I see it every single time I stay in a hotel room–evidence that hotels assume I’m not alone. I guess it’s rare to see a solo traveler in a wheelchair, but as I spend more time roaming the world and meeting more wheelchair users, I think we’re not as rare as many people think. What certainly isn’t odd is the wheelchair user who wants to be independent and do things for him or herself. This is why it’s so infuriating to check in to a hotel to discover that things are laid out in a manner I sometimes can’t manage alone–but could if hotel managers’ thought processes worked differently. So hotels, get your act together and stop assuming that all wheelchair users who stay at your properties are traveling with someone else, or want someone else to help them accomplish things they could actually do themselves.
First, let me tackle the bed situation. The horrible trend of high beds in hotels is something I’ve addressed on my blog at length. Hotels don’t put different beds in wheelchair accessible rooms, and we’re lucky if they have legs that can be adjusted to accommodate those of us who need them lowered. But aside from being cheap and thoughtless, part of me really believes that hotels assume someone will always be with us to just help us get into these sky-high beds somehow. Let me tell you how hilarious it would have been to watch my 80 year-old mother try to maneuver me into a 32″-high hotel room bed last week. That was a rarity, as I travel alone 95 percent of the time, and I’m left to my own (unsafe) devices to get into these beds.
Check out this nylon “ladder” that helps me pull myself up in hotel beds and at home: Stander BedCaddie – Sit-Up In Bed Support Assist Handle with Adjustable Nylon Strap + Three Ergonomic Hand Grips
Next, let’s talk about bathrooms. Even if I manage to get a good roll-in shower in my rooms, chances are around 100 percent that the detachable shower head will be placed at the highest position. Let me say that it’s much easier for housekeeping to default the shower head position to the lowest level, and if an able-bodied person needs it higher, for them to move it. I’m lucky I can stand for a few seconds with a lot of support and usually lower it myself, but many wheelchair users can’t. That means they either need a companion to lower it, or have to call housekeeping to lower it for them.
If you can’t get a room with a roll-in shower but can transfer, maybe a portable tub bench is one solution: Drive Medical Portable Shower Bench, White
Then there’s the furniture layout situation. I’m firmly convinced that hotels NEVER consult with wheelchair users and actually have them roll through their accessible rooms when designing the room layouts. If they did, there wouldn’t be heavy furniture blocking access to the curtain pulls. The electrical outlets wouldn’t be out of reach on lamps pushed to the back of desks. Towels wouldn’t be placed on a high rack to high for a wheelchair user to reach. Access to either side of the bed wouldn’t be blocked by a heavy chair.
Public areas in US hotels are usually pretty decent for access, but not in the breakfast department. In lower-end hotels, some breakfast buffet items are always out of reach, whether it’s the utensils placed too far back on the counter or the bread drawer too high up for me to reach. Forget about me making one of those waffles by myself. Even at higher end hotels, buffet breakfasts are a nightmare when it comes to being able to reach anything or serve myself. Fortunately, a hotel employee is always willing to help, but that’s not the point. With some foresight by hotel management, I should be able to do this myself.
The problem with all of these situations is two-fold. First, none of these scenarios is governed by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This means hotels are under no legal obligation to provide adjustable beds, or lower shower heads, or place food within my reach. Second, people (including hotel managers) often have a hard time grasping the concept that wheelchair users can do (and WANT to do) many things independently, whether they’re traveling alone or not. I hate it when people at restaurants or museums or shops look around nervously and ask me if I’m by myself. The assumption that we always have help, or that we want it in the first place, takes away from our desire to live independently whenever possible, and reduces us to creatures who are invariably helpless. So, dear hotels, stop making assumptions about our disabilities and start empowering us to travel (and live) on our own terms.
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