This week’s edition of the Reader Mailbag is focused on hotel room accessibility.
About once a week, I’ll dip into the mailbag to answer questions about accessible travel from readers just like you. If you have a question you’d like answered, send an e-mail to email@example.com.
The question this week comes from Virginia S., of Illinois. She asked:
We came to Florida from Illinois and found that the beds today are so high (even in handicapped rooms) that we had a terrible time finding a place to stay. I need a bed about the height of my wheelchair! NOT 28 to 30 inches! Right now, we’re dreading the idea of traveling again as it was difficult searching for accommodations. Any help you can give will be greatly appreciated.
The height of hotel beds is increasing and it’s becoming a serious problem for wheelchair users who want to travel.
Consider this: The seat height of most wheelchairs is around 19 inches, but the beds in hotel rooms are often much higher — 28 to 30 inches. That’s a height difference of nearly one foot!
Now, it’s difficult to climb with paralysis, a muscle-wasting condition or, in my case, without legs (I am a bilateral below-knee amputee). For many wheelchair users, climbing 10, 11 or 12 inches to get into bed is not possible. That’s a real problem, since people stay in hotels for the purpose of sleeping.
But the ADA must say something about this — right?
Unfortunately, no standard for bed height is mandated or prescribed by the ADA. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act suggests a bed height of 17 to 19 inches in accessible jail/prison cells, but that recommendation does not apply to hotels.
One of the reasons the Access Board has not regulated bed height is because accessible rooms serve a diverse population of people with disabilities, not just wheelchair users. My grandpa, who has grown weaker with age, does not have the strength to stand up from a low-height bed. Thus, if all beds in accessible hotel rooms were lowered to 17 to 19 inches, he might not be able to safely get out of bed!
When accessibility needs conflict, what should a hotel do?
My grandpa needs a bed that is inaccessible to wheelchair users, while wheelchair users need a bed that is inaccessible to my grandpa. That’s a problem for both hotel owners and guests.
Few hotels have a solution and typically install the same bed in every room. But with a little thought, every guest’s bed height needs can be accommodated, without the purchase of expensive, electronic and hospital-like beds (though this hotel does provide them!).
Platform beds are coming into style, but many hotels are installing models with no clear floor space, making them inaccessible to guests who rely on Hoyer lifts.
Strange as this may sound, platform beds are the solution. A platform bed with legs has space underneath to accommodate patient lifts, can be set to a height of 19 inches by default and can be adjusted to a taller height with bed risers provided by the hotel. The additional cost is negligible and every guest’s needs can be accommodated.
Sadly, we’re not there yet. But be sure to share this article with the next hotel where you have a bed height problem.
What can guests do about bed height in the meantime?
If you’ve checked-in to a hotel and find the bed height is too tall, you have options. The ADA requires hotels to fulfill requests for reasonable accommodations that do not place an undue burden or cost on the business.
Guests can request that the maintenance staff be sent to remove the bed frame or box spring, lowering it to a more accessible height. This would be a reasonable accommodation, and the hotel should comply. For more information, read the article on ADA Design Requirements for Hotels, which includes a lengthier discussion of the reasonable accommodation regulation.
Best wishes for your future travels, Virginia, and I hope you sleep well!