In Accessible Travel, News & Blog

This summer I have answered numerous InfoLine requests for information about accessible hotels in various parts of BC. While there are a number of hotel options on our database for visitors to larger cities, the choices become few and far between for some smaller communities.

Although the Internet is an excellent resource for many things, it can be very difficult to find trustworthy and reliable information on the specifics of accessible rooms. In many cases I could not find what the caller needed, so I resorted to calling individual hotels. I came up with some amusing but very unhelpful responses, which are probably familiar to most of our members:


  • “Yes, the elevator is accessible but we don’t have any handicap rooms.”
  • “The hotel entrance is accessible…accessible bathrooms? Well, each room has a bathroom but a wheelchair couldn’t get in.”
  • “How wide are the doors? Wide enough.”
  • “Yes, we have an accessible room. It’s just up three steps.”


And my personal favourite inappropriate response (I have no idea what this hotel thought I was asking about!):

  • “Wheelchair access, what, in the bathroom? Well, there’s a hair dryer.”

You can imagine my delight when I talked to someone who actually knew how many inches wide the doorways are, or who knew what a wheel-in shower is and whether or not the hotel has one. These are the places I suggested the callers contact for more specifics to see if they could book a stay. Unfortunately, people who use wheelchairs and looking to travel don’t have as many options for places to stay as everyone else does and the accessible rooms may be booked up in advance.

There are several problems, I think. The first is that there aren’t many accessible rooms to start with and some of the ones that do exist may not be very functional due to misunderstandings about the layout or design. An inexperienced able-bodied person can easily overlook something that is crucial in the way of access, which can render an apparently accessible room unusable for some people.

Just as importantly, it is very difficult, as I’ve learned, to find information about the accessibility features that do exist. While some hotel websites do a great job outlining what accessible features they have, and some even include measurements, many websites bury the information or list it so vaguely that it isn’t very useful. And, some hotel websites do not have this information at all. Calling the hotel directly may not solve the problem either. I’ve found that the people answering the hotel phones often aren’t very knowledgeable about accessibility issues, hence the sometimes strange responses I have gotten.

accessible bathroomUnfortunately, when the information is this hard to find, people get frustrated and may even choose not to travel. Certainly, people are less likely to travel to a location where the accessibility is an unknown quantity unless there is no option. This is a shame because we know that traveling, getting involved in recreation activities, and visiting friends is not only beneficial but is also entirely possible for people with SCI. It just takes a bit more pre-planning and flexibility.

When I talk to our callers about booking hotel stays, I give them a list of suggestions about what to ask to help ensure the booking goes smoothly and the accessible room promised will actually meet their needs. I’ve posted these suggestions before, and they can be viewed here.

However, in the interests of finding larger-scale accessibility solutions for everyone, here are my suggestions to hotels:

  • Include accessibility features, with measurements or even floor plans, in a prominent place on the website.
  • Educate staff about the features and make sure those answering the phones have a fact sheet at their fingertips with all the accessibility specifications a person might ask about.
  • Keep in mind that people with disabilities have money to spend and will go elsewhere to find a hotel that meets their needs. They will take family members and friends with them, so there is a cost to not providing good information on accessibility.
  • Talk to travelers with disabilities directly about what features are needed so that the people using the rooms have functional access.
  • Ensure that what is promised during the reservation process is actually provided. One of our staff members recently did everything possible to ensure the room would be appropriate, only to arrive and find that it was nowhere near what had been promised. This can, of course, happen to any traveler, but it’s more problematic when it involves basic access to the bathroom, as just one example.

I also encourage our members to have discussions with hotels (and any other relevant business) to help spread the word about what proper accessibility actually means to people who need to use the services. Emphasizing that good planning and design actually benefits everyone during some stage of the lifespan is one way to help businesses understand the benefits of better accessibility. It also helps to show people that disability access, when done right, can be aesthetically pleasing to everyone.

What else have you done when booking hotels? What would be helpful for you to know during this process? Please share your stories so that we can learn from each other to help make things easier the next time.

