Hotel accessibility is like a box of chocolates……

February 10, 2013 at 2:53 pm 7 comments

Even with the ADA in place, providing a minimum requirement for accessibility, it still never ceases to amaze me that each ‘ADA’ hotel room we encounter, is so very different.  My husband Bill, who uses a manual wheelchair due to a spinal cord injury, is a travel agent and knows this issue all to well.  Our last three hotel stays truly exemplify the fact that you just never know what you are going to get.  Thus, the inspiration for this blog post.

We stayed in Washington, DC for a quick get-away over Thanksgiving and had the opportunity to stay in two separate hotels.  The first accessible hotel room boasted large amounts of space, both in the room and the bathroom.  The room we received had a tub with tub seat and plethora of grab bars.  Bill, who could access the controls to turn on the water, and could transfer onto the flip-down tub seat, had difficulty with reaching across the tub to pull the tub seat down and, our favorite, could not reach the hand-held shower on the opposite short shower wall.  We find that this is a typical scenario in many ‘ADA’ hotel rooms.  Even though it is on a slide, Bill is at the mercy of someone placing the handheld closer to him in the shower, and then hoping that housekeeping won’t put it back on the slide at the top after cleaning the room.
In this second hotel room, we encountered a roll-in shower with flip-down seat and once again, a plethora of grab bars.  Bill was once again able to easily transfer from his wheelchair to the bench, but this required that he roll his manual wheelchair into the shower area, and then try to push his chair outside of the shower area once he was seated on the shower bench.  Bill sustained a C5-C6 incomplete spinal cord injury, which resulted in quadriplegia.  Pushing his chair outside of the shower area and then attempting to retrieve it was challenging for his balance, as it required that he hold the front grab bar with his left hand (which only has tenodesis grasp) and rotate his trunk to the right while reaching to the side and behind him with his right arm, which is challenging for his sitting balance, and almost caused him to fall off the shower seat.   Even if he were to be able to do this independently, he now has his front wheelchair wheels within the wet shower area.  Adding another layer of challenge is the handheld shower unthinkingly placed at the top of the slide bar.
For our recent trip to the International Builders Show in Las Vegas, we once again encountered an ‘ADA’ room with a tub.  We were given the option of a tub with a stand-alone shower seat, or a roll-in shower with a stand-alone shower seat.   Things that make you go hmmm……    Bill made the choice of a tub with stand-alone tub seat, as this was the lesser of two evils.  A roll-in shower sounds great, but using a roll-in shower with a stand alone shower seat is dangerous for Bill as the seat may slide when he is attempting to transfer to/from his wheelchair and it may tip over in the shower if he were to have a muscle spasm.  His thoughts—less area for the stand-alone shower seat to move in a tub than in a large roll-in shower.  Neither was ideal, but we are used to ‘making-do’ in hotels.  Upon making this decision, the hotel changed their mind on the choices and stated that by law we are supposed to be in the room with the roll-in shower.  As I educated the staff about ADA, and the areas of concern with both of their ‘ADA’ rooms, miraculously the ‘hotel engineers’ located a tub bench that can be fastened to the tub!  Ok, so this is a bit better, still no chocolate covered cherry, but better.  As they arrive to the room and we all convene in the bathroom, the first engineer says to the second engineer, “where does it go?”  I politely take over and educate the engineers about the placement of the tub bench to best meet Bill’s needs.  Even though the tub bench allows for increased ease of transfer and increased safety versus a stand along shower seat, the tub seat is very hard and uncomfortable to transfer onto (Bill has sensation below the level of his injury) and he still is at the mercy of the handheld shower being lowered from the top of the slide bar.

Please note:  tub bench was height adjusted and was positioned to accommodate Bill’s long legs swinging over the tub.   The picture actually makes the tub look longer than it is; Handheld in picture is 20” in front of tub seat, which allows Bill to access it when it is in a lowered position.  Also note in the picture that the plumbing under the lav is not covered/insulated.

