The added cost of living with a disability reduces discretionary spending, leading many vacationers with disabilities to stay in budget hotels. When booking a low-cost hotel, travelers expect to make sacrifices in location, comfort and amenities, but they should not be forced to compromise on accessibility. The ADA Standards for Accessible Design apply to all hotels—from the $35 Days Inn to the $500 Ritz-Carlton—and expectations for accessibility should be the same, regardless of the nightly room rate.

In an effort to better understand the experiences disabled customers have within the hotel industry, I carried out a study of budget hotels with room rates of under $60 per night. My goal was to determine whether or not low-cost hotel rooms are ADA compliant.

A Study on Accessibility in Budget Hotels

Over the course of two months this year, I conducted a study on the accessibility of budget hotel rooms within the State of Florida. The sample size was small but diverse, consisting of 16 different low-cost hotels from brands including Days Inn, Econo Lodge, Howard Johnson, Motel 6, Scottish Inns, Super 8 and Travelodge, as well as a handful of independently-owned properties not associated with a major national brand.

I affirm that I booked the hotel rooms referenced in this report to fulfill a legitimate need for accessible accommodation, that I spent the night at each hotel and that I had no advance knowledge of guest room accessibility (or lack thereof). For the purposes of this investigation, I limited my assessment of ADA compliance to the design of bathrooms in accessible guest rooms. I did not bring a tape measure, as I was only interested in ADA violations that could be diagnosed with the naked eye.

The results were shocking: 14 out of 16, or 87.5% of the budget hotels surveyed had an ADA compliance issue that significantly impacted my ability to make use of the hotel room. And, while I readily admit that this study was informal and may lack statistical significance, I strongly believe that that my findings accurately represent the nature of accessibility at budget hotels.

Findings: ADA non-compliance readily apparent

The following selection of photos taken at the hotels surveyed reveals issues with ADA compliance that are readily apparent, easily identifiable and which amount to clear violations of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Pictured above, the shower at the Days Inn Orlando Near Millenia Mall was not “roll-in” due to a 3-inch lip separating the shower from the rest of the bathroom. No shower chair was affixed to the wall, and the hotel staff were unable to locate a portable chair for me to use. The water controls were affixed to the incorrect wall.

The bathtub at Scottish Inns Jacksonville had no handheld shower spray unit, no grab bar at the foot of the tub, and was missing a second horizontal grab bar on the back wall. Additionally, the hotel could only provide a portable shower bench, rather than a sturdy/secure bathtub seat required by the ADA.

The bathtub at the Howard Johnson Inn Tropical Palms Kissimmee, pictured above, was missing a second horizontal grab bar on the rear wall and a handheld shower spray unit. The provided seat (a stool) was not ADA-compliant and would have been dangerous to use.

With a few more problems, but just as inaccessible, the bathtub at the Days Inn Orlando Downtown did not have a handheld shower spray unit and was missing grab bars on the rear wall (two parallel grab bars are required) and also at the foot of the tub. No ADA-compliant bathtub seat was provided, only a portable shower stool.

Roll-in shower at Super 8 Kissimmee/Maingate/Orlando Area.
Roll-in shower at Super 8 Kissimmee/Maingate/Orlando Area.

The design of the roll-in shower pictured above, at the Super 8 Kissimmee/Maingate/Orlando Area hotel, did not comply with the ADA design standards. There was no shower chair affixed to the wall and the water controls were not placed on the rear wall as required. A portable seat was provided instead, which is not permissible under the ADA.

Pictured above is an “accessible” shower at the Days Inn Orlando/International Drive. The 3- to 4-inch step into the shower makes it impossible to roll-in with a wheelchair. The handheld shower nozzle was attached high on the wall and could not be adjusted to or secured at a lower height. While there was a built-in shower seat, it was enclosed on three sides and located at the back of the shower, making transfers impossible. The provided shower bench was not stable or secure, and would have been a danger to transfer onto.

The bathtub at the Econo Lodge Inn & Suites Near Florida Mall, pictured above, had grab bars in all the required locations, but lacked a handheld shower spray unit and a secure bathtub seat.

