What to Ask to Make Sure Your Hotel Is Mobility-Friendly

The mobility-friendly Ocean Pool at The St. Regis Bal Harbour in Miami/Oyster

Researching, booking, and taking a trip isn’t always smooth sailing from beginning to end. It takes some time and a little know-how to pull off a perfect getaway. When planning a vacation for a person with limited mobility -- whether yourself, your child, or another family member -- there’s an additional challenge of making sure that the hotel you choose meets your needs. Begin online, narrowing down the property options in your target destination. Keep in mind that finding a hotel that calls itself “accessible” is only the first hurdle of many. From there, you’ll need to start asking the property questions directly.   

“The descriptions that properties use to define accessible when it comes to rooms varies -- not just from country to country or from brand to brand, but even from hotel to hotel within a brand. This makes it very difficult for the individual traveling,” says Nadine Vogel, CEO of Springboard, a company that serves people with disabilities. 

Asking questions like “is your hotel accessible?” or “do you have accessible rooms?” won’t reveal all that much, even if the answer is yes. Vogel stresses that asking specific questions that reflect your particular needs is crucial. To help, we rounded up what you need to inquire about to make sure your hotel is mobility-friendly.

Start by Checking Out Images

Images of a mobility-friendly room at the New York New York Hotel & Casino/Oyster

Vogel points out that a good way to start compiling relevant questions is by checking out online photos of the property, especially the areas or amenities you know you’d like to make use of. Those images can be a springboard to smart questions. You might ask something like, “From the photos online, I see the lobby bar is elevated. Is there a ramp to access the bar?” Or, “The gym seems to have plenty of equipment. Which machines can be used by someone in a wheelchair?” If it’s your child you’re inquiring for, then kid-centric amenities should be the first thing you look at. You might ask, “The kids’ camp looks like it offers a variety of activities. What do you provide when the child has a walker and may not be able to participate in all of those activities?” Or, “Does that children’s pool have a wheelchair lift? I don’t see one in the picture.”

Questions to Ask About Common Areas

Pool at the Mandarin Oriental, New York/Oyster

  • Will there be designated parking with a priority location in the parking lot? “Also, ask if you can self-park, especially if your vehicle has special equipment, such as hand controls. It’s not a good idea for a valet to try and drive a specialized vehicle,” says Heidi Johnson-Wright, ADA Coordinator for Florida's Miami-Dade County. 
  • Is there step-free access to the main entrance? 
  • Does the main door open automatically?
  • Is the lobby level washroom accessible?
  • Is there level or ramp access to public areas, such as breakfast rooms?
  • Is the hotel shuttle accessible? “If you qualify for door-to-door paratransit service in your hometown, you may be able to apply for temporary paratransit use in the city you’re visiting. Just remember it requires significant advanced planning,” says Johnson-Wright. If the hotel shuttle is not accessible, and a free shuttle to and from the airport or into town is included in your room rate, ask that alternate transportation be provided. 

Questions to Ask About the Rooms

The ADA Accessible Deluxe Room at the WestHouse Hotel New York/Oyster

  • Are the accessible rooms located on the first floor? If not, is there an elevator? If I’m going to be on a higher floor, who will assist me, especially in the event of a fire alarm or other evacuation?
  • How wide is the entry to the room, and the bathroom doorway?
  • How many beds are there? “What many hotels do to make a room accessible is reduce a two full-bed room or two queen-bed room to a one king-bed room. That’s fine if you’re comfortable sleeping with your traveling companion,” says Johnson-Wright. “Just don’t assume you can ask housekeeping to bring in a rollaway. Sometimes they can’t due to fire codes.”
  • At what height are the light switches and power outlets? What about the rod in the closet? 
  • Are there lever-type door handles on all doors?
  • Is there a roll-in shower? If not, is there space next to the tub to leave a wheelchair? If a tub shower is all that’s available, will a transfer bench be provided? Transfer benches, which have two legs that sit outside the tub and two that sit inside it, are harder to come by in hotels than simple bath or shower benches. “They make it much easier for a wheelchair user to transfer to, then scoot over into the shower,” says Johnson-Wright. You may need to email over pictures to get a straight answer. “Few people in the hospitality industry know the difference without seeing a photo,” says Johnson-Wright. 
  • Are there grab bars around the toilet and shower?
  • Is the toilet raised? 
  • What is the height of the bottom of the bathroom sink?  
  • If you need a lift to transfer yourself from your wheelchair to the bed, ask if open-frame beds, rather than box-frame beds, are available. This way, the lift will be able to roll completely under the bed. 

Leave Nothing to Chance

The mobility-friendly room at the Four Points by Sheraton Levis Convention Centre in Quebec/Oyster

Vogel recommends asking the property manager all of your questions via email, so that the responses are documented. Understand that a few different parties may respond based on the nature of the question. 

If you choose to call the property manager, and he or she is unavailable, ask to speak with someone who has been in the accessible room(s). In either case, jot down the name of the person you spoke with, the date, the time, and a summary of the call. Johnson-Wright also recommends calling the specific property directly, not the national toll-free number for the hotel chain.

Ask for a credit card guarantee for an accessible room as well as a confirmation number. Then, reconfirm your reservation for a guaranteed accessible room a couple of days ahead of your stay. This is especially important, says Eleanor Smith, founder of Concrete Change, an international effort to make all homes visitable, since hotels all too commonly take only a request for an accessible room. A request is very different from a guarantee, with the former meaning you will get an accessible room only if one is still available when you arrive. “So far from the more advanced access issues like being able to use the laundry room, you are left uncertain whether you will have a bed at all,” says Smith. Be sure to bring your email print-outs or phone-call notes with you to the hotel. When you arrive, ask to look over the room before you check in to make sure it is what was promised.  

The Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality has resources and more information for travelers with mobility-related disabilities. Also, check out Oyster’s favorite mobility-friendly hotels in Miami, New York, and Los Angeles

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