How to Get an Accessible Hotel Room
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.
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
“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?
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
• Accessible room close to the elevator or on
first floor, 93
• Proper counter height, 60
• Accessible exercise areas, including the
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
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
WHERE’S MY ROOM?
Photos courtesy of Wheelchairtraveling.com
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
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
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
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.
WHAT’S IT LIKE WHEN I GET THERE?
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
• 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
• 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
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. There are supposed to be
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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
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
A NOTE ABOUT HOYER LIFTS AND MATTRESSES
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.
EXCUSE ME, DOES A LADDER COME
WITH THAT BED?
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.
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.
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 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.”
• Able to Travel, 888/2113635; www.abletotravel.org. This
travel agency works primarily with
people who have disabilities.
• Accessibility Services, www.
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
• Wheelchair Traveling,
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.
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