Mar 22, 2012


I am sitting at Vancouver airport as I write this, filling out a questionnaire for a video that I will be helping out with for British Columbia's tourism and hospitality industry in nearby Victoria. One of the questions asked is a very good one.

Tourism British Columbia from Victoria, British Columbia asks:

What issues do you have when it comes to accommodations such as hotels?


Perhaps one of the most finicky things about accommodations is that many people do not fully understand what "accessible" means. For some places, they assume that if a place has no stairs or steps, it automatically becomes accessible. Worse, some other places consider places with a few steps are still "accessible." Basically there is no standard understanding of what it means to make something accessible.

One of the things that many people with disabilities tend to suggest is to be as specific as possible about what you may require. There have been situations where someone would phone ahead and would be assured that a place is accessible but arrives to find out that it is anything but.

For example, I know someone who was told that the hotel room he wanted was recently renovated to become fully wheelchair accessible. However, it was on the second floor of a building without an elevator, obviously making any renovations useless.

A less obvious incident from another friend involves an "accessible" hotel that had two steps at the front entrance. She uses a power wheelchair, so there was no way for her to enter the hotel at all.

I have come across a less obvious example myself, where the room is on a floor without stairs or steps, but the room itself is too tight to maneuver if you are in a wheelchair, in addition to having an inaccessible bathroom. I did all I could to ensure that it was accessible but without physically being there, there was no way I could have predicted those problems, so sometimes being specific does not always work.

As a side note, one particular pet peeve (especially among fancier hotels) is the use of thick carpeting. Even with good upper body strength, thick carpeting can make navigating through rooms (that are otherwise accessible) similar to getting around in quicksand. Able-bodied people can simulate the effect by trying to roll a suitcase on the same carpeting – it simply does not work well. The best carpeting to use is thin hard carpeting often found at airports. The softer and thicker the carpeting, the worse it will be for wheelchair users.

My advice to professionals in the industry is to do a dry run in a wheelchair or other mobility device in the rooms before declaring it accessible. In addition, see if it is possible to access the room from the outside; there may be some modifications to the hotel's entrance that are needed. In addition, do not be afraid to seek out local disability groups and societies for help; here in Vancouver, there are several organizations who would gladly provide some people with disabilities to do a "test run" of your building. Also, when they have recommendations, listen and never dismiss them; some places tend to do this for accessibility assessments ("It's fine, it's good enough"). We would not recommend things unless we know they are necessary.

There are a lot of advancements that can be made in this field for sure and it all has to do with understanding how things look from our point of view, instead of simply following ADA regulations and other access guidelines without thinking.

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