Room where you want to? Not in a wheel­chair

Way too many ‘wheel­chair-friendly’ rooms are far from ac­com­mo­dat­ing

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Front Page - Louise Bru­ton

In the seven years that I’ve used a wheel­chair, I’ve de­vel­oped an ex­tra layer of sus­pi­cion to my psy­che, and this re­ally comes to the sur­face when I’m plan­ning a hol­i­day. Rang­ing from jour­neys to Din­gle, Amer­i­can road trips, jaunts to Lis­bon, or wed­dings in Italy, be­fore I book any­thing I have to triple-check that any ac­com­mo­da­tion ad­ver­tised as ‘wheel­chair-ac­ces­si­ble’ will suit a wheel­chair user.

You’d be sur­prised how of­ten wheel­chair-ac­ces­si­ble rooms aren’t as they say, but, if you are a wheel­chair user, you know this al­ready.

My first ex­pe­ri­ence of trav­el­ling abroad with my chair was five years ago to the Pri­mav­era mu­sic fes­ti­val in Barcelona.

Tak­ing the cheap­est flight op­tion that al­ways co­in­cides with the most in­con­ve­nient of times, we ar­rived at our hos­tel af­ter mid­night, only to dis­cover that the hos­tel was up four flights of stairs and the only way to get up there was in a lift that didn’t fit a wheel­chair. “Rats!” we said.

Well, we said some­thing a bit more ex­treme than that. Mul­ti­ple times. Other chal­lenges I’ve en­coun­tered with ac­ces­si­ble ac­com­mo­da­tion in­clude bath­room doors that aren’t wide enough, so I’ve de­vel­oped an al­ter­na­tive strat­egy of hop­ping on to a stool, dis­man­tling my wheel­chair, only to re­assem­ble it inside the bath­room. I have opened up the door to an ac­ces­si­ble bed­room in a four-star Ir­ish ho­tel to dis­cover that all of the fur­ni­ture in the room blocks my path. I have ar­rived at a B&B in Bournemouth to re­alise that the ac­ces­si­ble room is on the first floor and the lift – once again – does not fit a wheel­chair.

I’ve used gar­den chairs and farm­yard buck­ets turned up­side down in­stead of shower stools, which are meant to be part of the ac­ces­si­ble room pack­age.

I’ve had my friends carry me up flights of stairs when we are far too drunk to even carry our­selves.

I’ve paid ex­tra for rooms be­cause some ho­tels con­sider ac­ces­si­ble rooms to be “deluxe”.

I’ve used the bucket trick on spa re­treats in five-star ho­tels, to­tally wreck­ing the buzz in the Hi­malayan salt sauna.

In­stead of find­ing the best price on­line, I have to phone and email and pester un­til I find a room in the area that will suit and I never re­ally be­lieve them un­til I ar­rive and ex­am­ine the room my­self.

On a re­cent trip to Lis­bon for the Euro­vi­sion, I doubted my scep­ti­cal na­ture.

Jack­pot I was meant to stay in a hos­tel with my pals, but af­ter a se­ries of emails and one phone call, cour­tesy of a Brazil­ian friend, I didn’t trust the prom­ise that “our hos­tel usu­ally suits wheel­chairs” and I booked other ac­com­mo­da­tion that did, but at a heftier cost.

When we got there, my cu­rios­ity was piqued and I vis­ited the hos­tel. Slap bang in the mid­dle of hill sit­ting at a 75-de­gree an­gle was the hos­tel. It had three steps up to it and when I was heaved in by my friend Rosie, we found that the lift did not fit a wheel­chair and the ac­ces­si­ble room was up­stairs.

We didn’t have to say “Rats!” this time. In­stead, I ap­plauded my sus­pi­cions for hit­ting the jack­pot once again – fig­u­ra­tively speak­ing, be­cause I was very much out of pocket due to the cost of my back-up ho­tel.

Wheel­chair-ac­ces­si­ble ac­com­mo­da­tion ex­ists. It doesn’t sound like it but I have ac­tu­ally stayed in some.

It may take weeks of trawl­ing the in­ter­net and a num­ber of per­sis­tent calls to ho­tels and B&Bs ask­ing: “And are you SURE it’s wheel­chair ac­ces­si­ble?”

Ac­ces­si­ble ac­com­mo­da­tion may cost an un­fair and bor­der­line dis­crim­i­nate amount more, but it’s there.

Some ho­tels may for­get to ad­ver­tise it, oth­ers may think they have it only to dis­cover with a late-night check-in that they cer­tainly do not.

One B&B in the mid­lands told me that they don’t ad­ver­tise the ac­ces­si­ble room be­cause they didn’t like the peo­ple that used it, but I some­how snuck in. It’s a pity be­cause their ac­ces­si­ble bath­room was one of the best I’ve ever seen.

Hol­i­days are meant to be a time to un­wind and glam it up a lit­tle but by the time I find ac­com­mo­da­tion, I de­serve an­other hol­i­day to get over that stress.

I’ve used gar­den chairs and farm­yard buck­ets turned up­side down in­stead of shower stools, which are meant to be part of the ac­ces­si­ble room pack­age

PHO­TO­GRAPH: DAVE MEE­HAN

Louise Bru­ton: “I’ve paid ex­tra for rooms be­cause some ho­tels con­sider ac­ces­si­ble rooms to be ‘deluxe’.

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