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Booking and finding an accessible hotel that accommodates your needs can be daunting, particularly if you require full wheelchair access.  The internet is full of options but it is often hard to narrow down the ones that will cater for wheelchair access in the true sense of the word.  Although some will mention wheelchair accessible or the vague words “wheelchair friendly” in their spiel, we have found that this can be quite misleading on arrival.

A fabulous example of an accessible hotel room at East Hotel, Canberra

We have encountered smaller hotels which have an accessible room but no designated disabled parking spaces and a reception which has stairs or a heavy door at the entrance.  I truly believe that for hotels to advertise wheelchair accessible accommodation that there needs to be an accreditation process.  My only concern with this idea is that any obstacles may discourage hotels from providing accessible rooms.  We certainly wouldn’t want that.  The more choice we have in accommodation, the better.

As we travel we try to use my background as a travel consultant as a way to educate hotels on what would makes a room or hotel truly accessible.  I understand both sides of the process and can see that some hotels are more limited with what they can provide due to the age of the accommodation or other constraints.  I also feel that we need flexible/adaptable accommodation options to accommodate families travelling with a person with a wheelchair.  Often accessible rooms come in a twin or queen bedded configuration with no ability to accommodate a family.  I tell them that too! We recently stayed at the Radisson Blu Sydney Hotel and despite the historic nature of the hotel they were fully accessible and have one accessible room on each level of the hotel. You can read about our stay here.  Radisson do it very well.

Another example of an excellent accessible room – Rydges Port Macquarie

We’ve learnt a few tips along the way which help to ensure there is less chance of an accessibility “surprise” on arrival.


The first, most important tip is, NEVER assume the reservation staff know or understand your needs.  If they do, that is a huge bonus.  I always briefly explain what our needs are and this will often either, end the call because they cannot cater to our family, or lead to them describing the facilities of the property.

If you are ringing a large chain hotel like Hilton or Sheraton, don’t rink their central reservations number, find the hotel’s direct phone number. A central reservations staff member won’t know the specifics of an individual hotel but hotel staff working at a property will. And if they don’t know, if they are on site they have no excuse for not going and finding out!

I find it easier to have a written list of questions to ask, particularly if you are unfamiliar, or new to booking accessible accommodation.

Newer properties will have been built to accessible specifications however these won’t always be in everyone’s budget.

If you are booking a hotel in a regional/country area, then a good place to start is the local visitors/information centre.  Although they will not know everything about a property they can tell you which ones have ground floor rooms or lifts to higher levels.   Usually the staff at these information centres will have done inspections of the local hotels.  Some may have a list of wheelchair friendly properties.  Anything that helps narrow down the process is helpful.

I love the fact that many American hotels have a floor plan and room dimensions available on their websites. This immediately gives me a good idea of how easy it will be with a wheelchair in the room. Always look out for this on websites of larger hotels.

We ask very specific questions when booking a smaller hotel.

Here are a few things you may like on a check list

Is there onsite disabled parking?

Accessible parking
Disabled parking at Arboretum, Canberra (not a hotel)

Are there any steps into the room or within the room?

Is there a roll-in-shower? Does the shower have a hand held shower?

Dessert Inn Uluru accessible bathroom

Is there a shower chair or flip down shower bench available? If they have a shower seat check if it is a shower stool or a backed seat?

Different styles of shower seats we have encountered in hotels.

Is there room to transfer from a wheelchair to the toilet?  Is there a grab rail beside the toilet?  If the orientation of this grab rail is important (ie left or right side) then ask the staff.

Four Points Sheraton Darling Harbour
Four Points Sheraton, Darling Harbour

Is there room to transfer from a wheelchair on to the bed?

Is there room for a hoist under the bed?  Know the height required if this is essential

Lilianfels accessible room

If you are booking self catering accommodation check that the kitchen sink has room for a wheelchair underneath it.  Also ask if items like the microwave and other appliances are at wheelchair height. For adults using a wheelchair having light switches, safes, hairdryers and irons at wheelchair height is also important.

Rydges Port Macquarie accessible room
Rydges Port Macquarie had their safe, ironing board and kettle all at wheelchair height.

Choose the questions that are important to your particular situation and add them to those above.  If the staff don’t know the answers ask them if they could check for you and call you back.


We believe location is worth paying for, if the budget will stretch that far.  We like nothing more than being able to walk out the door and have restaurants, shopping and local attractions within walking distance.  When we were booking a hotel in hilly San Francisco we chose the Argonaut Hotel, in the Fisherman’s Wharf area because we wanted to be able to have a level walk from our hotel to the restaurants and shops on the pier.

Argonaut Hotel San Francisco

When we were booking a hotel in New York I wanted to be able to walk to Central Park, the subway and have food stores nearby.  The Hotel Beacon ticked all those boxes and it had accommodation to suit our needs.

