Traveling Disabled: It Gets No Easier

If you don’t laugh, you’ll commit suicide or cry.” This caller was jokingly relating an experience she had recently when she stayed in a motel that was being billed as accessible. At one point she said she was ready to go to the bathroom outside because she had to go so bad but couldn’t transfer to the toilet. “What they called accessible was bars on the toilet,” she said. “Can you imagine trying to transfer from a wheelchair to a toilet with bars on it?” she asked.” “My husband is a big man and to get into the tub, he had to straddle the bars on the toilet and step over.” She went on to relay the story about how they had to take the hinges off the bathroom door so she could get in.

This is the kind of situation that Donald England of Travelac would like to eliminate. He’s not looking for the “ultimate” handicapped room because he claims there is no such thing, but instead would like to provide information so people can “pick and choose” what they need.

To this end, he, personally, has visited 183 hotels from Hawaii to Tel Aviv so he can provide detailed data sheets for disabled travelers. England believes that when you request a handicapped room it is not a “preference” request such as a sea view but a “necessity.”

In another magazine there was an article about accessible motel rooms. However, England says that others who try to promote the idea of accessible rooms are trying to sell the idea of certain products, such as grab bars. He also says while the book put together by the Hotel/Motel Association and the Paralyzed Veterans of America that lists standards for accessible hotel rooms is a good resource, it is strictly on a voluntary basis as far as hotels go.

Don is proposing a business proposition for hotels that would be similar to a franchise. Hotels would pay him a fee to attract a market. He feels this is the only way there will be any set standards used, which provide a reliable means to select a place to stay that would accommodate “particular” needs.

Don says that there’s always been, “Excuse us, [disabled] but we have problem.” He says both disabled individuals and hotels have a problem — there’s a problem with consistency.

England would like to establish some standards for hotels/lodgings which would display a symbol easily recognized as being accessible. In addition to design standards the following would be required:

1. The ability of the hotel staff to tell what is being offered. They would know whether the bathroom doos is 32″ or 36″ wide. Don thinks this is as important as the physical aspect of accessibility.

2. Ability of the hotel staff to deal with disabled people (some individuals have not had much experience and are uncomfortable in this situation.)

3. Set rooms aside as more than just “convenience” rooms. If reservations are made — these rooms should be held until arrival if reservation is guaranteed.

Don has visited hotels personally because even friends can come up with different descriptions of an accessible room. He said a new hotel in Hawaii is advertising it has sixteen disabled rooms. But upon visiting the hotel Don found that the sinks were shrouded. “An ambulatory person might not have a problem with this but a person using a wheelchair would find it difficult to use the sink,” England said. He did bring this to the attention of hotel management.

“There is also a problem with the 17-19″ commode that the American ANSI standards specify as accessible,” he continued. “This causes problems for some people. A better solution would be a regular/standard commode with the addition of a padded seat.”

Don says his proposal is a “win win” proposition for hotels. The market is there, and he also suggests that the hotel pos software be configured directly to the disabled customer. He does not feel they are reaching the market that is there. He feels he can attract disabled travelers and convince those who have had bad experiences to try again.

Don says he has to begin at the chain level, i.e., Holiday Inn, Super 8, etc. Ironically his first sell has been overseas. Two hotels in London and Amsterdam will join the program in early 1991 and will display the Travelac symbol so disabled travelers will know they are accessible. He said it was only after booking one of the rooms that he found it had a roll-in shower. “This aspect was not even mentioned to me,” he said. “This would be a real selling point to a disabled market.

“Hotels don’t see the demand for accessible rooms,” Don said. “But the market is there and they need to communicate what they have available.”