When "Accessible" Falls Short of True Accessibility

When "Accessible" Falls Short of True Accessibility
Accessible trail in Astoria, Oregon

This article is written by Ken and Cheryl, the founders of an accessible travel blog called Traveling with a Chair.

Over the past couple of years, Cheryl and I have been on the go, embracing the wonders of travel. But one recurring issue we've noticed is that the term "accessible room" can be a bit misleading. This isn't just an international travel issue; it's prevalent even within the US.

On our latest adventure, we opted for what was labeled an 'accessible room' at a renowned vacation resort belonging to one of the top US brands. Imagine our surprise when we discovered that, while the room did have a roll-in shower, it was so tight that maneuvering a wheelchair inside seemed nearly impossible.

Furthermore, the bathroom's design left much to be desired. A closed vanity sat right under the sink, preventing wheelchair access. The toilet, devoid of any supporting rails, lacked the necessary space on both sides for a seamless transition.

There's no chance this room met ADA standards, yet here it was, marketed as such. I'm planning to touch base with the brand to address this oversight.

Exploring the streets of Astoria, Oregon in a wheelchair
Exploring Astoria in a wheelchair, an accessible destination with Wheel the World

Your Accessibility Needs: One Size Doesn't Fit All

It's vital to pinpoint your exact needs when planning for accessibility. Disabilities aren't monolithic, even among those who rely on a wheelchair. Think of each disability as a spectrum, with individuals positioned uniquely within it.

Take Cheryl as an illustration. Her mobility varies, leading us to pick from a diverse range of mobility aids tailored to our destination and intended activities. Often, when extensive movement is anticipated, we prefer her Whill Ci2 due to its impressive range and the autonomy it grants Cheryl.

Yet, for events like conventions where she's stationary for extended periods, Cheryl opts for her manual reclining wheelchair equipped with a headrest. Our upcoming cruise posed a different challenge. Our cabin isn’t spacious enough for a scooter, and with plans to disembark at tender ports, Cheryl's Zeen mobility device—a hybrid walker and wheelchair that's easily collapsible—seemed the most practical choice.

Perhaps Cheryl's circumstances resonate with yours, or perhaps they differ considerably. The challenges she faces while traveling differ from those who exclusively use a wheelchair. One constant, however, is her travel toilet riser. With her tall stature, it's a necessity for easy toilet usage without shoulder strain. Additionally, she's always armed with cushions or a portable seat lift to counteract typically low chairs.

Sunset over the ocean. Wheelchair user and partner on an accessible trip with Wheel the World
Accessible trip to Astoria, Oregon

Properties definition of Accessible can be Different

As mentioned above the hotel room we received was labeled accessible, but it wasn’t for most people, and only marginally for us.  Cheryl had to take her wheelchair into the restroom to lean on and use her toilet riser to make it work.

We recently stayed at 4 resorts in the Dominican Republic and either stayed in or viewed the accessible rooms. Three of the resorts were one brand, and the other resort another. And the accessibility differed between the one brand and the other brand.

The three-resort brand had very good accessibility in all of the public areas and even had fair accessibility by the beach. However, the pools were not accessible.  They did not have a pool lift at any of the three resorts. It is one of those things you need to be aware of so that you don’t go hoping to spend most of your time in the pool and find out after you are there that it is not accessible.

The fourth resort, we toured the accessible rooms, and they were not really accessible other than they were big enough to get a wheelchair in and maneuver.  They did not have rails in either the shower by the shower head or by the toilet.  They did have an adjustable shower head, so again, the end result is that they could pose an almost insurmountable challenge for a full-time wheelchair user.

Accessible travel starts with Wheel the World
Traveling with Wheel the World

The Varied Interpretations of "Accessible" in the Hospitality Industry

Our experience has demonstrated that an “accessible” label doesn’t always guarantee ease of use. Case in point: our recent hotel room. While technically classified as accessible, it left much to be desired for most users. Cheryl had to employ multiple adaptive aids just to make the restroom moderately functional.

On a recent trip to the Dominican Republic, we evaluated accessibility at four distinct resorts. Three belonged to one brand and the fourth to another. And we observed a stark contrast in accessibility provisions between the two.

The trio of resorts under the single brand showcased commendable accessibility across public spaces, even boasting decent accessibility near the beach. Yet, when it came to the pools, they fell short. The glaring absence of pool lifts at all three properties is a crucial detail to be aware of. After all, you wouldn't want your vacation dreams dashed upon arrival, realizing you can't indulge in pool activities.

In contrast, at the fourth resort, while the rooms were spacious enough for wheelchair maneuverability, they severely lacked in essential fixtures. Absent were the rails by both the shower and toilet, although they did have an adjustable shower head. Such oversights could create nearly impossible obstacles for those reliant on a wheelchair full-time.

Crafting Your Own Accessibility Blueprint

The key to navigating accessibility challenges lies in precision. Start by identifying your specific needs. Do you require space for a Hoyer lift? Are you navigating limited mobility similar to Cheryl's? Or do your requirements sit somewhere in the middle?

Organizations like Wheel The World take an extra step to ensure true accessibility. Instead of solely relying on a hotel's claims, they take a hands-on approach. By visiting and meticulously measuring rooms, they gain an accurate understanding of the facilities on offer.

This proactive strategy allows them to match you with accommodations tailored to your precise needs, rather than a vague industry standard. And the best part? They assure that the room you reserve is the very one you'll receive.

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