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
Photo by Steven Ungermann on Unsplash

Buzzer / Light

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.

Automatic Door Opening Button (enter and exit)

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:

  • 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.

Hardwood floors

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

Simple layout

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.

Adjustable height beds

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.

Temperature

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.

A fridge

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

Really good soundproofing

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.

An adjacent connecting room for a caregiver

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.

Label the damn light switches already?

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.

Automatic blinds opener

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.

Waist-height Plugs

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.

Accessible booking process

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.

Accessible TV controls

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.

Can we talk toilets?

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.

and last, but not least, the roll in shower

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).

  • 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.

Loaner Equipment

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

Sonic Boom type alarm clock

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.

Door Assist

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.

Hoyer Lift

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.

Blogger, disability advocate, nerd. Bringing the fire on ableism. A11y Architect @ VMware. Wheelchair user w/ a deaf daughter. CS, Law, and Business background

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