Room Service

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News March 2016

Locating an accessible hotel room for your next trip can be challenging, but a little planning and a few questions will make your next stay more enjoyable

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After spending hours driving or flying to a vacation destination, it’s time to relax. 

Whether you’ve booked a four-star resort or a budget-friendly chain hotel, the guest room should at least be comfortable and functional. Travelers with disabilities frequently encounter unanticipated obstacles.

Danielle Travis and her husband, Jason, find it frustrating that many hotels don’t have roll-in showers. Accessible bathrooms typically consist of a bathtub and a bench, which doesn’t work for Jason, who is paralyzed on his right side. When they travel, the Travises pack a portable shower chair. 

Another difficulty is simply space. Jason’s motorized wheelchair barely fits in some elevators and he’s unable to turn around to face the doors. Guest rooms are cramped, and Danielle finds it necessary to rearrange furniture. 

Despite the barriers, the Travises have traveled multiple times and are eagerly looking forward to more vacations. Adapting to a new environment is a challenge, but seeing new places is worth the effort. Before booking a hotel reservation, follow these tips to choose a property that meets your particular needs. 

Reservations, Please

Hotels in the United States must abide by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regarding accessibility. The rules apply to properties built after Jan. 23, 1993.

The number of accessible rooms within a hotel is determined by its total number of  guest rooms.  

A 200-room hotel is required to have eight accessible guest rooms and only two must have a roll-in shower. Properties with less than 50 guest rooms aren’t required to have any roll-in showers.  

Typically, larger hotels and newer properties tend to be a better choice for wheelchair users. Most major hotel brands have begun providing accessible room choices on their search engines.  

For example, when choosing a Hilton hotel (, type in the dates and city and then click on your preferred hotel. On the next page, click on the “Rooms & Suites” heading at the left side. Then, on the next page, click on the “View All Accessible Rooms” button on the bottom to find the choices available during the dates of your stay.  

If you have questions about a hotel’s accessibility features, it’s best to call the property’s local phone number and not the hotel brand’s reservation line. Be specific about the accessible features you need. If walking a long distance is problematic, reserve a guest room near the elevator or lobby. If you need a roll-in shower, request one. 

When booking a hotel outside the U.S., it will be necessary to ask detailed questions such as:

  • Does the street have curb cuts?
  • Are there steps or a ramp at the hotel entrance?
  • How wide are the doorways?
  • Is the elevator large enough for a wheelchair?
  • What are the accessible features of the bathroom?

If possible, have a member of management answer your questions in an email. It’s also important to always book hotel rooms as far in advance as possible. 

John Sage, owner and founder of Sage Traveling, recommends his clients who are traveling to Europe in the summer to book nine months prior to their trip. 

“Many accessible hotels in European city centers only have one or two accessible rooms, and after it’s booked, you’re out of luck,” says Sage, whose company specializes in arranging trips for people with reduced mobility. “You’ll have to stay at a hotel that’s further out or more expensive. Remember, you might be in a race with a disabled Australian who has been working on their trip for two years. People who complain about accessibility abroad often stayed in the wrong hotel neighborhood.” 

If being able to roll outside your hotel and spend breakfast at an accessible cafe is important, then you have to research the hotel area.

Bed Configurations

Many hotels only provide one bed in the accessible guest rooms, which can be a problem for families or if you’re traveling with
a companion.  

One solution is to ask if the hotel has a roll-away bed and reserve it. Some hotels charge an extra fee.

Another option is to select a suite, which is an upgrade from a standard room and typically larger. The extra space helps when you are maneuvering a wheelchair or need to accommodate bulky medical equipment.  

Brands such as Marriott’s Fairfield Inn & Suites have standard rooms and suites. Many times, suites offer additional amenities such as a small kitchen, a microwave or sofa sleeper.

Hotel brands that are all suites can be a great choice for wheelchair users. For example, Staybridge Suites offers guests the following choices: studio suite, one-bedroom suite (two beds), one-bedroom suite (king bed) and two-bedroom, two-bath suite.  

A company spokesman says Staybridge Suites studio suites and one-bedroom suites have approximately 525 square-feet of space. If it’s necessary to book two guest rooms to accommodate your party, ask for an accessible room with a door connecting to the next room.

Another issue for wheelchair users is bed height. Many hotels, especially historic ones, have beds that are considerably higher than a wheelchair seat, which makes transferring difficult. Fortunately, the interior design trend for hotels has become more contemporary and beds are returning to a more manageable height.

Swimming Pools

Thanks to new ADA regulations, hotels are required to have a pool lift. These immersible chairs are attached to a small lift arm that swings over and into the water with the push of a button.  

Confirm the hotel has a swimming pool and a lift before making your reservation by calling the hotel’s local phone number. When asking for assistance, explain that you use a wheelchair and want to speak with the employee who can best answer your questions.  

Because lifts are fairly new, many hotel employees aren’t familiar with what they are and their hotel’s protocol regarding usage.  

Some lifts are portable and will need to be brought out to the pool. Other lifts run on batteries and need to be charged.  

If using the pool is a priority for your vacation, call and email the hotel 48 hours before your arrival to make sure the lift will be usable.  

Pool lifts are designed to be operated independently, but each can be a little different. The speed at which a pool lift swings varies, as do the accessories. Some pool lifts have arm and foot rests and some have none.  

To be safe, always tell the hotel’s staff you’re going to use the lift. Carry your cellphone to the pool, and have the hotel’s number pre-programmed in the event the lift malfunctions. 

Safe Travels

To save money on hotel stays, consider joining a hotel loyalty program and always ask about special rates for the military. When you’re planning a vacation, compare several properties to find the type of guest room that best meets your family’s needs.

Jim and Barbara Twardowski cover the travel industry writing about boomer and accessible travel, accommodations, culinary/cultural offerings and destinations.     


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