Finding An Accessible Room

Even though the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed over a decade ago, many wheelchair-users still have trouble finding an accessible hotel room. The key is knowing the right questions to ask. It would be an easy task if all accessible rooms had certain standard amenities, but that’s not the way it works in real life. In reality, accessibility standards vary from property to property; and in fact are dependent on the construction or remodel date, the location, and the size of the property. Two properties located right next door to one another may have vastly different accessibility standards.

To add to the confusion, many reservation clerks assume that their “accessible rooms” are the one-size-fits-all solution for every traveler. The results are disastrous, and many novice travelers end up in “ADA compliant” rooms that don’t meet their needs. So what’s a traveler to do? Well, of course there are no 100% guarantees in life, but a little advance planning mixed with a healthy dose of self advocacy goes a long way towards finding the appropriate room. Here are a few helpful tips.

  • Never just ask for an “accessible room”. Accessibility standards vary throughout the US, resulting in a very broad definition of the term “ADA compliant room”. Outside of the US it gets more complicated. For example in Europe, an “accessible room” features an accessible route of travel but offers no specific amenities; while an “adapted room” contains a bathroom, shower and toilet that are adapted to comply with access standards.
  • Remember, in Europe the first floor is not at street level. If you want a room at street level, ask for a room on the ground floor. If you can’t book a ground floor room, make sure the property has an elevator.
  • In the US, look for properties constructed after 1992. The Americans With Disabilities Act took effect in 1992 and properties constructed after this date usually have better access.
  • Always call the property directly. On-site reservation agents often have first-hand knowledge about access features at their property.
  • Ask the reservation agent to describe the access features of the room. Remember that the term “ADA complaint” means very little, so ask for specific information on access features. If there is a particular feature that is important to you, ask about that feature specifically.
  • Not all accessible rooms have roll-in showers (also called level entry, no hob or no rim showers in Europe). If you need a room with a roll-in shower, specify that fact when you make your reservation. If you just reserve an “accessible room”, you will probably end up with a bathroom with a tub/shower combination.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for measurements. If door width is a concern, ask for that measurement. Don’t forget about the door width of interior (bathroom) doors too.
  • Avoid yes or no questions. For example, ask the clerk to describe the bathroom, rather than asking if the bathroom is accessible. Be especially careful about asking yes or no questions in the Orient, as many customer service employees consider it rude to answer a question (any question) with a “no”.
  • Ask the reservation agent to fax you a floor plan of the accessible room(s). This will give you the dimensions of the room, but remember that access can vary depending on the placement of furniture. More and more properties now have floor plans on hand, and many are willing to fax these to potential guests.
  • If fatigue is a factor, request a room near the elevator or in the main building.
  • If you have difficulty determining if a room will suit your needs, ask to speak to somebody who has recently been in the room. Employees in the housekeeping or engineering departments usually have a good knowledge of access features of the individual rooms.
  • Remember to ask the reservation agent if the accessible room can be blocked for you. If the answer is “no” or “usually”, then find another hotel. Many hotels do not block accessible rooms, but instead treat this item as a customer request (like a smoking room or an ocean view room). Remember, even the most accessible room in the world won’t work for you, if that room isn’t available when you arrive at the hotel.
  • Finally, if a reservation agent gives you ambiguous answers or sounds inept, call back later or contact a different property. Always trust your instincts!


    A recognized expert on accessible travel, Candy is the editor of Emerging Horizons and the author of Barrier-Free Travel; A Nuts and Bolts Guide for Wheelers and Slow Walkers. She also shares insights, information and industry updates about accessible travel on her Barrier Free Travels blog. Candy can be contacted at Candy at EmergingHorizons dot com.