Hotel Beacon New York
Entry to the Hotel Beacon New York


We usually look for hotels where we can at least self-cater breakfast.  We prefer to spend money on the hotel and save on these meals unless they are included in the room rate.  A microwave is definitely a bonus.

Accessible kitchen Hotel Beacon, New York

If you plan to use the hotel restaurant or leisure facilities it is important to enquire about their access.  Many hotels we stay in have the accessible rooms but the pool has stairs to gain entry.  We were surprised staying at the Embassy Suites and Towers at Los Angeles Airport to find such good pool and spa facilities with seat access to the pool.  This hotel also had a free accessible airport shuttle service if booked in advance.

Embassy Suites LAX accessibility
Embassy Suites Los Angeles Airport – pool access


Newer hotels will, as a general rule, have accessible accommodation. We have found it is harder with older (often cheaper) accommodation. I now phone the regional tourist office for that area to narrow down the options suitable for our family’s needs. Most of the staff at these offices have done tours of the local motels and have a general idea of which ones would be the best to contact. This saves lots of time and frustration.


Many of our Facebook friends have had bad experiences and as a result are not afraid to ask for a photo of the accessible bathroom or the bed to see if a hoist will fit under it. I think this is a fantastic way to get some assurance before booking. If you can’t make do and need particular features I think this is quite reasonable. It will also impress upon staff the absolute necessity of truly accessible features.

What do you look for when you book a hotel or accommodation?

You can read more about our experience at East Hotel, Canberra here.

We absolutely love staying at Northpoint Apartments Port Macquarie and shared a review here.

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  1. We stayed in an “accessible” room I asked all the pertinent questions. I was told the shower was roll in, the bed was high enough for a lift to go under the bed and the kitchen was big and roomy. It was open concept with no barriers and had a balcony. I had asked so many questions and had them call me back with measurements of how high the bed was for the lift. When we got there, the shower had a step, the kitchen had a huge island where the wheelchair couldn’t get around, the bed was plenty high enough BUT after 3-5 inches it had a wood piece so the lift couldn’t go under it. The balcony had a step going out to it. Needless to say the only accessible part to the room was that the door opened and you could roll right in. Now, I have a lot more specific questions to ask before we book a room. Live and learn even after you thought you had already come across all the obstacles. Thank you for the tips, they are very helpful 🙂

    • Hi Sharon, It sounds like that is quite obviously an inaccessible room and staff certainly should have known better. I’m glad you like the tips. Thanks Julie

  2. The “have a list of questions” suggestion is right on the nail for us. A phone conversation is obligatory not to mention someone working at the hotel visiting the room with a tape measure and camera phone.

    I loved that you picked the Arboretum – the Rolls Royce of disabled parking – for one of your photos

    • The camera phone is a great idea David. Good point. That is the ultimate proof!

      The Arboretum parking was like a mirage!

      Thanks for your comments.


  3. When traveling to Aruba recently, we had to pay for a shower chair for our son at a Marriot hotel. In Europe you need to make sure that there is no step to enter the hotel. My only reason for posting these comments is to make you aware that when traveling to other countries, they do not have some of the same basic accomodations that we have.

    • Hi Lauren, I’m stunned you had to pay for a shower chair. I definitely haven’t come across that before. I can understand them taking a refundable deposit but not charging for it. Thanks for sharing. Julie

  4. Thanks Julie – getting the word out there that there is a way forward is really helpful. I also encourage hotels to use video, and here are a couple of examples:
    W Hotel, London:

    and Winford Manor: – these also give confidence about the facilities that are available – please use these if you wish to? Cheers, Brian

    • Hi Lara, I’ve just gone back through our facebook posts to find the name of a resort a family recommended in January. They have a son who uses a wheelchair and they stayed at Royal Sands Resort in Cancun. They were super excited because there was beach matting to help give access to the beach. I’d make enquiries re the accommodation as this family’s son is young and they probably were not totally reliant on an accessible room but if they have beach matting it is a good sign they will have other good accessible features. Julie

  5. I have learnt from experience to ring and check we have a wheelchair accessible room a week before and again a day or two before we arrive.
    For various reasons the reservation staff shuffle around bookings and rooms.. On two occasions we have arrived and found the accessible room we booked has been reallocated to an ablebod. At one hotel the other guest had checked in and the Hotel Staff refused to ask them the change . We couldn’t get an accessible room anywhere else either. That was one difficult night!
    Earlier this year the same thing happened again though they were able to rearrange the rooms so we had the the accessible room.

    • Great tip Linda. It would be wonderful if people realised that when you specifically ask for an accessible room there’s a good reason for it. Thanks for sharing your experiences.



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