Hotels grapple with the needs of the disabled


For U.S. hotel chains, compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 means guest rooms must be refurbished to address specifications of the still-evolving law. But that doesn't mean the needs of individual disabled guests are being met. As one frustrated traveler with partial paralysis points out, "People with disabilities are all different from one another." Consultant Don England says, "Even after eight years, many architects and contractors aren't up to speed on barrier-free design. I'm still seeing roll-in showers with a lip at the entrance and handheld showers high out of reach."

Hilton spokesman Tom Daly says that while the chain has invested $30,000 in each of 700 specially fitted rooms, "the demand for such facilities has not been great." But England counters, "If you give disabled travelers what they require, hotels will see their business increase."

Structural compliance is one thing, attitude another. "You can have the Taj Mahal of accessibility," says consultant Cheryl Duke, "but if the staff doesn't know how to treat guests, all that goes to waste." Some hotel corporations, however, seem to be working harder to get things right; Microtel Inn & Suites and Embassy Suites have signed up for Duke's "Opening Doors" sensitivity training program.

Outside the United States, of course, ADA standards do not apply, even for American-owned hotels. Yet some overseas hotels are making great progress. In London, Thistle Hotels' Mount Royal (800/847-4358; doubles from $320) has retrofitted 10 guest rooms with specialized facilities including remote-controlled door openers, vibrating pillow fire alarms, and wheelchairs for roll-in shower use.

For tips on hotels and cruise lines, order Travel for the Disabled: A Handbook of Travel Resources (Twin Peaks Press, $19.95; 800/637-2256; also available is a list of travel agents whose specialty is travel for the handicapped). Or call the U.S. Justice Department's ADA information line at 800/514-0301 (voice) or 800/514-0383 (TDD— Telecommunication Devices for the Deaf). Here's a sampling of amenities offered by hotel chains to meet the needs of the disabled and comply with ADA requirements, in addition to standard features like wider doors, grab bars in bathrooms, and handheld shower heads.

240 hotels in U.S.A.
Special toll-free reservations line with TDD (800/368-1133); access to parking, lobby, public restrooms; in-room strobe-light fire alarm; Braille room numbers; longer curtain wands or motorized draperies; closed-caption TV.

107 hotels in U.S.A., Canada, and Caribbean
Accessible tubs or roll-in showers; low-mounted controls and switches, closet rods and shelves; Braille menus in restaurants; TDD public phones; self-operated lifts for some swimming pools.

236 hotels in U.S.A.
Sinks with extra clearance underneath for wheelchairs; lower closet bars and door peepholes; TDD phones; fire alarms with strobe lights; closed-caption TV.

1,200 hotels in U.S.A.
Levers instead of door handles; larger bathrooms; lower towel racks; connecting rooms for travel companions; staff sensitivity training.

70 Microtel Inn & Suites, 27 Hawthorn Suites in U.S.A.

Rooms located on lowest guest floor, with connecting rooms for travel companions; ADA compliance equipment kit at front desk; staff sensitivity training.