Imagine, you have time to relax. Perhaps a night or even a full 10 days to go somewhere-anywhere. You decide you want to indulge in some R&R, completely disconnect from the world. What type of place do you envision? A cabin in the woods? A hut on the beach? A historic castle in the countryside? Will you have access to an elevator or take the stairs? Will you refresh with a bath in a soaking tub?
Now imagine, you are in a wheelchair. You enjoy your independence and bathing daily, but perhaps walking, let alone taking a step beyond ground – is beyond your limits or just merely uncomfortable. Do you forego the shower? Ask to move rooms? Shorten your trip? Or just not travel at all?
Recently I began questioning, how accessible are hotels? I am not referring to brand new built, 500+ room big box hotels, but small to medium, boutique and independent properties. Just for reference, research from Smith Travel Research in 2017 considered “an “average”-sized hotel in the United States…[to be]…115 rooms.”.
As I began seeking an answer to just how welcoming the average Hotel is for one of the approximately 1.85% of the world’s population requiring a wheelchair, I thought, what about the laws ensuring equitable access?
On July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law. The guidelines focused on Hotels, Inns and Lodging accommodations constructed or renovated after January 26, 1993, allowing for entities to comply with the law. https://adata.org/faq/when-did-ada-become-law. The ADA has since been revised and includes special provisions for buildings created between 1991 and March 15, 2012. https://www.ada.gov/hsurvey.htm The law discusses everything from the number of accessible guestrooms required to details like the number of inches allowed to limit “abrupt level changes” of the floor.
For buildings whose creation and/or renovation date falls under the guidelines of the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, a hotel will not be required to have roll-in showers until they have a minimum of 51 rooms (although they will be required to have 4 rooms with mobility features). For hotels with 501 to 1000 rooms, just 1% of the total rooms must have roll-in showers and it isn’t until a hotel has more than 1001 rooms, that a hotel must have 10 rooms with roll-in showers “plus 1 for each 100, or fraction thereof, over 1000.”
https://www.ada.gov/regs2010/2010ADAStandards/2010ADAStandards_prt.pdf (Page 88). While the guidelines do require accessible bathrooms to provide some sort of in-shower seating, they do not mandate a waterproof wheelchair. Meaning wheelchair users may need to travel with their own waterproof wheelchair in order to take advantage of one of the limited roll-in or walk-in accessible showers.
In a study conducted on city dwellers in Canada by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, it was found that 7.2% of the population had mobility impairment. Further 8 of 10 individuals with a disability use an assistive device, such as a walker, wheelchair, or scooter, to compensate for these challenges. For those still following along that comes to roughly 5.76% of people who use an assistive mobility device (8/10 = 80%, 80% of 7.2% is roughly 5.76%,).
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4992144/ . While having celebrated a large number of birthdays is not an indicator of mobility impairment, the research noted that “Wheelchair and scooter users were predominantly women, with a mean age of 65 years.”
While city dwellers in Canada is a narrow segment of people, it is estimated that there are over 3 Million Americans who use a wheel-chair full-time. These 3 million Americans are part of the estimated almost 20% of the US population who has some sort of disability. https://spintheglobe.net/dir/2017/06/18/dont-see-wheelchair-users-public/
In the Real World
Recently I had the pleasure of working with a client to find a retreat style, accessible property that was suitable for wellness and inviting to wheel chair users. In my quest to curate the ideal city escape that matched preferences and desires, I was met with the reality many people seeking accessible accommodations face. I found a collection of branded properties who’s seemingly compliant accessible bathrooms, were far from it. While many appeared to check all the boxes, they missed one or more key attributes. Lack of clearance for those in a wheel-chair, unstable waterproof seating, incorrectly placed faucet + control + nozzle, misplaced handrails, and even a lack of reasonable space between the toilet and sink.
Without getting into the number of hotels with good intentions whose ADA rooms are not compliant, this leads to a major question, “If I am traveling with a group of people where 4 or more of us would like a roll-in shower, must we stay at a hotel over 400+ room and that is built or renovated after 2012? In some parts of the world, the answer is, YES! Using the 5.76% figure for context, that would mean out of a group of 100 people, as much as 6 people could potentially use an assistive mobility device. How many of your property(ies) – under 600 rooms – could they reasonably feel comfortable staying in?
Looking to the Future
In this ever-changing world we live in, and with an expectant population becoming even more diverse, what should be done? Should hoteliers create larger bathrooms at the expense of the total number of possible hotel rooms potentially negatively impacting their RevPar and ADR, ultimately showing that a welcoming environment for all, is a priority? I personally would like to see more investments in the space of spa-like restrooms with separate tub and showers complete with design forward handrails and stunning yet functional bathroom seating, along with the required accessible components allowing for more enjoyable bathrooms for all.
One thing is for sure, we will have our eyes on what comes next.
Special Thanks to: Liz Oppedijk and Ivanka Farrell for inspiration.
About the author
After ten years in the Hospitality Industry, Ariel M. Weinshanker launched Vosant Meetings & Travel in New York City in 2018. Ariel has a passion for creating memorable experiences for her clients that involve luxury + boutique hotels, while also finding creative ways to use Technology to enhance her guests’ journeys. In 2019, Travel Agent Central named Ms. Weinshanker one of the country’s Top 30 Under 30 Travel Advisors.
Ariel’s expertise comes from working for exceptional Hospitality companies, including Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, and Kimpton Hotels + Resorts, as well as a collection of high-end boutique Hotels. Ms. Weinshanker graduated Magna Cum Laude from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, with a Bachelor’s in Hospitality Management and a minor in Marketing.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the International Luxury Hotel Association (ILHA).