The ‘wheelchair-friendly’ rooms that are far from accommodating
‘I’ve used garden chairs and farmyard buckets instead of shower stools’
Louise Bruton: “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.” Photograph: Dave Meehan
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 in trips to Dingle, American road trips, jaunts to Lisbon, or weddings in Italy, before I book anything I have to triple-check that any accommodation that is 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 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.
Other challenges I’ve encountered with accessible accommodation: bathrooms 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; opening 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; arriving 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. 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.
Out of pocket
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.