Many people do not realize that elderly and disabled people still retain a zest for active life and an eagerness for adventure. Wheelchair users want to travel. A few do on their own, despite monumental challenges. Average wheelchair users, though, usually feel intimidated to step out of their comfort zones. And for good reason.
Amenities for tourists with special mobility needs are despairingly limited. Many find the travel planning stage alone arduous, tedious, and fraught with disappointments and compromises. Moreover, the uncertainties they may encounter at airports, hotels, and tours are enough to discourage many mobile-challenged people from touring.
Planning months ahead of time is vital to get the most out of the trip and expenses. It is crucial to get the details right. Some factors, which able-bodied people take for granted or cannot foresee, can pose immense challenges to persons with disabilities.
One of these travel factors is accommodation. Carefully consider these details when booking a room at a hotel if you are physically limited in mobility and stamina.
“Accessible” Does Not Always Mean Mobility Friendly
Qualify a hotel’s definition of accessible. Many hotels label themselves “accessible” but only disappoint big time in this area.
The term “accessible” can vary in meaning from hotel to hotel and even from country to country. A hotel in Germany, for instance, can label itself accessible with only a wheelchair-accessible elevator. Accessibility as a label does not automatically mean that rooms and bathrooms have been designed to be wheelchair-friendly, as well.
Ask for Measurements
Reduce the travel stress for everyone concerned by booking a room with specs that accommodate your needs. Arm yourself with exact details by calling the hotel directly for measurements of:
- Doorways – The width of doors in rooms and bathrooms should be at least 32 inches.
- Bathroom floor space – There should be a 60-inch diameter space to enable a wheelchair to turn around.
- Bedside clearance – There should be a clear space of 30 inches wide on either side of the bed for side transfers from a wheelchair.
- Height of the bed – Is the height too high or too low for someone traversing from wheelchair to bed and vice-versa?
For wheelchair users, the bathroom is often a dangerous and inconvenient place. But knowing the “lay of the land” would cut down on much stress and bathroom time. Request bathroom photos. Having good pictures of the bathroom will enable you to anticipate some workarounds.
The snapshots should show these important details:
- Roll-in shower, raised-curb shower, or bathtub?
A roll-in shower is the most convenient choice. Confirm that (1) there is fixed seating, stable enough for those who do not have a rolling shower chair, and (2) the shower controls and soap holders are within easy reach.
A bathroom with that low barricade demarcating the shower area poses the challenge of putting a mobile shower chair in.
If only a bathtub is available, the in-tub or fixed seating must be safe and secure.
- Shower area size. Will a mobile shower chair fit? Often, such chairs are too bulky for small shower areas. The good news is there are exceptions. A few shower chairs are compact enough to fit in small spaces.
Look into ShowerBuddy’s Eco Traveler. This travel shower chair packs down neatly, making it a very portable space-saver. Its good build quality makes it definitely worth the investment, especially if you see more traveling down the line.
- Grab bars in appropriate locations – These must be within reach of a wheelchair or shower seat.
In bathtubs, there must be two parallel horizontal grab bars at the side or at the back wall of the tub and one horizontal bar on the control wall. Should a removable in-tub seat be offered instead of a fixed one, an extra grab bar at the wall opposite the control wall must be in place.
Do not accept plastic chairs or stools in the shower, despite the presence of grab bars. These are not stable and are especially dangerous in a bathtub.
Grab bars should also be present on the walls beside and behind the toilet.
- Toilet seat height must be at least 17 inches high from the floor but not more than 19 inches.
- Placement of shower controls and shower. The shower controls and handheld nozzle need to be within easy reach of the seat. The shower type must be a handheld one so that the bather can manage it easily.
- Space between the toilet and the bathroom sink. If these are aligned on the same wall, they must be at least 5 feet apart to allow side transfers from a wheelchair.
The type of bed on offer should also be of note. One king-sized bed in a room may provide more space for maneuvering a wheelchair. But it does not allow personal space for an unrelated caregiver or a family member who is not the disabled traveler’s partner. Local fire code restrictions can prohibit hotels from providing a rollaway bed. An extra bed could add quite a bit to your hotel bill, too.
When traveling with a caregiver, book a room with two beds or a connecting room. It will make your stay and everyone else’s a lot more comfortable.
You will find better traction for a wheelchair on hardwood floors. If you are physically challenged and traveling alone, you may exhaust yourself wheeling about the room on carpeted flooring.
Wheelchair-Friendly Elevators, Ramps, and Doors
Elevators, ramps, and doors to rooms and function areas must be large enough for wheelchairs to pass comfortably through. Ramps, hallways, and other routes should be a minimum of 36 inches wide throughout the hotel.
Check if the hotel has automatic door openers or power-assisted doors. Room doors are often heavy, so people in wheelchairs may struggle to open doors without help.
Other Extra Niceties
A room with plugs at waist height is a huge plus. Imagine having to bend all the way down from a wheelchair to plug in a charger. Should your room lack this feature, ask if the hotel can provide extension cords you can place on a bedside table or a more accessible surface.
In addition, a hotel that has contact with wheelchair-accessible taxis will make your vacay doubly comfortable. Accessible taxis are few and far between in many countries. In some locations, it could take you hours to hunt for one.
Another thing of note is the environment outside the hotel. Hopefully, your wheelchair-friendly hotel has a paved driveway and not one riddled with cobblestones or potholes.
It is a pity that elderly individuals and many people with disabilities are afraid of travel. Most do not know how to get the correct information about accessibility features or are unaware of what is currently available for them. Unfortunately, most hotels do not highlight their accessibility features, if any, so you must know how to ask the right questions.
But the tourism industry is coming to recognize the untapped market of persons with disabilities and age. More and more are offering better services oriented toward wheelchair users. Our elderly and people with disabilities today have more options than they ever had before for retaining their independence and sense of fun. With this in mind, perhaps, it is time for you or your mobility-challenged loved one to grab a much-needed change of scenery.