One of the most important decisions of a holiday is the hotel, and this is probably where most time will be spent in the initial planning stages, finding wheelchair accessible hotels that are suitable for all the family to enjoy with the facilities needed.
The decision process can be involved enough just with factors such as price, facilities, location and quality, but wheelchair users have the added problem of needing a hotel that is fully accessible as well. This throws in a whole range of other considerations, all of which can have great impacts on the quality of the stay.
It does not help that not all hotels will place a lot of focus or attention to this concern, which can it make it hard to judge from the website alone. Many hotels will have varying standards of what “accessible” really means, with some genuinely meaning that wheelchair users will have an easy and comfortable stay at their hotel. To others, meanwhile, accessible means the barest minimum of having a ramp to the main lobby.
Throw in the fact that hotels will employ all kinds of special tricks in photos to make rooms seem larger and more spacious than they really are, and an already time-consuming task can become a nightmare.
There is no need to despair however. There is already a wealth of knowledge and experience from past wheelchair using travellers that can help ensure that any traveller can have their needs and requirements met, thus ensuring a truly memorable holiday for all.
Knowing the Law – What Hotels are Obliged to Provide
Many nations will have some minimal requirements of businesses and companies to ensure full accessibility to all of its guests, including those requiring wheelchairs or mobility scooters.
As one would expect, however, the exact laws will vary from country to country, state to state, or city to city. Some will provide more rounded coverage than others, while some nations may lack accessibility laws entirely.
While you may already have a country in mind, it always pays to look up your legal requirements before any further planning. Doing so will educate you of your rights as a guest, allowing you to make requests and further identify which hotels are worth staying at.
In the United States, for example, laws governing disability and accessibility are defined under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) first ratified in 1990 and updated in January 2009. Under this law discrimination against people with disabilities is prohibited, and no business may prevent such guests from taking part in everyday activities such as eating at a restaurant, visiting a gym, or watching a movie in a theatre.
Furthermore, buildings constructed after 1993 are required to be designed and laid out in such a fashion as to ensure complete accessibility for people using wheelchairs or with other such requirements.
Laws are rather similar within the United Kingdom being defined under the Equality Act (2010), which replaced, built upon and updated the Disability Discrimination Act of 1995. Much like its US counterpart, the law criminalised discrimination on the grounds of disability, and required new constructions to be designed in such a way as to provide freedom of access to people with disabilities. Older buildings are required to provide such alterations as to make them as accessible as possible, such as providing ramps or lifts.
Similar laws and regulations exist within other regions as well, such as the EU, Japan, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. These are all aimed at improving access and quality of life for citizens, residents and visitors with visible and invisible disabilities, although they may vary in what they require from governments and businesses.
Not all countries will have the same levels of protection.
If you are ever unsure as to your rights and protections when visiting a country, be sure to check its government or tourism websites for further information.
How to Spot a Wheelchair Friendly Hotel
There are no two ways about it. Finding a truly accessible hotel will require some homework before the flight, so do take the time to go through the options that are available and research them thoroughly.
We will assume that you already know your needs as a traveller, so apply these requirements to the hotel and its rooms.
Carefully examine any photos of the rooms and facilities provided. Is there enough space to move comfortably around in? Are the beds easy enough to get in and out of? Are the wash facilities provided suitable? Do the corridors, common rooms and any shops or restaurants look as though they are easily accessible?
In general, you can assume that new hotels and international hotel chains will be more accessible than older or independent hotels. Newer buildings are more likely to be covered by recent legislation like the ones seen earlier, while international brands will already have experience in dealing with guests bringing all kinds of requirements and specifications.
If you can find a modern hotel building (built after 1995) operated by an international company, it is a very safe to bet it will be perfectly accessible to wheelchairs.
Older buildings will likely run into numerous problems, as they were built before such regulations came into force or such needs were widely considered. While hotels such as the Savoy or the Plaza may be grand and stylish, they are more likely to have narrow corridors, inconveniently sized doors and awkward stairways.
Such buildings also tend to be listed, which further limits how much they can be adjusted.
Do not discount them entirely – provisions and alterations can be made. But be expected to run into more difficulties than a modern building.
Questions to Ask
Before committing, always remember that you can phone up the hotel ahead of your stay to ask questions from the management. Indeed, in many cases you have a right to ask such questions.
That being said, simply asking “Is your hotel wheelchair accessible?” is pretty vague and leaves much open to interpretation. What sort of wheelchair is being discussed? How big? Hand powered, push or electric? Does accessibility just mean “You can reach the lobby and perhaps your room but nothing else” or does it mean “Every area, every room, every facility can be reached by wheelchair”?
As such, try to be as thorough and specific as you can with your questions.
Consider asking questions such as the following:
- “What accessibility features does your hotel have?”
- “What accessibility features do your rooms have?”
- “Do you have designated handicap parking?”
- “Are the elevators large enough for wheelchairs?”
- “Do you have roll-in showers or bathtubs? Do they have grab bars, shower chairs, hand-held shower heads and wheel-chair transfer space?”
- “What is the height between the floor and bed?”
- “Are doors automatic or specially weighted to be easily opened?”
- “Are switches, outlets or sinks at accessible heights?”
Be as exhaustive as you need to be in order to make sure that the hotels and its rooms are adequate for your needs. Try to think as much as possible about the sort of things you need to be comfortable within your home and ask the hotel if they have any equivalents.
Always remember that the hotel is not just the room as well. Always think about the spots in between and around it as well, such as the corridors, the elevators, the carparks, the pools and other recreational facilities, and any bars or restaurants on site.
Be sure to ask for additional photos or floorplans if they are available. These can give a better idea of dimensions and how much room you have to work with.
Other Things to Account For
Try to think about the area around the hotel as well, and figure that into how it may impact your holidays.
One major thing to look into is transport links. Is the hotel near any public transport hubs, such as bus stops, train stations, tram lines or taxi pick up points? Would you be able to easily and conveniently get from your hotel to nearby sites of interest?
Likewise look into how easy it is to move around the neighbourhood in which the hotel is located in and factor that into your decision making. A hotel located within the inner city will have different arrangements to a more rural B&B in a remote mountain village.
An excellent source of information would be travel review sites and travel messages boards as well. See if other people who use a wheelchair have visited the hotels you are interested in before and read what they have had to say about it. They may reveal problems, insights or innovations that you never thought to plan around before, as well as pass on their own tips and advice that you may want to work into your travel preparations.
Travelling should always be as liberating as possible, and no part of it should make someone feel as though they cannot get the most fulfilling experience possible. The perfect hotel is out there, it just needs a discerning eye and the know-how to ask the right questions from the right people.
Your holiday is yours. Make sure you can enjoy it to its fullest!