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How to Find an Accessible Hotel - from New Mobility Magazine

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For more see New Mobility Magazine - the magazine for active wheelchair users. …

For more see New Mobility Magazine - the magazine for active wheelchair users.

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  • 1. TRAVEL LODGING How to Get an Accessible Hotel Room B Y A shley Lyn Olson is passionate about traveling. As CEO and founder of Wheelchair Traveling, the T12 para from San Ramone, Calif., documents every place she visits, both in the U.S. and abroad. She’s seen the proverbial good, bad and ugly in her travels, and is upbeat even in the face of marginal accessibility. “There have been so many times where hotels are supposed to be accessible, and they generally are, but maybe they have an older building,” says Olson, 30. “Like one in San Francisco. There was an elevator and a roll-in shower that was pretty tight, but I could back in. And to me, it comes down to sleeping and bathing when you travel.” But she does have her pet peeves. Among them are bathrooms. “Some hotels say ‘you can roll into the bathroom, totally,’ but I need a roll-in shower. Of course I can roll into the bathroom. And they don’t know the difference.” And why do hotel chains make sure that each room looks just like all the other rooms, down to matching bedspreads, but then have unique bathroom layouts? “Sometimes the bench is on one wall and the hand-held shower head on the other, so it becomes more challenging,” she says. And then there’s, oh yes, bed height. NM asked, “Which hotels are best and why?” 210 of you responded with the wisdom of experience. 18 NEW MOBILITY J O S I E B Y Z E K Ashley Lyn Olson stayed at one hotel with a perfect bathroom, but the bed was on an inaccessible platform (right). “Sometimes I’ll use the bed sheets as a rope and climb up the bed. Definitely a pet peeve of mine,” says Olson. “There’s no requirement for bed height by the ADA, which blows my mind.” Once, while staying at a chic hotel in WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY ACCESSIBLE? T o gauge what respondents mean by accessible, we asked you to tell us about what’s most important, and gave the following six options: • Accessible toilets with plenty of space for easy transfers, 165 • Proper bed height, 143 • Roll-in showers, 138 • Accessible parking spaces close to the entrance, 124 • Accessible room close to the elevator or on first floor, 93 • Proper counter height, 60 • Accessible exercise areas, including the pool, 41 We left a space for “other,” and many of you wrote in that you need room to maneuver as well as space under the bed for Hoyer lifts. Our favorite answer under ‘other’ was a person with post-polio who wants to see “staff that can solve problems.” But then, in order to get at what is absolutely the most crucial accessible feature, we asked you to choose just one. From this we learned that being able to comfortably use the bathroom in a hotel room (75) is more important than using a roll-in shower (61), but proper bed height is a big deal (39). All other features garnered less than 10 responses each.
  • 2. WHERE’S MY ROOM? Photos courtesy of Wheelchairtraveling.com W downtown Los Angeles, she made a big deal about her bathroom needs. “They guaranteed me it would be fine. And it was fantastic,” she says. “Then I go to the bed and there’s a 2-inch-high, 2-footwide platform all the way around it. So that means there’s a huge gap between me and the mattress! All of their rooms are like this, it’s their general standard.” She has learned a trick that usually works when reserving an accessible room. “If you need something really specific, when you make a reservation, talk to someone in housekeeping or maintenance, since they know the hotel intimately,” she suggests. Be very specific, recommends Olson. It’s not good enough to just ask if a hotel has a shower bench — you have to find out if it’s big enough, and even if it has a back. This is Not What I Asked For Olson, a para since she was 14, is a savvy traveler who knows how to ask the right questions to get the access she needs — and whom to ask. But sometimes people who aren’t as savvy can run into major aggravation, says Kleo King, senior vice e asked which hotel chains are the most reliable when it comes to honoring a reservation for an accessible room and asked respondents to name as many as they wanted. Five percent answered, “none!” but most report having luck with the following chains: • Hilton Hotels & Resorts. Fifty-five of you responded that the Hilton chain will have your room ready when you check in. Of this 55, Hampton Inn, owned by Hilton, received 21 responses. The Hilton Garden Inn, Embassy Suites, DoubleTree and Homewood Suites each received less than 5 responses. • Marriott received 42 responses; 35 for the Marriott itself, followed by less than five each for Courtyard by Marriott, Fairfield Inn and Suites, and Springhill Suites. • Holiday Inn Hotels & Resorts did well by 33 of you; 17 for Holiday Inn, another 15 for Holiday Inn Express and one for the Staybridge Extended Stay. • Choice Hotels brought up the rear with a low 17 responses. Its Sleep Inn, Comfort Suits and Rodeway Inn each garnered less than five. Comfort Inn received 6 responses. So what does this mean? First, it’s not a scientific poll. There are other factors to take into consideration, like which chains have the most brands. But some conclusions can be drawn, such as large chains do a better job at honoring reservations. Also, it may mean nothing that some of the smaller brands in a larger chain didn’t get as many responses, since most people book via the Internet, and if you look on the website for, say, Hilton, you’ll see its brands that are near your destination are also pulled up. president of Accessibility Services for United Spinal. King is also a