Seven tips for accessible lodging

By Chris Clasby

You’ve been planning to get out of town for a while, see a new area and maybe hook up with some friends. All practical arrangements are made regarding travel, budget, time off from your regular schedule at home, the hotel you will stay in and even a list of possible activities. If it’s a trip that requires flight, you probably have even arranged transportation from the airport to your hotel and back as well as from the hotel to other locations. You’ve also of course taken care of any needs you might have on the trip related to your disability. You are set!

You finally arrive at your destination, make your way to the hotel, find parking, get your bags inside and check in. After getting the room key and making it to your room, you open the door to find anything but what you expected.

The room does not meet your needs for accessibility, whatever that may be. They said on the telephone this room is “accessible” ― and my whole vacation is planned around this place!

Believe it or not, this scenario can and does happen.

A traveler who uses a mobility device might find the hotel room doorway too narrow to enter. Another who needs a shower bench or roll-in shower could find a bathtub in the hotel room.

Someone who is deaf or hard of hearing may discover no visual indicator when someone presses the hotel room doorbell. Despite a traveler’s best planning efforts, simple miscommunication or a differing definitions between the traveler and reservation center can set up both parties for surprises.

This experience certainly doesn’t need to ruin a vacation, but it might be inconvenient and require some creative reactions. Many resources exist to help travelers with disabilities improve planning and make the best decisions in advance to ensure your trip is everything you want it to be.

FIVE STARs has a different meaning for everyone

The bottom line is that some careful advance planning can help ensure that you find the lodging you need when you get to your destination. There is no any single specific way to do so, but these pointers can be helpful. It’s best to have your lodging as hassle free as possible so your most important decision at your destination becomes choosing where you want to eat dinner or how you want to spend the next day doing.

See these seven tips for planning and finding lodging with the accessibility you need:

1. Improve communication.

Make sure you know what you’re asking, what the person taking your reservation is telling you when discussing your needs and what is provided. Using terms like “accessible” is not enough. Specifically ask questions regarding your needs, such as, “Are all of the rooms and areas marked with Braille?” or “What are the measurements of the open area between two beds in your accessible room?” You might even ask what assistance their employees provide to those with disabilities. Being specific leaves nothing to interpretation.

2. Understand terminology.

Most often when people make reservations, they think a specific room is being held for them. In actuality, a hotel reservation just means there are not more reservations than there are rooms available for the same night. After asking specific questions about accessibility and finding a hotel with a room to meet your needs, specifically ask that room to be “blocked” for you rather than making a general reservation. Blocking means a specific room is saved for you rather than just any room. You can then know what to expect in the specific room that was described to you.

3. Know the regulations.

Many people think the Americans with Disabilities Act automatically means a hotel must provide the type of accessibility they need. The reality is that the accessibility mandated differs depending on the size and type of facility. For example, hotels with under 51 rooms are not required to provide a roll-in shower but rather rooms that meet other general accessibility requirements. Likewise, places of lodging with up to 25 rooms need only provide one room that offers visual alarms, notification devices and telephones for persons with hearing impairments. Don’t assume the law is going to ensure your needs are met. Revisit #1 and #2 above ― and ask questions!

4. Seek recommendations.

A great thing you can do is talk to someone else with similar needs who has visited the area to find out where he or she stayed or wished they would have stayed. If you don’t know anybody, look online for feedback. Some websites offer ratings for accessibility or comments regarding the accessibility of a place of lodging. Again, make sure what’s being evaluated is the accessibility you need.

5. Seek local advice.

There may be some disability organizations or other groups that exist in the area you plan to visit. One may have accurate information about accessible lodging in the area. It’s possible that a local organization has conducted in-person accessibility audits so that information can be priceless. Look online for independent living centers, Chambers of Commerce or other groups that exist in the area you plan to visit. Even if the one you contact doesn’t have the information you seek, you may be referred to one that does.

6. Use an experienced agent.

Like any traveler, you may find a travel agent helpful in finding appropriate lodging. Some companies include services for travelers with disabilities while others provide services exclusively to travelers with disabilities. Contracting with or at least seeking advice from one of these companies may be helpful. Look online, call local agents or ask others to find the right resource for you.

7. Follow others’ guidance.

Many others with disabilities have found dream lodging and/or lodging that was a nightmare. Some of them have become adept at finding appropriate lodging and have written articles or books with step-by-step guidance to help others do so. Ask around, conduct searches online or visit your area library to find books or articles on these topics. You are likely not the first person with your accessibility needs to travel in the area you will visit, so learning from others can shorten your learning curve.

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