By Candy B. Harrington, author of the guidebook, Barrier Free Travel: A Nuts and Bolts Guide for Wheelers and Slow Walkers
For wheelers and slow walkers, the key to finding an accessible hotel room or suite is knowing the right questions to ask. It would be an easy task if all accessible accommodation for disabled travelers had certain standard amenities, but that’s not the way it works in real life. Accessibility standards vary from location to location and even property to property. They are generally dependent on the construction or remodel date, the location, and the size of the property. Two properties located right next door to one another may have vastly different accessibility standards.
To add to the confusion, many reservation clerks assume that their “accessible rooms” are the one-size-fits-all solution for every person’s situation. The results are disastrous, and many novice travelers with disabilities end up in rooms that don’t meet their needs. So what’s a traveler to do? A little advance planning mixed with a healthy dose of self-advocacy go a long way towards finding the appropriate room. Here are a few tips.
Never just ask for an “accessible room”. Even in the US, compliancy has a broad definition, but outside of the US it gets more complicated. For example in Europe, an “accessible room” features an accessible route of travel but offers no specific amenities; while an “adapted room” contains a bathroom, shower and toilet that are adapted to comply with access standards.
It is best to call the property directly, rather than calling the central reservation number. Sometimes access improvements at a local property are not entered in the central reservation database. Reservation agents at the property are usually able to give you more updated and detailed access information.
Ask the reservation agent to describe in detail the access features of the room. If there is a particular feature that is important to you, ask about that feature specifically.
Don’t be afraid to ask for measurements. If door width is a concern, ask for that measurement, including for bathroom doors.
Avoid yes or no questions. For example, ask the clerk to describe the bathroom, rather than asking if the bathroom is accessible. Be especially careful about asking yes or no questions in the Orient, as many customer service employees consider it rude to answer a question (any question) with a “no”.
Ask the reservation agent to email you a floor plan of the accessible room(s). This will give you the dimensions of the room, but remember that access can vary depending on the placement of furniture. More and more properties now have floor plans on hand, and many are willing to email these to potential guests.
If you have difficulty determining if a room will suit your needs, ask to speak to somebody who has recently been in the room. Employees in the housekeeping or engineering departments usually have a good knowledge of access features of the individual rooms.
Remember to ask the reservation agent if the accessible room can be blocked for you. Note that confirmed and guaranteed mean entirely different undertakings which will not necessarily put you into the specific room you thought you had claimed by phone. If the answer is “no” or “usually”, then find another hotel.
Many hotels do not block accessible rooms, but instead treat this item as a customer request (like a smoking room or an ocean view room). Even the most accessible room in the world won’t work for you, if that room isn’t available when you arrive at the hotel.
Finally, always trust your instincts. If a reservation agent hems and haws, gives you ambiguous answers about accessible accommodation or barrier free accommodation, or if he sounds inept, call back and talk to another reservation agent or call a different property. When in doubt, always go with your instincts!
Candy Harrington is editor of the consumer-oriented magazine, Emerging Horizons, and author of a path-breaking guidebook, Barrier-Free Travel; A Nuts And Bolts Guide For Wheelers And Slow Walkers.
Check the Emerging Horizons website, www.emerginghorizons.com, for book information and current themes. You may also subscribe to the magazine, or obtain a free sample issue.