When I recently attempted a weekend getaway to Atlantic City, N.J., I found hotel personnel 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 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 to even measure the bed height in an accessible room was a Herculean feat requiring numerous emails and dozens of phone calls. After speaking to everyone from reservation takers to the head of housekeeping, I landed in the voicemail of the executive director of the front office. The gentleman was well aware of the bed-height issue because his elderly mother complained about the very same thing all the time. 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.

JT-Headshot-#2Of course there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all-disabled hotel room, but it’s perfectly reasonable to expect lodgings with accessible rooms 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. 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 work for me.

1. Call the hotel directly. Ask for a front desk manager and tell them about your access concerns. 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 is a problem, speak up immediately! Hotel maintenance staff deal with all kinds of problems, including this one. If they 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. 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.

4. Be a gracious guest. If modifications are made to your 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 disabled person who needs it done. If you like to write reviews, YELP! is a great online outlet for sharing info — both pro or con.

5. Consider writing letters to hotel bigwigs and associations to let them know that bed heights are a major problem that needs addressing. Government agencies and corporate personnel are often
listed online, so finding them isn’t hard.

Being disabled means we deal with life’s inconveniences daily and can adapt better than our nondisabled 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 and create more awareness for all.

New Yorker Jacquie Tellalian’s blog, Norma Desperate: Crippled Spinster in Cyberspace, can be found at normadesperate.wordpress.com. This article first appeared at www.spinalcord.org/hotel-accessibility.