Friday, January 28, 2011

An open letter to hotels about handicapped accessibility

Another night in a handicapped accessible room at the Hilton and I’m still disappointed- and frustrated- at how inaccessible these “accessible” rooms really are. To wit:

Unless someone is in a wheelchair because they have a sprained ankle, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll be able to get in and out of a bathtub. Imagine that- you’ve come into the city for a relaxing weekend and arrive in your room only to find you won’t be bathing for a few days. Demo the bathtubs, and install a roll-in shower instead. The shower shouldn’t have a lip at the bottom, but should have a chair, and the shower should have a handheld sprayer, with easy to reach off and on and hot and cold knobs. 

Sinks should be low enough for someone with a wheelchair to roll up and wash their hands. Toiletries and Kleenex should be at the front of the counter, within grabbing distance. 

In a room with double beds, the area between the two beds should be wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair and a person standing next to the wheelchair. For all sleeping areas, easy to access bars should be alongside the bed on the wall. Even better? Install a pole from ceiling to floor about one-third of the way down from the headboard, with handgrips. This allows someone in a wheelchair to grab a handhold, lift themselves out of the chair, and pivot onto the bed. It doesn’t have to be fancy- PVC will work fine. Genius. 

Beds should be low enough for someone in a wheelchair to roll up and easily get on-and off- the bed. A rubber floormat with sturdy grips is ideal next to the bed. This allows someone in a wheelchair to get their not-always-stable footing in a way that they are unable to do on your slippery carpets.

A desk chair isn’t really necessary. A desk a wheelchair can easily roll under, and a phone placed at the front of the desk works fine.

A small end table on rollers somewhere in the room gives handicapped visitors a place to easily access their cell phone, the newspaper and the television remote.

For your lobby bathrooms, your handicapped stalls are great. The towel dispenser placed 5 feet off the ground? Not so great, and not easily accessible to anyone in a wheelchair.

Dear hotel owners and operators, I don’t know if you’ve made the error of assuming that everyone in a wheelchair has someone to help them. You’ve definitely made it a requirement. I’d like to think you’ve just never tried accessing one of your handicapped rooms while in a wheelchair. Try it once. You’ll likely be flummoxed. And, you’ll probably find a dozen more ways that handicapped accessibility could be elevated in your hotel.