Accessible hotel bathrooms are basically the same, right? No, they aren’t! While individual hotel brands may implement a standardized design across multiple (sometimes hundreds) of properties, each hotel is built by a different contractor and inspected by a different code enforcement team.

In this article, I will focus on only a few accessible design features in hotel bathrooms. I’ll show examples of ADA compliance first, then take a look at some of the ways hotels have messed up (or cut corners, if you’re a pessimist). So, let’s get started!

ADA Compliant Roll-in Showers

If you request an ADA accessible room with a roll-in shower, here are a few examples of the types and set-up of compliant showers.

ADA compliant roll-in shower at The Westin Cleveland.

The roll-in shower pictured above, at The Westin Cleveland Downtown, is ADA compliant. The shower has a seat attached to and which folds down from the side wall. A handheld shower spray unit and water controls are adjacent to the seat on the back wall and the grab bars are placed in the appropriate positions.

PHOTO: Wheelchair accessible roll-in shower at the SpringHill Suites Milwaukee Downtown.

This roll-in shower at the SpringHill Suites Milwaukee Downtown is a mirror image of the Westin’s ADA shower. It has all of the required fixtures – shower seat, water controls within reach and grab bars to hold onto.

ADA Violations in Roll-in Showers

The following images depict roll-in showers that do not meet the ADA requirements for accessibility. I have described the problems with each.

Roll-in shower that is not ADA compliant at the Hampton Inn Cleveland Downtown.

The roll-in shower pictured above, at the Hampton Inn Cleveland Downtown, is guilty of one of the most common ADA design violations. Can you spot it? The water controls and handheld showerhead are placed on the wall opposite the shower seat, putting them out of reach and making the shower unusable to the majority of wheelchair users. The law requires these features to be placed on the back wall next to the shower seat.

I requested a portable shower chair to overcome this particular ADA violation, as I normally do. Ironically, the General Manager of this hotel refused to provide one saying, “It’s a liability.” Needless to say, I moved to another hotel with an ADA-compliant roll-in shower.

Broken portable shower seat in a roll-in shower at Delta Hotels Orlando Lake Buena Vista.

Speaking of a liability… this is what can happen when a hotel provides a cheap portable shower bench to overcome an ADA violation. Yes, I was sitting on the bench when one of the legs collapsed. Fortunately, I did not take a photo of my naked triple amputee self sprawled out on the roll-in shower floor at Delta Hotels Orlando Lake Buena Vista. Beyond a bruised buttocks, I was not hurt. Let me say it again… water controls and the handheld shower spray unit must be next to the built-in shower seat!

Illegal roll-in shower at the Hyatt Regency Chicago-Schaumburg.

So many things wrong with this shower at the Hyatt Regency Chicago/Schaumburg. No fixed shower seat. A grab bar on the side wall where the shower seat should be. Looks like management needs to read my Guide to ADA Accessible Design Standards for Hotels.

Roll-in shower at Omni Dallas Hotel

The roll-in shower at the Omni Dallas Hotel fails the ADA compliance test, because the shower seat is placed on the back wall. Built-in shower seats must be placed on the side wall of a rectangular roll-in shower.

PHOTO DESCRIPTION: Roll-in shower with shower bench and handheld shower nozzle.

This roll-in shower at the Las Vegas Marriott almost makes the grade, but there is no grab bar on the wall adjacent to the shower seat. The overall design of this shower is permitted, but very few hotels use it. I have seen a similar design in hotels abroad, including at the Madrid Marriott Auditorium Hotel.

ADA accessible roll-in shower at Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay.

This roll-in shower at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay has what I consider to be a minor problem, but it is nonetheless a violation of the ADA design standards and could cause issues for some. When an L-shaped shower seat is used, the side of the seat with the greatest depth must be placed against the back wall. In this particular shower, the extended portion of the seat is at the shower compartment’s entryway. This is described in section 610.3.2 of the 2010 ADA standards.

ADA Compliant Transfer Showers

The transfer shower is the rarest form of accessible bathing unit, but they do exist. Hyatt has a greater propensity for these than other chains, but they mistakenly market them as roll-in showers, which they are not. Here’s what an ADA compliant transfer shower looks like:

ADA compliant transfer shower at the Hyatt Regency Chicago O'Hare Airport.