This blog is a look at how these specific ‘ADA’ hotel bathrooms did not meet Bill’s needs; but what about the many other patrons that will use these spaces?  These bathrooms will be utilized by a number of people of different ages and different ability levels.  A universal design approach would allow for meeting the needs of the majority of patrons that stay within these hotels.  This would not only create a better user experience, it would provide for an added layer of safety and potentially less liability overall for the hotel.

Perhaps we can be very forward thinking and progressive and say, why shouldn’t all guest rooms in a hotel be universally designed? This way it won’t be a matter of saying “we need an accessible room” and hope to get one that we can ‘make-do’ in.  Perhaps…….


Entry filed under: Accessibility, ADA, Bathroom products, Bathrooms, Hotels, Universal Design. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , .

Technology for Aging in Place: Part 2 My personal journey with Universal Design

7 Comments Add your own

  • […] get a full picture of the tub, but we came across a great blog post by Debra Young entitled “Hotel accessibility is like a box of chocolates…” that COMPLETELY expresses my feelings about showers!! Well done Debra! She and her husband have […]

    • 2. EmpowerAbility  |  February 13, 2013 at 8:43 pm

      Thanks for the mention!

      • 3. selin  |  March 6, 2013 at 3:57 am

        your express for”box of chocolate” is why?

  • 4. selin  |  March 6, 2013 at 4:23 am

    I’ve already got it. It is a quote….”you never know what u’re gonna get”” right?

    • 5. EmpowerAbility  |  March 6, 2013 at 8:05 am

      Exactly 🙂 Thank you for reading the blog post. Cheers!

  • 6. Shannon  |  September 14, 2013 at 11:17 am

    I was recently in an “ADA” room at a hotel. I’ve had good luck with most accessible rooms, but this one was very strange. The tub had a built-in shower seat just like the one in the 3rd picture in your post. However, there was no way a person in a wheelchair with no standing or walking ability to transfer to it, because the sink was right next to the tub, with very little space in between the sink and the tub. Also, there was no way for a person in a chair to reach over the put the seat down (it was latched to the shower wall). Once on the seat (if I could have gotten on it in the first place) there was not a way to turn on the water, because the seat was against the back wall of the shower, far away from the water controls. I had to “climb” into the tub (lower myself into it) and sit on the floor of the tub to take a shower/bath. I have done this before in hotel rooms. I thought I’d be able to bring the tub seat down once in the tub, but I could not reach it. In the past, I have been able to get out of tubs on my own (when sitting in them) , but in this case the edge of the tub was narrow and the grab bars were not helpful in the position they were in (too high) and I had to get my son (18 y.) to help me out. The 2nd night he was not there, so I just didn’t take a shower – I stuck my head over the tub edge to use the hose to wash my hair.

    There were 2 other problems – the sink had loads of space underneath for my legs, which is nice, but the sink was very high, higher than a regular sink, I could not see in the mirror at all. The toilet had grab bars around it – one to the side and one in back. Both of them were too high to be of use to a person who cannot stand at all. I had to transfer by grabbing onto the toilet seat. The toilet was low, as well.

    Strange! I guess it was an ADA room for disabled people who can stand and walk a bit.

    • 7. EmpowerAbility  |  September 19, 2013 at 9:26 am

      Hi Shannon,

      Thank you very much for your post and detailed information about the room that you encountered. It never ceases to amaze me how different these rooms are even though there are ADA guidelines. You bring up the most important point, though, and that is even though there are grab bars on the walls and a tub seat included in this space, and even if it was setup to ADA guidelines, the issue stems from the ADA guidelines themselves. Your comment is first-hand experience on how ADA guidelines do not meet the needs of the majority. ADA guidelines are ‘minimum requirements’. The were created based off of anthropometric measurements taken from persons in the military—therefore, these measurements of mostly young, healthy men are representing persons with disabilities. See the problem here 🙂 Yes, it is important to have a base guideline/ minimum requirement, but why stop there? Why not, instead of providing minimum requirements that only meet the needs of the few, utilize a more Universal Design approach to meet the needs of the majority, regardless of age or ability level? This would not only provide more flexibility, it would integrate into the design of the overall space and not stand out, like ADA design does. Thanks, again for your comment, it is greatly appreciated—- I do believe this may be fuel for a future blog post 😉




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