Mom’s mobility has decreased in recent years (during our last couple of trips together, she had to rely on a wheelchair for any long-distance travel), so when planning our trips we definitely have to keep this in mind. For example, I try to minimize the amount of stairs she has to negotiate. I take notes on whether the sites we plan to visit have elevators and also check if our hotels have them as well.
In the course of these sorts of trip preparations, I’ve found that hotels can be very helpful in meeting the special requirements of aging parents with physical challenges. Most hotels will do their best to accommodate their guests’ needs if you ask them for help and give them plenty of notice.
To get a better handle on what assistance aging travelers can expect from a hotel, I reached out to Will Perry, the global head of hotel asset management for CII Hotels and Resorts, the holding company that owns and operates the Hilton Cape Town City Center and Conrad Pezula Resort and Spa. With a hotel industry career spanning nearly two decades and experience with eight major hotel brands (including the Ritz-Carlton, Hilton, Starwood, and Marriott), he’s definitely knows this subject well!
Valerie Grubb (VG): What assistance can hotels typically provide to an aging traveler who may have mobility issues or other challenges, such as incontinence?
Will Perry (WP): It depends on the specific request. Full-service, larger branded hotels (Marriott, Hilton, Westin, etc.) will ensure their operators are in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a U.S. federal law that, in part, requires hotels to provide full access to people with disabilities. Some independent operators, however, may either be unaware of the law or fail to have required accommodations. This is especially likely in foreign countries, where accessibility regulations vary widely, if they exist at all.
In addition to being ADA compliant, larger branded hotels usually have more resources to meet special needs than limited-service hotels. These resources include shower chairs, rooms with handrails, special light door knockers, large-button phones, TTY or TTD phones, and other special equipment.
A 2010 update to the ADA requires hotels and other businesses with swimming pools to meet certain accessibility requirements with those pools. These including providing a fixed pool lift or sloped entry to assist guests with entering and exiting the water.
VG: What questions should a traveler ask the hotel when calling to book a hotel? One that immediately comes to my mind is whether the hotel has elevators or if everything is on the same floor. What else?
WP: When it comes to making arrangements with a hotel, the traveler’s #1 responsibility is to take ownership of the process. Be specific. Know exactly what you need, and communicate the details to the hotel.
For example, if you call the hotel and ask a vague question such as “Do you have ADA-compliant rooms and equipment?” the agent will almost certainly say yes. But when you arrive, you may find that the hotel’s ADA-compliant items do not meet your particular needs. So instead of asking general questions, ask about the specific accommodations you need. For example:
- “We require a room next to the elevator.”
- “We need a roll-in shower, a bathtub with handrails, or a chair in the shower.”
- “We require sheet guards be put on the bed.” (Hotels usually do not stock these, but full-service hotels should be able to provide them.)
Again, providing as much detail as possible about your exact needs will give hotels a better chance to accommodate your requests (or tell you exactly what they can and cannot do).
One important thing to keep in mind: if a hotel has a wheelchair, you must specifically ask if it’s available for your exclusive use. Hotel wheelchairs are usually used only to help transport a traveler from the car to his or her room. If you need a wheelchair for your exclusive use throughout your stay, the hotel will probably need to rent one for you (which can be done if you give the hotel enough notice).
When you book your room, find out the name and e-mail address of the hotel’s general manager. In addition to calling the hotel about your requirements, be sure to send the general manager an e-mail outlining your specific needs so there is a paper trail of your request.
If you think these suggestions are good, tune in tomorrow for the second half of this interview, which has even more helpful advice from Will Perry!