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Showing 6 comments
  • Bert

    A common complaint from peers at coffee meetings is about the number of hotels that are switching to the high pillow topped beds. These pillow topped mattresses along with box springs raised the height of hotel beds significantly in some instances making transferring into bed either very difficult or even impossible for some. Finding accessible hotels can be challenging in itself. With the addition of trying to determine how high the hotel bed in a hotel are, several peers have told me they no longer travel because the the challenges with hotel rooms are too great to enjoy a holiday.

    There are no regulations on bed heights in hotels in Canada. In the US, the ADA recommends between 19 and 23 inches to the top of the mattress. On a recent trip to Washington State, the bed in my hotel room was well over the 23 inches, so although recommended by the ADA, even in the US the recommendations are not being followed. To read more about ADA bed recommendation in our database at

  • Sandrina Harwood

    Please consider supporting Ashley, of in her efforts to attend the “Destinations for All” conference in Montreal on October 19-20. Ashley has a Facebook page and offers excellent advice for people traveling with special needs. Or, perhaps someone from Spinal Cord Injury BC could attend on behalf of those wheelchair travelers in Canada who would like some input for hotels and other travel needs.

  • Tabassum

    I am looking for accessibility info for hawaii, also tours

  • Stewart

    what I notice is that when people talk about accessible rooms, they usually mean accessibility for paraplegics. Quadraplegics have much different needs. For example, I need to be able to roll a manual list underneath a bed in order to transfer out of my power wheelchair. Most hotel rooms now put their beds on platforms, which do not allow for access underneath the bed for my lift. This occurs even in the so-called accessible hotel, if you are providing information on accessible facilities, you need to consider the full range of possible limitations of your guests.

  • T

    My situation is a bit different in that my experience is traveling with clients who are in wheelchairs to support them on their vacations.

    Saying that, some of the things we’ve encountered on our trips include things like…

    *Arriving to find so much furniture in the room that my client could not get his power chair in the room and close the door. We then had to spend two hours sitting in the lobby so they could find people to remove the excess furniture and find somewhere to store it.
    *Hotel shuttles-asking if they are wheelchair accessible to find out when we are there ready to go that they mean you have to get out of your wheelchair, walk up some stairs and have your chair stowed in the back of the shuttle (laughed at the idea of picking up a power chair to get it up there as well as everything else). So a day of their paid trip was lost because of this.
    *In the only space in the room where the wheelchair fit (between the bed and the a/c) there was no plug to charge his wheelchair overnight.
    *To get into the bathroom, we would have to remove all the dresser drawers as with the handles sticking out there wasn’t enough space to fit between the bed and the dresser.
    *Solid cabinet under the sink so my client had no access to it for things like brushing his teeth, shaving, washing his hands or face for 6 days (we would pack his toothbrush and paste with us and do them wherever we were going when he could get up to a sink).
    *a tight turn into the bathroom (and the doorway was too narrow) so we couldn’t get into the bathroom for 6 days for bathing. To use the toilet, he would have to stay back in the hallway and two of us would have to lift him in and out of the bathroom (dangerous for both him and ourselves as the tile floor was slippery).
    *The airport shuttle that had us down as 4 people (2 people in wheelchairs) that we had specifically booked as they were the only option we could find with lift equipped vans. They arrived with a small van which only had room for 1 person in a wheelchair. We then had to argue with them that yes, they messed up and had to come back for the two people that wouldn’t fit in the first time.
    *We were in a motel (so outdoor coridors) and there were a lot of amenities on the 2nd floor (including breakfast). But you needed a room key to access the elevators and it took 3 days and a different set of managers before they would give us an extra set of the keys so we could use the elevator. And then there was no table that my client in a power chair could fit under to eat.
    *Platform beds. Besides not being able to get a floor lift under them if needed, they make it hard and dangerous for those who need standing transfers. I can’t get my feet close enough so I am bending over more (waist/back). Again dangerous as I could hurt myself and my client.

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