was there in August, both the manager and the chief engineer came to my room, took photos, and made notes about what needed to be changed. I’m so disappointed, but not surprised, that this problem has not been addressed.

  10. Erica Stackfleth

    In reading this I now realize that the majority of hotels I have stayed in to not meet these requirements, including but not limited to, the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, numerous Holiday Inn Express locations in Arizona and California, and Courtyard by Marriott in numerous locations.

  11. Raj

    I’m trying to book a hotel room with ADA accessibility. My biggest issue is height of the mattress from the floor. One hotel was 30″ another was 27″. Can’t do 30″. Maybe 27″ but this may not be safe as I am paralyzed, left side and aides cannot lift me up during the transfer. Then getting out ?? Any ideas of how to travel, when bed heights are so high? Staff indicated they could not change the height. I am 5′ 1″ and my home bed is 23″ high.

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