Travel Tips and Cautions: Walkers and Wheelchair Travelers
This is an article I never thought I would be writing. But, on my recent vacation, I had the opportunity to use what are called "Handicapped Accessible" facilities in several hotels and restaurants in three states. My ultimate conclusion was that facility listings are highly overstated. At best they seem "mixed," and dreadful at their worst.
The trip began with a long car trip to New England. We arrived at a well known lake area, tired and ready for a good rest. We stayed at an absolutely beautiful and, I might mention, quite expensive and well known inn. The "Handicapped Accessible" room had only limited facilities. The bed was huge with a pillowtop mattress. Despite the comfort once in bed, its height meant that I was unable to get into the bed - it was that high.
After calling the housekeeping department, they finally came up with a step stool for me to use to get into the bed. Of course the step stool did not have handrailings so using it was pretty scary. Further, this handicapped accessible room had no walk-in shower. That meant climbing into and out of a slippery tub (no hand rails here either I might add.)
The next hotel was in another New England state. This was also a very fancy and expensive hotel, listed as "fully handicapped accessible." The bathroom was set up perfectly, handrailings all around, walk-in shower, raised commode - just perfect. The room was absolutely gorgeous.
Unfortunately there was not one chair in the room that could be used by a handicapped person - all were low rocking chairs. If you get down into one of those chairs, you would never get out of it. And, again, the beds were pillowtop and extremely high. I cannot imagine what these hotel designers are thinking - do they really believe that a handicapped person can leap onto those waist-high beds?
A number of calls to housekeeping lead to a person showing up at our door with three telephone books that they suggested I use as a step stool. After my husband offered them some suggestions as to where they could put the telephone books, they left only to reappear half an hour later with a child's chair that I could use to step up to the bed.
Another serious problem was that the handicapped accessible room was not accessible to any of the many hotel entrances. It took me more than 15 minutes to walk from the nearest door. Of course, the hotel did not have a wheelchair to accommodate this. This meant that, once we got into the room, we had to stay there as it was just too difficult to go and come back. Needless to say we stayed in that particular hotel only that one night.
In another town, we stayed in a family-friendly chain hotel. This one was a revelation of good design and planning. The handicapped accessible room was right at the entrance to the parking lot and the handicapped spots in that parking lot were right at the door. The room was also set up exactly as it should have been, the bathroom was perfect, and the chairs in the room all easy to use. Unfortunately, once more, there was the dreaded pillowtop mattress.
By this time my husband was simply unwilling to go through the various "suggestions" for step stools and he just went out to the nearest hardware store, purchased a small step stool with a folding hand railing (something not that easy to find) and that is what we shall take with us from now on when we travel.
At a beautiful all-suite hotel in the mountains, the handicapped accessible rooms were set up beautifully. The bathroom looked like something out of a magazine. The chairs were all supportive and easy to get into and out. The beds were so high, however, that the top of the mattress was level with my chest - but "aha" we had our step stool now so no calls to the desk needed (although even with the step stool it was still a "leap" into that bed).
This "handicapped" suite, however, was deep in the center of the hotel, necessitating not only a long walk through the lobby, an elevator ride, and another long, long walk from the elevator to the suite. Of course, no wheelchair available to help.
Before you travel, ask questions, plan ahead, and donít assume that all facilities are equally convenient for those with physical challenges. And you can be sure from now on, we travel with that railed stepstool. You may want to do the same.
Jane E. Meckwood-Yazdpour is a freelance writer and a marketing and public relations specialist. She writes numerous articles and poetry for the Parent & preschooler Newsletter, the monthly Family Dining column for Newsday's Parents and Children magazine and is the book reviewer for offbeattravel.com. Married with one daughter, she lives on Long Island, New York.