The transfer shower pictured above, at the Hyatt Regency Chicago O’Hare, is a great example of what it means to be up to code. The shower is 36 inches square, has grab bars on the correct walls and water controls within reach. Very good!

ADA Violations in Transfer Showers

Transfer showers are the simplest and least expensive accessible bath units, but hotels still find a way to mess them up…

Illegal transfer shower at the Hyatt Regency Orlando Airport.

This transfer shower at the Hyatt Regency Orlando Airport doesn’t have a built in shower seat, so you get one of the cheap portable benches that are prone to collapsing. The point of a transfer shower is to allow a wheelchair user to perform a direct side-to-side transfer into the shower from their wheelchair, but this tiny plastic bench makes that impossible. The grab bars in this shower are also not up to code. A real bummer to see at an otherwise fantastic hotel.

ADA Violations in Accessible Bathtubs

The ADA requires hotels to provide a seat in all accessible bathtubs. It can be either fixed or removable, but it must be sturdy and attach to the tub. Because I typically reserve an accessible room with a roll-in shower, my experience with bathtubs is limited.

So, you may be wondering – why am I starting with non-compliant bathtubs? The answer is simple – I haven’t found a compliant one yet!

ADA Compliant bathtub at Hyatt Centric Arlington.

The bathtub photographed above, from the Hyatt Centric Arlington, has a fixed seat and all of the grab bars that are required. Unfortunately, the fixed seat does not comply with the design mandated by 607.41 of the 2010 ADA standards.

Removable seat in bathtub.

The photograph above is a stock photo from Hilton Hotels. I share it because it is an example of what a removable bathtub seat should look like. The seat secures to the bathtub and is sturdy. Unfortunately, in this photograph, the second parallel grab bar is missing from the back wall, and there is no horizontal grab bar on the control wall.

Illegal ADA bathtub at Four Points by Sheraton Tallahassee Downtown.

This bathtub at the Four Points by Sheraton Tallahassee Downtown is an absolute nightmare. It did not have a built-in shower seat, so I requested one of the ADA-approved removable seats. They didn’t have that either, but brought a portable/plastic chair.

There was no way I could safely transfer onto that seat. And, even if I could have transferred onto it, there was no handheld shower spray unit. I wasn’t able to bathe at this hotel, but I moved to another hotel (with an ADA-compliant shower) after just one night.

Toilets: Changing ADA Standards

While most of the requirements concerning accessible hotel bathrooms were left unchanged with the debut of the updated 2010 ADA Design Standards, one major change affects the design and placement of toilets. The 2010 standards mandate enough clear space for a wheelchair to park next to toilets, but the 1991 standards did not impose such a requirement.

PHOTO DESCRIPTION: A wheelchair accessible bathroom toilet surrounded by grab bars.

The toilet pictured above, at the Las Vegas Marriott, complies with the 2010 ADA standards. There is space to roll a wheelchair directly alongside the toilet, enabling side-to-side transfers. Grab bars are placed on both of the adjacent walls where required. For wheelchair users, the layout required by the 2010 standards is most accessible.

PHOTO DESCRIPTION: Bathroom sink and toilet, surrounded by grab bars.

The toilet at the Renaissance New York Hotel 57 is also ADA-compliant, but in accordance with the 1991 ADA standards. The 1991 standards allowed hotels to place toilets alongside other bath fixtures like sinks. This design requires wheelchair users to perform an awkward transfer onto the front of the toilet, but it is still ADA compliance and many properties are grandfathered in to the old regulations.

If you spot a toilet like this in new construction, however, it would amount to an ADA violation.

Final Thoughts

ADA Violations are common in hotel bathrooms, particularly with respect to roll-in showers and bathtubs. Solving these issues (or preventing them during construction) is not rocket science, but their effects can be tremendous on guests with disabilities. You have to be the one to decide what you are capable of adapting to. If you encounter a room that will not meet your needs, speak up! See my tips for responding to ADA violations in hotels to have a better understanding of what your options are.

Is your hotel room wheelchair accessible? Post photos in the comments below and we’ll discuss hotel room accessibility as a community!