Of the 14 hotels found to have a “major” ADA violation, none had a built-in shower seat or secure bathtub seat as required. The majority failed to provide a handheld shower spray unit. Grab bars were installed in the wrong locations, and many bathtubs failed to contain all of the grab bars outlined in the ADA design standards. Several showers had barriers to entry that made rolling-in impossible.

Needless to say, I was not able to shower in any of the 14 non-compliant hotels. Later in this article, I’ll offer some guidance on how you should respond if your hotel room is not up to code and you are unable to use it.

Two Unicorns: ADA-compliant Budget Hotels

Of the 16 budget hotels I tested, only 2 were free of “major” ADA violations in the guest room. While these hotels may not have been 100% compliant, any issues they did have weren’t immediately apparent and did not affect my ability to make use of the room. As you might suspect, their accessibility came as a surprise, given the poor accessibility in the other hotels I assessed.

The Motel 6 Orlando International Drive had a fantastic design, comfortable bed and a wheelchair accessible roll-in shower that was ADA compliant. A built-in shower seat, grab bars and handheld shower spray unit were all in the appropriate places.

The Travelodge Orlando Near Florida Mall featured an ADA-compliant shower with the required shower seat, grab bars and water controls in the appropriate locations. The accessibility of the sleeping area was also good, but there were no power outlets within reach of the bed.

Unicorns within the world of budget hotels, the Motel 6 and Travelodge that I stayed in showed that accessibility is not impossible.

Accessible swimming pool, but no accessible shower

The ADA requires hotels to install a chair lift to provide swimming pool access to guests with disabilities. As one of the easiest violations to spot, hotels have been quick to install pool lifts so as not to be the subject of a “drive-by” ADA lawsuit. In a recent post about this phenomenon, I explained why the presence of a lift-equipped swimming pool is not an indicator of hotel room accessibility.

Although hotels are incentivized to reduce risk by ensuring ADA compliant common areas, parking lots and swimming pools, the threat of legal action is not as great for ADA violations hidden behind the hotel room door.

The two hotels whose swimming pools are pictured above, the Days Inn Orlando Downtown and Super 8 Kissimmee/Maingate/Orlando Area, illustrate this point. Both pools have a lift, but ADA compliance ends there. Accessible guest rooms are a compliance disaster, with bathing facilities too dangerous for people with disabilities to use. What good is an accessible swimming pool without an accessible bathtub or shower?

In comparing the number of hotels with My study revealed that four times as many hotels had ADA compliant swimming pools than there were ADA compliant guest rooms.

What to do when a hotel room is not accessible

There is nothing more disheartening than checking-in to a hotel after a long travel day, only to find significant barriers to access in the room.

When a hotel room is not ADA compliant and the guest with a disability cannot use it, the hotel should pay to accommodate that guest at another hotel and cover the cost of cab fare. But what should happen rarely does, and budget hotels are unlikely to offer guests more than a refund. Still, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

The quality of customer service is difficult to measure from a single experience, but I found managers of low-cost hotels to be much less accommodating than their counterparts at brands like Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott. Take the refund and leave (or stay if you must), but don’t expect anything in the way of compensation. It’s unfair, and puts the budget conscious traveler in an uncomfortable predicament. Accepting a civil rights violation (through ADA non-compliance) is often the only choice many travelers have to get a room they an afford.

If you do encounter a hotel that is not accessible, please report ADA violations to the Department of Justice. Holding hotels responsible for discriminating against guests with disabilities is the best way to effect change, and filing a complaint with the DOJ is a great way to do that. The process is simple and takes only a few minutes, and could result in the government engaging in meaningful action against the business.

Final Thoughts

I have never lost sight of the fact that the size of our bank accounts should have no bearing on our right to equal access, but the majority of hotel owners have. The ADA violations I encountered were not “minor,” and made it impossible for me to make use of hotel bathrooms I had paid to use. In some cases, I was even charged more for a handicap accessible hotel room that turned out to be inaccessible!

By exposing the lack of accessibility in budget hotels, I hope to increase awareness of the importance of ADA compliance. Accessibility is a civil right, and hotels must recognize that or risk losing out on the $17 billion spent by people with disabilities on accessible travel each year.

What accessibility barriers have you faced when staying at a budget hotel?
Share your experiences in the comments below!

Feature image courtesy Days Inn Orlando/International Drive.

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