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(In)Accessible Rooms: The Biggest Lie Told By The Hotel Industry

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2016 was the year when I traveled more than ever, and continuing my wanderlust is one of the resolutions I have for the new year.  Traveling as a wheelchair user means that there is more planning involved, especially when it comes to finding accessible places to stay.  Hotel companies are suppose to have available accessible rooms and proper accommodations within them, but many fall short to truly being accessible to those of us on four wheels.  I wanted to share my most recent incident, as it was a very poignant case of inaccessibility to date that I have endured.  

You Call This Accessible?  Really, Now?

I stayed at a major hotel chain in Columbia, SC over the Holidays for my mini getaway/staycation.  My friend (homegirl from college days) booked the room for us, and did so over the phone to make sure we got an accessible one.  (I am very fortunate to have friends who think about my needs and know what to do without me having to explain – they just get it.)  We checked in, and were asked which room we wanted (there were two accessible rooms available).  We selected our room, and went up to put our bags down.  

In viewing the room, it was clean and standard looking – nothing out of the ordinary.  And then I looked in the bathroom… that’s where the fun began.  

In the handful of hotel rooms I have stayed at, I never seen a tub with a bench attached to it.  I was impressed at this, and when I mentioned it to my friend, she said that the hotel gave her the option of a tub or shower.  Here is the funny part – when she asked if the shower option had a chair, she was told no.  The customer service representative may not have thought that a shower bench (which typically folds up) can also be considered a “chair.”  Additionally, by not knowing the informal language variations for modified equipment, telling someone that the shower is not accessible when it may be is misleading; this is why my friend chose the tub over the shower option regarding the room.  

As with many accessible bathrooms, whether shower or tub, things were still out of reach.  Two things especially – the shower head was near the top of the hanging rod and the accessible bench was folded up.  I typically stay in rooms alone, so it always amazes me that hotel staff think that placing the shower heads really high is a good thing – NO, NOPE, NAH.  With me being under four feet tall, there is NO way I can reach this, and it is a tremendous inconvenience to ask hotel staff to do it for you.  With the combination of the shower head plus bench both being out of my range of reach, I was thankful to not have been alone this time around.  Even my friend found it strange and problematic regarding the placement of these items.  (When your able-bodied friends complain as much as you do about this… you know it is not just you.)

Recreation of how the shower head and accessible tub bench were out of reach range for me.

After we got the bench unfolded and the shower head lowered, we realize problem #2 – the shower head “cord” was not long enough to be used comfortably while sitting on the bench.  In the image shared above, you can see that the bench is positioned on the opposite end of the tub, and the shower head length did not reach that far.  This presents both safety and usage problems – how do you expect me to shower safely without leaning too far and possibly slipping off the bench (there were no anti-slip grips at the bottom of the tub), along with turning the water on and off, adjusting water temperature, and actually washing up with ease?  As someone with a brittle bones condition, falling is my archnemesis, so I decided to do a sponge bath since I was only staying in the room one night.  Again… how accessible is your bathroom if I cannot even SHOWER safely or at all?

Speaking of washing, the sink held our third (in)accessible issue – short hot/cold handles.  Not only were the handles too short, but the sink area was set up for average height/able-bodied use.  An actually accessible sink area would be built for wheelchair users and those of shorter stature – longer handles, lower mirror placement, a grooved space where someone can wheel into the sink and reach comfortably, and a lightweight stepstool for those who need it are just a few ideas that come to mind to fix this issue.  Since I steadfastly like to do things for myself, I decided to become a “disabled MacGyver” in correcting this problem – see below image:  

My MacGyver moment: Using the facial tissue cover to turn on & off the sink because the handles were too short for me to reach. (You can also see the top of my head in the mirror that was positioned too high.)

The last space I checked was the bed, mainly if I could get in and out comfortably.  Beds are important, but hotels think that very high beds are the way to go.  This is where NO, NOPE, NAH comes back into play – I should not have to stand on things to get in the bed.  (I once stood on the trash can to get at least 4 more inches of height to crawl into bed – the struggle was real on that trip.)  What is with these sky-high elevated bed, and why are they in the (in)accessible room?!?!  Fortunately, this room had a bed that I could get in and out of with ease (and no trash cans had to be used).  

Final Thoughts

I wish I could say that my experience is an isolated case, but sadly, it is not.  Wheelchair users encounter these inaccessible problems more than we should, especially since hotels are mandated to provide access in the first place.  I wanted to learn about the experiences of others, and got an overwhelming response.  I plan to share those stories in a “Part 2” piece that will be featured on Rooted In Rights, so stay tuned for that.  (I will provide the link onto this post when that article is published.)

Hotel industry, stop telling disabled patrons that you have accessible rooms when you do not – the lie is not helpful.  We deserve actually accessible rooms that are of quality so that we can enjoy our hotel stays without stress or hazards.  Our money as patrons is as good as anyone else’s – stop treating us as second-class consumers and a sheer afterthought.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of Pixabay.)

About Vilissa Thompson, LMSW

Vilissa is the Founder & CEO of Ramp Your Voice!, an organization she created to establish herself as a Disability Rights Consultant & Advocate. Ramp Your Voice! is a prime example of how macro-minded Vilissa truly is, and her determination to leave a giant "tire track mark" on the world.

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