member of the U.S. Access Board. “People who have a new injury or onset of disease who are now using a wheelchair or scooter may not know they have to specify, ‘I need an accessible room with a roll-in shower,’ or ‘I need a tub,’ and even those who do specify that on their reservation can have it get messed up,” says King. And yet, even when people know ex- actly what they need, they still might not get it. “Since the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, hotel reservations are supposed to be better. They’re supposed to take your request offline, if you use an Internet portal, and have that roll-in shower for you,” says King. “So if someone comes in and demands it, they’re not supposed to get that room. You reserved it, you need it. If all the rooms are booked, then they can call other hotels WE’RE THE MARKET, NOT A NICHE I nternational travel and inclusion design consultant Scott Rains says it’s time for people with disabilities to stop insisting we’re a market niche. “We cross-cut all niches and all demographics,” says Rains. “We cover all economic brackets and we’re traveling for the same reasons everyone else does. We date, we marry, we have families.” Our survey on hotel and motel accessibility proves Rains’ point. When we asked why respondents travel, 92 of 210 said for family vacations, followed by 68 for couple getaways and 39 for work-related trips. That’s a lot of family members, lovers and coworkers all benefiting from access technically needed by only one person. We also asked what price range respondents typically aim for when booking a room: 72 said $50-$100, 95 said $100-$150, and 22 said $150-$200. So much for the stereotype that everyone who uses a wheelchair is impoverished and alone. NOVEMBER 2013 19
  • 3. WHAT’S IT LIKE WHEN I GET THERE? W to o to out ut ut eet t et o o hts s hts k” ” k” e, , ade e, e de and nd and e in n in om m m de e de d d e asked which chains have proven to be the most accessible for you and your family during your travels, and not surprisingly, the answers reflected the same pattern as our question about reliable reservations. But there were some differences. • Hilton Hotels & Resorts, at 67 responses, smoked the competition, and 27 of these were for the Hampton Inn alone. Hilton Garden Inn, Embassy Suites, DoubleTree and Homewood Suites each received less than 5 responses. Interestingly, those of you who took the survey find Hilton’s accessibility to be more reliable than Hilton’s honoring of room reservations. But keep in mind the survey allowed multiple responses, and some of you chose Hilton and Hampton Inn, thus giving the chain two responses from one person. • Marriott received 44 responses, and its brands, Courtyard by Marriott, Fairfield Inn and Suites, and Springfield Suites, each received less than five responses. • Holiday Inn scored 32, with roughly half going to the actual Holiday Inn, and half to the Holiday Inn Express. • Choice brings up the rear with 17 responses divided pretty evenly between Comfort Inn and Comfort Suites, and a smattering of responses for the Sleep Inn and Rodeway Inn. in the area to get a room, maybe send the customer to the other Marriott, that kind of thing.” But your room that you reserved, with all the specific accommodations you requested, ought to be there when you arrive. “The bigger chains do better with this,” says King. “Most hotel chains, especially newer ones, do renovations every 10 to 15 years just to upgrade so the property doesn’t look dingy. So most do have what the ADA requires.” It boils down to customer service, says King. “If there’s a glitch and they’re nice and take care of it, it goes unnoticed. But if the staff is rude, then the glitch becomes worse, which is true whether it’s accessibility-related or if the heat doesn’t work. If the staff isn’t responsive, it ruins your stay.” What Does the ADA Not Say? There are some accessibility features the ADA is very specific about: Hotels with over 50 rooms need to have at least three accessible rooms without a rollin shower and at least one room with a roll-in shower. 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  • 4. unobstructed areas with enough space for a wheelchair user to turn around in a guest room’s bathroom. Regs say how high sinks ought to be, and even address the structural strength of grab bars. And in 2010 the standards were strengthened to assure room reservations are honored. And yet, despite this level of specificity, and despite overall satisfaction with hotel accessibility, there are some glaring areas that need improvement. Take toilets, for example. “Ya gotta use the bathroom,” says King. “You can’t be on vacation or even have an overnight stay and not use the bathroom. And you want to get up and shower in the morning.” The lack of consistency from hotel to hotel in how bathrooms are laid out can be odd, says Scott Rains, an international consultant on travel and universal design. “Some of the bathrooms are so tiny or made so weirdly you can’t get in past the door, sinks or toilets. In an accessible bathroom that meets the standards, the height range may not be good for some people. In some people’s opinions, even ADA-standard toilets are not sufficient.” Rains, a C3-4 in- Ashley Lyn Olson is passionate about travel. A NOTE ABOUT HOYER LIFTS AND MATTRESSES H otels are supposed to have room underneath beds to accommodate Hoyer lifts, but David Smart, a C4-5 quad, says many hotels don’t seem to know this. That’s OK. He’s figured out a solution. “There is no Hyatt in the country that has a bed frame that allows for a Hoyer lift transfer,” he says. “At a Hyatt in Santa Rosa, Calif., the manager of the hotel had the frame switched and the bathroom counter skirt ripped out so we could stay there.” Smart says there’s simply no reason for a hotel to balk at swapping out frames. “Frames cost hardly anything — you can pick one up for $40 at Wal-Mart.” Mattress density is another factor Smart must deal with, due to past troubles with pressure wounds. “At home I sleep on an air bed that’s perfect for me,” says Smart. But I also find memory foam works just fine.” He packs a memory foam mattress topper and brings it with him wherever he and his fiancé go. “The toppers collapse pretty darn well,” he says. NOVEMBEY 2013 JULR 21
