When is a "handicapped accessible" hotel room not handicapped accessible? What if you can manage to get in the room, but not use the bathroom? Would you find that acceptable? If you are in a wheelchair, you don't expect life to be simple, but you should be able to expect a reasonable level of accommodation when something is designated as "handicapped accessible."
Having relapsing/remitting multiple sclerosis, I find myself in the position of inhabiting two worlds -- the world of the able-bodied, and the world of the disabled. Among the disabled, I would classify my disabilities as mild to moderate, as well as temporary. Even in instances when I must use a wheelchair, I am not confined to that chair. The wheelchair is simply a mode of transportation for me. When I arrive at my destination, I am able to rise from the chair and move about as necessary. Many people with MS are not so fortunate. The wheelchair represents an entirely different set of circumstances for them.
Recently, on a trip to a small town, we had difficulty securing a hotel room. We lucked out, or so we thought, when we snapped up the last available room in a motel chain twenty miles outside of town. This room happened to be designated as a “handicapped accessible room.”
Putting aside my own experience in a wheelchair, I decided to take a hard look at this room from the perspective of someone who is unable to function without a wheelchair.
Upon arriving at the motel, my first observation was that there were no handicapped parking spaces. None. I know that's not right. A patron would have to park in the lot and wheel through the parking lot, dodging cars, before arriving at the only place in front of the building where one could possibly manage to get a wheelchair up the curb. Once you've maneuvered that, you would find your way blocked by an iron bench, a brick column, and a large planter. At that point, you could only hope that someone would come along to lend a hand. The front door was heavy and awkward, with no easy way for a person in a wheelchair to enter.
The handicapped room was just inside the entrance, on the first floor. So far so good. The entrance to the room was wide, but the room was dark. The light switch just inside the door turned on a lamp at the far corner of the room, leaving the entrance completely dark. There was no hall light, and the peephole was too high.
The door to the bathroom was wide, but impossible to open and close without a great deal of force. The bathroom itself was wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair turn. There were no grab bars at the toilet, and one oddly placed grab bar at the tub. The vanity under the sink had been roughly cut to accommodate a wheelchair, but the sink was so high that it would have been difficult, at best, to use it. The available space around the bed would have made a tight squeeze for a wheelchair.
The florescent light above the sink flickered, hummed, and glowed green, making me sick to my stomach and fearing a migraine. There was no light above the tub.
I only have the tiniest experience as to the challenges presented by life in a wheelchair. I will not wait for it to become MY reality before educating myself further on this issue.
Those of us who have some level of disability, but do not depend on a wheelchair, face a different set of puzzles to solve. Our troubles are much less apparent to the general public, and it is our job to patiently educate. More on that topic in an upcoming post.
We'd like to hear your stories -- both the successes and the failures -- regarding handicapped accessibility -- and what you think we can do about it.
Published On: May 14, 2008