The Bed Height Brouhaha

In my last Emerging Horizons editorial, I talked about changes — changes in me, changes in Emerging Horizons and changes in the access laws. And although I received a lot of e-mail about the changes in me (thanks guys) I also received a few notes about the changes in the laws. More specifically about the Department of Justice’s advance notice of proposed rulemaking regarding the accessibility of furniture and equipment. In plain English — they are (among other things) looking at bed height and type (open/closed frame) in accessible hotel rooms. And for those of you following along at home, that’s something that is not regulated now. In other words, there is no such thing as an “accessible hotel bed” because there are no specifications for removable furniture.After reading my editorial, one reader asked why I didn’t voice my opinion on what the “proper” height and configuration should be. So I explained the reasons for my abstention to him. And he was kind enough to reply that he never imagined the issue was that complicated. So I thought it might be useful — perhaps even enlightening — to explain to everybody why I don’t have an opinion on the issue. And why the seemingly simple issue of bed height is a lot more complicated than it first appears.

The plain and simple truth is that there isn’t an ideal bed height. Or for that matter even a range. And I came to that conclusion from the input of thousands of readers — of all disabilities. That latter qualification is important, because it’s just not about wheelchair-users. The law protects everyone with a disability, and that includes folks using a wide variety of assistive devices — full or part time. And even those folks who choose not to use any assistive device, but simply have a disabling condition that restricts or limits their movement.

And that’s a wide range of people!

So although I hate to pigeon-hole folks, here’s a general breakdown of the three large schisms I see — at least as far as bed height and type goes.

  1. Wheelchair-users who need a lower bed for transfers. This is especially important if they are traveling alone, or without someone who can assist them.
  2. Slow walkers with joint problems who need a higher bed. These folks cannot bend or sit without extreme pain (or sometimes not at all), so if they have a higher bed they don’t have to bend much to get in and out of bed.
  3. Power wheelchair-users who travel with a portable hoyer-type lift. These folks have to have an open-frame bed (so the lift will fit under it), and most prefer a higher bed. I was a bit puzzled about the higher bed, but was later told that it makes for a safer PCA-assisted transfer (they don’t have to bend over much, thus reducing back stain and potential injury).

So there you have it. Like I said, it’s a diverse range of needs. And the problem is, how do you meet the access needs of one group without forsaking another? Not an easy assignment, at all.

Of course I have a quad friend who argues that she has to have a lower bed in order to transfer at all, while slow walkers merely prefer higher beds for comfort and safety. Although I have no doubt of her inability to transfer, I have a problem with any argument that assumes the abilities (or lack thereof) of other people. Every disability is different, and even folks with the same disability may have drastically different abilities. So in my book — and hopefully in the DOJ’s as well — everyone is equal as far as their needs are concerned.

The one thing I can say that I wish the DOJ would do, is to require public accommodations to list the height and type of beds in their accessible rooms. That way people could pick a property that is appropriate for them. On this last trip I saw a wide variety of beds, and I don’t think that’s an uncommon representation. Plus it would be pretty inexpensive to implement — how much time does it take to measure a bed and enter the information into the computer?

And coincidentally, that’s what I’ve been doing in Emerging Horizons for the past 6-7 years. After all, information is very empowering!

So that’s where I stand on the bed height issue. Above all, I’m glad I’m not on this committee, as it’s going to be a very tough issue to tackle. It will be interesting to see what the DOJ decides though!