If i’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times, “I reserved an accessible room and when I got there I couldn’t even get into the bathroom.” Of course, there are many variations on that theme, but it all boils down to the same issue: appropriate access. What is appropriate access? That varies from person to person, because what’s adequate for one person may not necessarily meet the needs of another person. That’s what makes finding the right hotel room such a challenge, because not only are people’s needs different but so access standards. What Is Accessible? how can you tell if a property has accessible rooms? The first thing you have to do is define the word accessible. That’s a tall order. Truth be told, the experts have been trying to do that for years. The bottom line is, there’s no one uniform definition of accessible. Many properties have developed their own access criteria, but even these standards vary widely from property to property. It’s definitely not what you would call uniform.
It would be great if an accessible room at Hotel X in St. Paul was exactly the same as an accessible room at Hotel Y in Amarillo, but that’s just not the way it works. Even that little blue wheelchair pictogram can have many meanings, depending on how and where it’s displayed. For example, in California (where I live) if you see that blue wheelchair pictogram posted at the entrance to a hotel, it means that the entrance to that hotel is accessible. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything else within that property is accessible. It may or may not be. Basically, it’s a crap shoot. The same pictogram is often prominently featured in advertisements for hotels and motels. What does it mean? Well, that depends on the property.
Generally speaking, there’s no uniform criteria or any standardized usage of the international accessibility pictogram. In fact, two properties right next door to one another may have different accessibility criteria, yet both may also proudly display that pictogram. you may ask: in the united states where we have laws as the Americans with disabilities act ADA, how can this be possible? To answer that question, you need to understand a few things about the ADA, so let’s take a brief look at how the ADA addresses accessibility in the lodging industry. Properties constructed after January 26, 1992, are subject to the new construction guidelines of the ADA. Under this criteria, new properties are required to have a minimum number of accessible rooms, which ranges from 2% to 4% of the number of total rooms, depending on the size of the property. This criteria also specifically defines access features required in the accessible rooms. The inclusion of some of these access features, however, also depends on the size of the property. For example, if a property has 51 or more rooms, it must have a minimum number of rooms with roll-in showers. Again, this depends on the total number of rooms, and it ranges between 2% to 4% of the number of total rooms. Properties with less than 51 rooms are not required to have any rooms with roll-in showers, although they still must have a minimum number of accessible guest rooms. So, an accessible guest room does not always have a roll-in shower. This only applies to new construction, not to remodeled properties.
Properties constructed before January 26, 1992, are subject to different guidelines under the ADA. The ADA states that these existing facilities are required to remove architectural barriers when it is readily achievable. Readily achievable is further defined as being easy to accomplish and carry out without much difficulty or expense. So as you can see, the definition of readily achievable is open to interpretation, because cost and difficulty are sometimes relative terms. In fact, what might be readily achievable for a large hotel chain would not necessarily be readily achievable for a small owner-operated motel. So, two properties next door to one another could, in fact, have ADA compliant rooms with completely different access features. It’s pretty easy to do, especially when you bring the readily achievable concept into the picture.
Additionally, some cities and states have local access codes, and where two laws conflict, the more stringent of the two applies. Sometimes it’s the ADA, sometimes it is not. And then you have historic buildings, which may or may not be subject to access standards. Indeed, sometimes it takes an attorney to decide exactly how the ADA applies to public accommodations. If you take only one thing away from this chapter, remember this: Never just ask for an accessible room, because there isn’t a universal standard for accessible rooms, even within the United States. The terms accessible or ADA compliant are meaningless unless you understand how the property defines them. To do that, you have to learn to ask a lot of questions.