By Jacquie Tellalian
For wheelchair users, a wheelchair accessible hotel room can make the difference between a trip and a great trip. However, there always seems to be a downside even to something as wonderful as an accessible room.
If your vacation plans include lodgings with a wheelchair accessible hotel room, you’ll likely run into a problem that we’ve all been dealing with for years and one that I am becoming increasingly vocal about and that is, towering bed heights.
When you’ve been in a wheelchair for as long as I have (don’t ask, but let’s just say I’m north of 50 and south of retirement age), disabled-specific hotel rooms are a giant leap forward for those of us who grew up living in the shadows of society without any of the conveniences we’ve seen with the passage of the ADA. Call me crazy, but with roomy bathrooms, grab bars and maybe (in newer or renovated hotels) a roll-in shower, shouldn’t someone in a wheelchair also be able to get into the bed without needing an airplane to fly you up there?
When I recently attempted a weekend getaway to Atlantic City, NJ, my search for a lower bed left me with more questions than answers. Hotel personnel – at least those willing to return my calls – were shockingly uninformed about the very people accessible rooms were designed to service. Some didn’t see the beds as high at all. Others thought we all travel with motorized hoists or musclemen health aides to toss us in at the end of the night. One even asked why I couldn’t stand (true!). But most just couldn’t wrap their heads around the concept of someone in a wheelchair needing to transfer laterally onto a bed without assistance.
To make matters worse, the runaround I got trying to find someone – anyone – who would even measure the bed height in an accessible room was alone a Herculean feat requiring numerous emails and dozens of phone calls. When it finally came time to ask about what they could do to lower the bed, I heard an almost unanimous chorus of clueless, chirping birds circling above their heads!
After speaking to everyone from reservation takers to the head of housekeeping, I landed on the voicemail of the Executive Director of the Front Office. The gentleman, to his credit, was attentive and well aware of the bed-height issue because his elderly mother complained about the very same thing all the time! Curiously, the solution was one that I had proposed in my very first email to the hotel: if possible, simply remove the box spring and place the mattress directly onto the bed frame, often that lowers the height to a manageable level.
Hardly a novel concept, it’s been done when I’ve stayed at any number of hotels over the years, but it just doesn’t occur to them that a lower, more wheelchair-friendly bed should be standard in at least some of their disabled-specific rooms. Most hotels of course, want you to be comfortable, but as I can personally attest to, that’s not always the case. A previous trip to Atlantic City had me sleeping on a filthy, stain-filled, pullout sofa in a disabled suite which they gave me just to shut me up after I had refused their offer to set up a single-sized cot in my room – right next to the sky-high, king bed! Why should I pay for an accessible room and then sleep on a sliver of a cot because the hotel doesn’t have the ability to modify a bed you can get into from a wheelchair?
Of course we all know that a there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all wheelchair accessible hotel room, but it’s perfectly reasonable to expect lodgings to have some kind of provision in place that would allow their staff to quickly lower a bed’s height upon request by a wheelchair user. By the way, don’t think that nosebleed height beds are only a problem for the disabled. Since I began writing this, I’ve also heard from short people and senior citizens alike – all echoing the same complaint. Unfortunately, there is nothing in the ADA that addresses the bed height issue, so each of us are pretty much on our own in this little battle, but I do have some tips that have always worked for me.
1) Even if you are booking a wheelchair accessible room online, take the time to call the hotel directly. Ask for a front desk manager and then tell them about your bed-height concerns (or any others). For example, if the bathroom has a bath seat, but you need a bath transfer bench, chances are the hotel will know where you can rent one that will deliver to the hotel, often on short notice. Most hotels are happy to work with you, but it may take a few calls to get the right person on the phone. If you get attitude from staff, take your business elsewhere – you will find other places that aim to please.
2) If the bed height isn’t a problem – great – but if it is, don’t just sit there and take it – SPEAK UP IMMEDIATELY!! Hotel maintenance staff deal with all kinds of problems and this is one that many have probably already run across. If they do seem baffled, try to give them as much information as you can on what you need so they can figure out what to do.
3) Don’t be shy! Offer suggestions such as the one I previously mentioned first. Removing the box spring and having the mattress sit directly on the bed frame often solves the height problem quickly and with a minimum of hassle. You may not be sleeping on a cloud of luxury that only a 35” high bed can apparently provide, but you will be able to get in and out of it yourself – a much better trade-off in my opinion.
4) And finally, be a gracious guest. If modifications are made to your room bed by maintenance, thank them for their help with a smile (I offer a tip). Showing your appreciation for their time and effort helps pave the way for the next person that needs it done. I’ve also been known to drop a thank you note to the hotel letting them know that their willingness to do whatever was necessary to accommodate me will result in future business and telling others about my wonderful experience there.
5) Also, if you’re a literary vigilante like I am, write letters to hotel bigwigs and associations and let them know that bed heights are a major problem that needs addressing. Trust me, it works – I wouldn’t be here writing this if I hadn’t decided to take this issue on after my experiences! Government agencies and corporate personnel are often listed online, so finding them isn’t hard. Taking action is very empowering, so speak up!
Remember, having a disability means we deal with life’s inconveniences daily and (I think) adapt better than our able-bodied counterparts in odd or difficult situations. By planning ahead and telling people what you need in advance, you not only help yourself, but you help others learn too and in turn, that creates more awareness for all.
Okay, now get out there and enjoy!