What Exactly is an Accessible Hotel Room?

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Part of a gigantic bathroom in an accessible cabin in remote Mineral King

What exactly are the ingredients of an accessible hotel room? That’s a question that I get asked a lot – from both travelers and people in the hospitality industry. And to be honest, there’s not one simple answer to that question.

I guess technically you could say that that an accessible hotel room is one that complies with the ADAAG – those are the guidelines issued by the Department of Justice that spell out specific access requirements. Unfortunately these guidelines can vary depending on the age, size and sometimes even the location of the property. So in the end there’s not one single definition of an accessible hotel room.

You can ask 100 people that same question and you’d probably get 100 different answers. Generally speaking folks that have never traveled hope to find the same access features that they have in their own homes, in accessible hotel rooms when they hit the road. And sometimes they are disappointed, because let’s face it, everyone’s access needs and abilities are unique. In fact, two people with the exact same disability may have completely different access needs.

That said there are some basic access features that all accessible rooms should contain. And for the sake of this question I’m only referring to access features for people with a mobility disability, not folks with a sensory or mental disability.

Accessible Hotel Room Basic Features

  • accessible parking near the room or main entrance
  • wide doors
  • lever handles
  • good pathway access
  • elevator to upper floors
  • objects within reach of a wheelchair-user
  • toilet and shower grab bars
  • roll-under sink
  • hand-held showerhead
  • some type of shower chair or bench

An accessible hotel room can also have a bathroom with a roll-in shower, a transfer-type shower or a tub/shower combination. Some larger properties may have rooms with each configuration; while properties with less than 50 rooms will most likely only have accessible rooms with a tub/shower combination.

Toilets are another matter entirely. The ADAAG specifies that a toilet in an accessible guestroom must be 17 – 19 inches high. Admittedly that height won’t work for everyone, so if you need a higher toilet just ask for a toilet riser.

Bed height is a bit harder to fix. Since beds are considered removable, they are not covered under the ADAAG, and to be honest I have seen everything from 20 inches high to 36 inches high. Most wheelchair-users prefer lower beds, while people with knee or hip issues or have problems standing and bending generally like higher beds. If bed height is an issue for you, ask about the measurement before booking a room. Some people who prefer higher beds travel with furniture risers, or ask the hotel if they have some wood blocks to raise the bed. Lowering a bed is more difficult. If it’s not a platform bed it can sometimes be taken off the frame, but some platform beds just can’t be lowered.

Of course access regulations vary from country to country, so these specific access features only apply to US properties. In fact visitors from the UK are often surprised to discover that — outside of a few Las Vegas properties – accessible hotel rooms in the US are not equipped with ceiling track lifts or hoists. And they’re even more surprised to find out that the majority of hotels have platform beds, with no room for a Hoyer lift underneath them.

In the end, there’s really not one standard definition of an accessible room. So the next time you book an accessible room, remember to ask a lot of questions, so you can determine if that room will work for you. And don’t be afraid afraid to ask for photos too. Today it’s easy to snap a photo and e-mail it, and you know what they say – a picture is worth a thousand words.

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