As a wheelchair user and frequent traveler who spends over 130 nights each year in (supposedly) accessible hotel rooms, I’ve seen it all. Each time I roll through the door of a new hotel room, I always have to steel myself in preparation for what I’m going to get. I’m pretty flexible and can deal with many types of ADA violations and general inconveniences, but some are just unforgivable. If I can’t safely use the toilet or take a shower, then a hotel room is completely useless to me. Here are the five biggest wheelchair accessible fails I have come across in hotel rooms around the world.
1. Shower benches opposite water controls. Despite this being a clear violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), I see this all the time. Even worse, many hotel rooms have this setup in all their ADA rooms with roll-in showers, so they can’t move you to another room as a remedy. They also often don’t have a portable shower chair that you can use to get you closer to the controls. And no, they won’t run to CVS or Walgreens to get one for you. They may offer to move you to another hotel property within their brand if available, which is what they’re supposed to do, but depending on where you are, that might not be an option. You’re only other option to remedy the problem permanently? File an ADA lawsuit, which is what I had to do a few years ago, sadly.
2. Toilets placed in awkward spots. I’m lucky that I can transfer to a toilet by placing my feet on the floor, grabbing onto a grab bar, and pivoting to the seat. However, many wheelchair users can’t do that and rely on lateral transfers. I’ve seen some impressive transfers by fellow wheelies before, but when you put a toilet in a tightly spaced alcove or separate little room, there’s no way many wheelchair users can safely transfer. According to the ADA, toilets in accessible hotel rooms are supposed to have the flush handle on the side away from the wall so you can easily reach it to flush from your wheelchair. Unfortunately, that’s not frequently the case, so you’d better remember to flush before you transfer off the toilet.
3 . Unreachable shampoo and shower gel dispensers. I totally understand that the placement of these dispensers doesn’t fall under ADA guidelines. However, it really makes you wonder what people are thinking when they decide where on the shower wall they’re going to stick these things. I also don’t like that often they’re incredibly difficult to pump from a seated position, especially with slippery/soapy hands, because they’re attached to a wall. The good news is that I have always been provided with either a tube of shower gel or bar soap upon request. However, there’s often no soap dish or ledge near the shower bench to place these. Go figure. At least these can be easily removed from the shower wall and placed elsewhere, so make sure you mention this to management. Otherwise, they’ll stay in the same unreachable spot for future guests.
4. The Poseidon Adventure (a.k.a. roll-in shower flooding). Every roll-in shower I’ve used has a different type of barrier intended to keep water from flowing out of the shower and into the rest of the bathroom. Some are better than others, but unless there’s a trench drain involved, you’re going to have some overflow. If you’re lucky, the bathroom will have a secondary drain to catch this runoff. If you’re not, you’ll be asking housekeeping for a lot of extra towels.
5. Poorly placed (or completely absent) grab bars. A supposedly accessible bathroom isn’t of much use to wheelchair users if the bars you need to grab onto for support are in the wrong place – or worse yet, don’t exist at all. This definitely falls under the ADA, but it hasn’t prevented hotels from placing them in the weirdest of places. Behind the toilet? Really? I’ve also stayed at a 5-star luxury hotel in the United States that had more grab bars than I’ve ever seen in an ADA bathroom. Except that they weren’t grab bars at all; they were towel bars that were thin squared chrome instead of thicker, rounded, brushed stainless steel. It was painful to grab these bars to stand up, not to mention incredibly unsafe in the shower.
The really discouraging part of all of this is that, despite the laws we have here in the United States to help prevent these problems, hotel bathroom accessibility is ultimately a crapshoot. Your first step is to voice your concerns to management to see if they can fix the problem locally. If they can’t move you to another room or another hotel, demand a refund for your stay. Otherwise, look into filing an ADA lawsuit to get the bathroom brought up to ADA code for future disabled guests.