Traveling with a disability: 5 things to know about bathroom access

Day Undefined presents a series of blog articles about accessible travel. If you’re planning to go by bus, car, train, boat or plane for a day out, a long commute, for a business trip on your own or for a vacation with friends, you’ve come to the right place. Explore this series for lessons learned while traveling with a disability.

The following content is taken from Lisa’s lessons learned while on a road trip from Hamilton, Ontario to Daytona Beach, Florida in July 2023. Meet Lisa and our team here.

What makes a hotel bathroom truly wheelchair accessible? How important is the size of a bathroom, or the height of a toilet?

    The accessible washroom in the lobby was not great at all. Doors need to open outwards so that they don't take up more room in the actual toilet room or stall. And the garbage can was on the other side of the door, which I could not reach. And it was a difficult, five point turn to get out of the restroom. I could not close the stall door. 🙁😠

    When Lisa made it to Farmington Hills near Detroit, she found that the bathroom in the hotel lobby was hard to navigate. In her room there were some improvements: it was larger, with enough space for her to move around, with a fold-down shower chair, side plumbing in the shower and an adjustable shower head. The toilet seat, though, didn’t fit properly.

    When I was sitting on the toilet, I was at a bit of an angle, and when I stand up, I'm in danger of pinching the back of my legs. I am in more danger of falling if I am not able to stand up straight against this item. A comfort height toilet is best.

    What is a comfort height toilet?

      Standard toilets measure about 14 to 15 inches from floor to seat. An ADA-compliant toilet measures 17 to 19 inches from floor to seat, and it must be at least 60 inches wide. There must be 16 to 18 inches of room from the toilet and the side walls.

      When you’re booking a hotel, should you ask about showers or tubs?

        When Lisa arrived in Columbus, Ohio, the bathroom in her hotel room looked great, at first. There was a full-length mirror, and light switches were placed at an accessible height. There was a low cabinet with towels, and grab bars for the toilet. 

        What Lisa found next, though, was troubling:

        But, and this is a huge but, there is not a shower here... There is a tub in here! 😠 When I called the front desk to ask for a shower chair, they had none! And they had no solution for somebody who uses a wheelchair full time to have a shower when there was a tub in the bathroom and no shower chair available. I am and was livid! This room that we booked is accessible. So now we know: We need to make sure we are booking a "wheelchair accessible” room. 
        This was an "accessible" hotel room as you can tell by the lower shelf and the grab bars, but there was a tub and there were no shower chairs available, making the bathtub inaccessible.

        Image: This was an "accessible" hotel room as you can tell by the lower shelf and the grab bars, but there was a tub and there were no shower chairs available, making the bathtub inaccessible.

        What makes hotel bathroom access easier? What about the shower chair? What about a zero entry shower?

          In Fayetteville, Lisa appreciated that her shower chair had a back, for extra support.

          Outside of Daytona Beach, she was happy to find a zero entry shower in her hotel bathroom. Zero entry showers have no curbs, steps, or barriers to entry. A floor that tilts slightly in the direction of the drain keeps water contained within the shower area of the bathroom.

          Here are some questions for management staff, to keep in mind while booking a hotel room: 

            • Does the bathroom have a shower or a tub? Is it a zero entry shower?
            • Are shower seats available and what kind?
            • Is the toilet ADA-compliant? What is the toilet height?
            • Will I be able to reach door handles, cabinets, and light switches?
            • How large is the bathroom? Is there enough room for me to turn in my wheelchair?
            • Do bathroom doors open outwards?

          Zero entry shower with grab bars, removable shower head, and shower stool

          Image: "Hallelujah" says Lisa. Outside of Daytona, Lisa had a zero entry shower with grab bars, a removable shower head, and a shower stool. 

            When it comes to restaurant bathrooms, what determines success or failure?

              At Brian’s BBQ in DeLand, Florida, there was no signage outside of the bathroom to indicate wheelchair accessibility. When Lisa asked restaurant staff, she was told the bathroom was accessible – but she found it wasn’t.

              When sitting on the toilet, I couldn't even close the door much more than halfway because my wheelchair would not fit in the stall. It was humiliating.

              At Applebee’s in Ormond Beach, things were different. The bathroom at Applebee’s had grab bars, and a handle inside of the stall door to assist with closing it. The only thing Lisa missed was a sensor system for automatic toilet flushing, soap dispensing and hand drying.

              Applebee's in Ormond Beach was wonderful. Just like all Applebee's restaurants that I've ever been in, it's got two levels and it's got a ramp to the top level right in the dining room! That's a winner in my eyes. The accessible washroom was wonderful, with lots of room…

              Costco, though, wins the prize. 

              Great, accessible washroom, big enough to do a 360, to turn, lock and unlock the door. Grab bars. Wheelchair accessible water, soap, hand towel. The sensor paper towel dispenser is awesome!  
              …There is really good accessibility in general. [Costco] lanes are really wide in the store, they have accessible self checkout, pretty good accessible washrooms, BEAUTIFUL smooth, level and even floor and accessible boards to order your food.
              The Costsco food court self-serve kiosk with one side that is accessible to wheelchair users, with a lower screen and card reader.
              Image: The Costsco food court self-serve kiosk with one side that is accessible to wheelchair users, with a lower screen and card reader.


              Do you have any insights to share about bathroom access while traveling? Add your comment below! 

              References for this blog:

              ADA Bathroom Requirements by Home Depot 

              1 comment

              • When booking hotels, I make sure to ask for wheelchair accessible and then to check, I ask about the shower and toilet details. If I don’t ask those questions, I risk being assigned a hearing accessible room. Those rooms are needed for some people, but not for me.

                Nancy Brookhart

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