Elements of an accessible hotel room

It takes more than a roll-in shower to make a hotel room accessible

white hotel room w/ large window, carpet, and turquoise accents on bedding with a black&white cityscape artwork above the bed
white hotel room w/ large window, carpet, and turquoise accents on bedding with a black&white cityscape artwork above the bed
Photo by Steven Ungermann on Unsplash

For those of you without mobility issues, you may not know that there is a thing called an “accessible” hotel room. Recently returning from Quito from my first solo business trip outside of North America in a while reminded me that every “accessible” hotel room I’ve stayed in over the past year has been completely different. Since there is no standard and every hotel chain seems to be all over the place (even within their own chain) I thought I would call out from the customer’s perspective what features a fully accessible hotel room *should* have.

Accessible means accessible to everyone. There aren’t special rooms for specifically for people with hearing loss, vision loss or people who use wheelchairs. There is only a limited number of accessible hotel rooms in any given hotel, and they have to work for all disabilities.

Each accessible hotel room should have an outside buzzer with a light flashing inside. This will allow deaf residents to know that someone is outside the door trying to get their attention.

It is such a nuisance to get up to open the door when you are in a wheelchair. Also many times I have come close to injuring myself (or my chair) because of struggling with heavy doors on my own. An automatic door opener (both for entering and exiting) makes it easier for guests to get into the room and to let others in. Typically I’ve seen:

  • no automatic door openers or power door assists
  • room doors that are *incredibly* heavy (because there are no ADA requirements pertaining to internal non-fire doors)
  • and, the electronic lock ALWAYS times out before I can maneuver my way in, especially the first time when I’m dragging luggage and don’t know the room layout.

Ever try to roll a wheelchair through shag carpet on your own? It’s not fun. Hardwood floors give wheelchairs much better traction and typically don’t present a problem for folks with other disabilities

A room without a lot of cluttering furniture is important so people can get around. If there are rugs, they should have non-slip backing and a relatively low edge to make it easy for wheelchairs to get over them without getting stuck.

Some people prefer their beds lower, some prefer them higher, it depends on the limitations that their disability places on them with respect to bending one’s knees. If the bed goes up or down, or the customer can indicate before they arrive how they like it, that is very useful.

I stay enough at Marriott and Hyatt House that they’ve discovered my preferred temperature is 73 F. They have it stored in my profile, and every time I arrive no matter whether I am in Vegas or somewhere cold, the temp in my room is 73 F. Some people are very temperature sensitive, and I am one of them. Excessive air conditioning makes my arthritic joints freeze up.

People who need an accessible room are more likely to be bringing prescriptions that need to be refrigerated. Enough said.

Soundproofing is essential for two reasons a) Sonic Boom alarm clock above, you don’t want to annoy your neighbors, and b) some individuals with disabilities are sensitive to noise. By blocking noise from coming in, that will reduce anxiety and middle-of-the-night unintentional wake ups.

Some people with disabilities travel with unrelated caregivers. Having an addjacent, connecting room to the accessible room for them makes life a lot easier for everyone.

No one in a wheelchair wants to go around trying to worm their way to six different sets of wall light switches usually blocked by furniture when they don’t know which switch does what. Best practice — have controls for them at the bedside. At a minimum label them.

Blinds are heavy and really hard to open and close from a wheelchair. If you are going to do controls at the bedside for the light switches, add one for the blinds too.

When all the plugs are on the ground, I am hosed. Hotels are getting better and better at putting them on the desk, on the night stands, and in the lamp bases. This one is a curb cut, but older accessible rooms may not have this feature. In the US all plugs should be between 15 and 48 inches in height, with no more than 15 inches of reach required.

The hotels have gotten better at making their reservation processes accessible, but customers frequently book their rooms through third party companies. Hotels should put their weight behind the request for the third parties to make *THEIR* websites accessible. Otherwise I am forced to pay $120 to book at the name brand site, when I could have gotten it for $99 if it only worked with a keyboard somewhere else, and that’s not fair. It’s just one of many disability taxes people with disabilities face on a daily basis.

Voice controls for TV (in addition to the usually “press the button” types of controls) are amazing. And make it easy to figure out how to turn on the Closed Captions or Descriptive Audio.

Grab bars near the toilet are a god-send. I don’t know how many falls I’ve managed to prevent because of them. Also, something referred to in the US as a “comfort height” toilet (36"/91 cm) make it easier for people with mobility issues to use.

A roll-in shower has to be grade-level to the floor. There should be no “lip” whatsoever. It should contain a transfer bench, two shower heads (one for someone standing, the other for a seated individual or someone of short stature).

  • Grab bars are usually required. The Marriott I recently stayed in had an additional vertical “grab” feature etched into the concrete wall separating the shower area from the sink that I used when I was exiting the shower. It was extraordinarily helpful.
  • Corresponding low toiletry trays and towel racks are necessary as well.
  • Use of some sort of traction material such as textured concrete/tile or a bathmat is definitely a bonus.

Bathroom maintenance in general is an issue for accessible rooms. That is because an accessible room usually starts as a non-accessible room that is retrofitted. Water spilling over the marble floor is a recipe for disaster for someone with mobility issues. Grout over the drains MUST be maintained. No one does this adequately, and frankly, it is disgusting.

Loaner Equipment

Hotels advertising themselves as accessible should have loaner equipment that they can make available on an as-needed basis.

Most people with hearing loss above bilateral moderate to severe need a louder than average alarm clock. Regular alarm clocks, Siri, or phone calls from the front desk may not be sufficiently loud.

If you don’t have automatic door opening buttons, a power door assist will at a minimum make it easier for people with mobility issues to open and close those typically very heavy doors.

Some individuals require mechanical lifts to transfer in and out of beds. One very popular type of lift is called a Hoyer Lift. Some hotels have them, others can arrange to rent them and have them in the room when you arrive, if needed.

Conclusion

If you are involved in hospitality, some of the items above might seem new to you. This is why you need to involve several people with disabilities when remodeling accessible rooms. When I see my perfect accessible room, I will let you know where it is. Until then, I typically try to stay in Marriott or Hyatt properties since I’ve had the best track record with them.

Written by

Accessibility Architect @ VMware. W3C Silver, ITI & IAAP GLC committees. Degrees in CS, law, business. Wheelchair user w/ a deaf daughter.

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