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.
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
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.
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.
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.
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.
REGIONAL AREAS/COUNTRY HOTELS
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.
ASK FOR A PHOTO
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 also recently had a wonderful stay at Rydges Port Macquarie which you can read all about here.
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