  • 5. EXCUSE ME, DOES A LADDER COME WITH THAT BED? W hen I recently attempted a week- the hotel, often on short notice. Most hotels end getaway to Atlantic City, N.J., I are happy to work with you, but it may take found hotel personnel were shockingly a few calls to get the right person on the uninformed about the very people ac- phone. If you get attitude from staff, take cessible rooms were designed to service. your business elsewhere — you will find Some didn’t see the beds as high at all. other places that aim to please. Others thought we all travel with motor2. If the bed height is a problem, ized hoists or musclemen health aides to speak up immediately! Hotel maintetoss us in at night. One even asked why nance staff deal with all kinds of probI couldn’t stand (true!). But lems, including this one. If most just couldn’t wrap they seem baffled, try to their heads around the give them as much inforconcept of someone in mation as you can on what a wheelchair needing to you need so they can figtransfer laterally onto a bed ure out what to do. without assistance. 3. Don’t be shy — offer To make matters worse, suggestions such as the one the runaround I got trying I previously mentioned. Reto find someone to even moving the box spring and measure the bed height having the mattress sit diBY JACQUIE TELLALIAN in an accessible room was rectly on the bed frame ofa Herculean feat requiring ten solves the height probnumerous emails and dozens of phone lem quickly and with a minimum of hassle. calls. After speaking to everyone from 4. Be a gracious guest. If modifications reservation takers to the head of house- are made to your bed by maintenance, keeping, I landed in the voicemail of the thank them for their help with a smile (I executive director of the front office. The offer a tip). Showing your appreciation for gentleman was well aware of the bed- their time and effort helps pave the way height issue because his elderly mother for the next disabled person who needs it complained about the very same thing all done. If you like to write reviews, YELP! is a the time. The solution was one that I had great online outlet for sharing info — both proposed in my very first email to the ho- pro or con. tel — if possible, simply remove the box 5. Consider writing letters to hotel bigspring and place the mattress directly wigs and associations to let them know onto the bed frame. that bed heights are a major problem that Of course there’s no such thing as a one- needs addressing. Government agencies size-fits-all-disabled hotel room, but it’s per- and corporate personnel are often listed fectly reasonable to expect lodgings with online, so finding them isn’t hard. accessible rooms to have some kind of proBeing disabled means we deal with vision in place that would allow their staff to life’s inconveniences daily and can adapt quickly lower a bed’s height upon request better than our nondisabled counterparts by a wheelchair user. Unfortunately, there is in odd or difficult situations. By planning nothing in the ADA that addresses the bed ahead and telling people what you need height issue, so each of us are pretty much in advance, you not only help yourself, but on our own in this little battle, but I do have you help others and create more awaresome tips that work for me. ness for all. 1. Call the hotel directly. Ask for a front desk manager and tell them about your acNew Yorker Jacquie Tellalian’s blog, cess concerns. For example, if the bathroom Norma Desperate: Crippled Spinster in Cyhas a bath seat, but you need a bath trans- berspace, can be found at normadesperate. fer bench, chances are the hotel will know wordpress.com. This article first appeared at where you can rent one that will deliver to www.spinalcord.org/hotel-accessibility. 22 NEW MOBILITY complete quad, lives in San Jose, Calif., and has travelled extensively throughout the world. To keep accessibility in the U.S. in perspective, Rains talks about how the burning issue in Asia is to get hotels to stop putting in a 3-inch-tall, 1-inch-wide curb between the guestroom’s bedroom and bathroom. And the list goes on and on. Yet it’s worth it, says Olson. She keeps accessibility snafus in perspective by reminding herself that, after all, a hotel room is not a destination. It’s a place to stay while she’s exploring the world. “I feel the most connected to the world and alive when I travel — every sound, smell, taste is heightened. I am truly living in the moment and see how truly beautiful and full of love this world really is.” Resources • Able to Travel, 888/2113635; www.abletotravel.org. This travel agency works primarily with people who have disabilities. • Accessibility Services, www. accessibility-services.com. This team of professional consultants guide businesses such as hotels toward complete accessibility. Like New Mobility and Able to Travel, Accessibility Services is under United Spinal Association’s umbrella. • Americans with Disabilities Act Checklist for New Lodging Facilities; www.ada.gov/hsurvey.htm • Rolling Rains Report, www. rollingrains.com. This site is a good source for the latest info on inclusive travel and the hospitality industry. • Wheelchair Traveling, Wheelchairtraveling.com. Wheelchair Traveling’s Ashley Lyn Olson travels domestically and internationally, takes lots of notes, and guides fellow wheelchair users interested in similar trips. Also, take a few minutes to view The World of Wheelchair Travel, www.youtube. com/watch?feature=player_ embedded&v=xg8-9tKy_4#t=595.
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