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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Travel: An Epilog

An epilog of sorts written a few days ago as I flew home from Chicago.

The hotel room I stayed in downtown Chicago was renovated a year ago. This is typically good news. Most but not all new hotels offer excellent access. The key word in the previous sentence is most. The hotel room I stayed at was an excellent example of good design and the obliviousness on the part of people in the travel industry who are supposed to create an ADA compliant room.

The Good.

The room was large and I could easily turn around in my wheelchair. The bed and desk were a good height. The mini fridge was easily accessible. The bathroom door was wide and had a pocket door. The room was spotlessly clean. The bed was excellent as were the linens. The television was a flat screen and quite large. The television had various ports so one could link up with a computer or gaming platform. The lighting was excellent. The closet had a low clothes rod that was easy to reach. A great feature was the lights under the bed that illuminated the floor so a person such as myself could see my feet in the darkness as I transferred. This is a great idea and seems to becoming more popular in the hotel industry.

Reality Versus Reservations. 

I requested and confirmed a room with a roll in shower and king bed. I printed out this information. Upon arrival it was clear no such room existed. All rooms with a roll in shower have two queen beds. This is a rampant problem in recent years. Virtually all hotel chains link a room with a king bed and a tub style bathroom. For me this presents a potentially tough transfer in and out of a tub. Given the fact the room requested  does not exist the manager came out to help the flustered desk clerk. The manager subsequently escorted me to the room and it was fine. I had no doubt I could handle the tub and required transfer.

The Bad.

I am glad the manager came up to the room with me. Oh, my this is ever so common. The shower head was in the highest location possible and there was no way I could lower it. The towels were also far to high to reach. The thermostat was too high to reach. The iron in the closet was too high to reach (and yes, I can iron. I do so poorly). The light switches above the bed were too high to reach. 

Some of the above sounds petty. And frankly it is. I am aware of the privilege involved. It was wonderful to have had the opportunity to stay downtown a mere three blocks from Northwestern where I spoke. What gets me is the time I consistently lose and lack of attention to detail when it comes to wheelchair access. Should not all guests feel welcomed? This is the industry standard. It is hard to enjoy travel and the check in process when small issues abound that take time to resolve. What if the manager did not escort me to the room. I would have to call down stairs and wait for an employee to lower the shower head, towels, iron, and remove a desk chair. In terms of the lights and thermostat I am just out of luck. The net result is I think no one cares. Access exists not because my existence is valued but rather it is required by law. 

Ignorance abounds.

Building on the idea that access is not valued is the ignorance about wheelchair access in the city. Bellmen at good hotels know the local area very well. I think suspect every tourist answer could be easily addressed by every person on staff. The easy answer to tourist questions is based on the assumption all humans are bipedal. If I ask about how to get an accessible cab I am given contradictory and often wrong information. If I ask about accessing busses or subway staff at virtually every hotel I have stayed in has no clue. For example, the night before I returned home desk staff  told me ordering an accessible cab was impossible. I was then assured getting an accessible cab in the morning would take no longer than 5 minutes.  As I check out I ask if the bellman could hail an accessible cab. The look of panic and confusion sweeps across the face of the desk clerk. Clearly the desk clerk doed not know what to do. I go down to the street and the bellman told me it could take an hour or more to get an accessible cab.  The bellman looked at me and asked why didn’t I call a cab company and over an accessible. Really? The minor issues I encountered could easily be resolved. Surely a large corporation could have a person on staff that could accurately answer the questions I had. All the answers I asked could likely be put on one piece of paper. The room with all the glitches could also be eliminated. I repeatedly tell hotel staff I am partially advocating for myself but far more important is the guest that follows me. The tired business man or woman that gets in late at night and simply wants to take a shower without having to call to have a shower head lowered.

The Kicker

As usual at JFK, the staff trained, and I use that word loosely, was totally unfamiliar with an aisle chair and had no clue how to to transfer me or how to use the straps that are supposed to secure me in my heat. Worse, they refused to listen to me and as a result dragged my foot on the floor. I now have a minor abrasion for a souvenir. 


Nessie Siler said...

It boggles the mind. most of these issues could have been easily resolved for you and the next guest who comes after you. All hotels need to hire and train a Disability Services Liaison. I admit, no such job currently exists. But it would make all our lives so much easier if it did.

Nessie Siler said...

upon further thought to my previous comment, perhaps the hotels shouldn't train them. Perhaps the local CIL should.
if I were tech savvy enough to create an app, this would be a breeze...