Due to a certain well-known virus, most of us aren’t going anywhere at the moment but I said I’d write this before the COVID-19 madness started and it occurred to me that the house arrest many are experiencing at the moment is a good opportunity to get organised for our next accessible getaway.
Questions to ask before you book your accessible accommodation.
I’ve found the best approach is to think about what would make your stay IMPOSSIBLE and then structure your questions around making sure the impossible can’t happen. The obvious one for a wheelchair user is steps. I always specify the exact thing I need or don’t need. Using the example of steps above the question I would ask is. Does your accommodation have any steps? The keyword here is any. If they say no, I follow up with, none once inside? The reason for this is I have then often been told that the entrance has no steps but that the bathroom is split level. People tend to think about entrances when you ask any access question.
My Top 10 accessibility Questions:
1) Does your accommodation have any steps?
This is a deal-breaker for me unless there are lifts. Hotels often have alternative access but If I want to book a holiday cottage for example it has to be wheelchair accessible. Steps may not be a barrier for you. Your insurmountable barrier may be that you need your accommodation to have hearing loops etc. Personalise this top ten to your circumstances.
2) If there are steps are there lifts/ramps available to get to where I want to go?
I ask this because some people see in black and white and it might not occur to them that there are steps at the front but step-free access at another entrance. Finding this out means I may have more choice about where to stay.
3) What is the width of your doorways?
This question is one I don’t have to ask as I’m lucky enough that my biggest piece of equipment, (My PowerChair,) fits through standard doorways but it is a close thing sometimes! To be safe, measure your chair from widest point to widest point. Then you can say I need doorways to be no narrower than XYZ. Please note: if you have a piece of equipment bigger than a wheelchair, e.g a hoist, measure that instead. Bit obvious but still worth pointing out, you want the doorway/s to admit you and anything else you might need.
4) Is there an accessible bathroom with a wet room?
I need a wet room, as I can’t access a bath or any bathing setup that isn’t flat. Obviously, you could change this to whatever set up you prefer.
5) Are there grab bars next to the toilet, fixed to the wall?
Again this is very specific to me. I cannot transfer without static bars that are fixed to the wall. Fold up ones lift up as I stand, I’d be there all day! You might need fold up bars or no bars at all so that a side transfer is possible, or enough space around the toilet to use a hoist. If you’re able enough that a toilet is a toilet, then leave this out.
6) Is there a shower seat fixed to the wall?
A fixed shower seat is the set up I find most accessible as I find hired shower chairs an expense and they are often too high for me to transfer into. There are companies that will lend you equipment and many deliver to your accommodation, for a fee of course. You may be wondering why this question didn’t follow the wet room question. The reason is if there isn’t a wet room I can’t stay there, ditto if I can’t access a toilet. Given that, the specific’s of the shower are saved until I’ve ascertained the bathroom and toilet space are accessible.
7) How high is the bed?
My biggest issue isn’t that I use a wheelchair it’s my height together with my disability. I’m 4.8ft, just short enough to make an already challenging transfer that much more difficult! I, therefore, need a low bed. You may need a high bed to make it easier to get out of it in the morning. It’s also worth asking if there is space under the bed itself. If you travel with a hoist or hire one, the last thing you want to discover is that the hoist cannot get close enough to the bed!
8) Are the light switches near the bed?
If you’re like me you might need assistance in the night, sometimes however I just want to roll over and check the time without disturbing people. If the light switch isn’t reachable from the bed this isn’t possible. It may sound trivial but I’m no good at routing around in the dark!
9) Do you have adjoining rooms?
This question is more for hotel rooms and related to the fact that I need assistance. If this doesn’t apply leave it out but if I need anything at stupid o’clock my family or my PA’s have the luxury of coming straight to me and not having the honour of traipsing a public area in their PJ’s! If you are renting a property then this isn’t needed.
10) Can you email me photos of the property/room type that I’m looking at booking, please?
I will never go anywhere again without first seeing pictures of where I’m staying and the layout. Even after asking all these questions, things can be topsy turvy upon arrival. Even with the best will in the world people misunderstand and in some cases, give completely the wrong information!
Access gone wrong!
Prior to my stay in London, I asked everything I’ve outlined here and received satisfactory answers. Upon arrival, the shower seat was a portable seat that hung over a static grab bar and was VERY shallow. I eventually got my money back as I had one shower over three days which nearly ended with me and my PA on the floor as the seat wasn’t stable! I did on this occasion request pictures but they weren’t clear and I took a chance. Businesses should be happy to provide clear images of either where your staying or a comparable room/building. If they are not, find somewhere more helpful who will accommodate you.
Products to help make your accommodation more accessible
Having found somewhere accessible to visit and phoned the business to ask about access requirements, it’s quite likely that the place you want to stay isn’t perfect and not as straightforward as it would be if you were in your own home. Instead of not going anywhere and staying home, (sound familiar?) there are products out there designed to make accessible rooms more accessible to you.
Everybody is unique and because we are all unique our version of accessible is different. What works for one person may not work for another. Some people cannot manage without a hoist to transfer from A to B. This doesn’t have to mean that travel is out of the question. If you are hoisted, chances are, to save space and for convenience, you have a ceiling track in your home. Unfortunately, this isn’t portable. There are however portable hoists available for purchase or hire. See the image below. If hiring a hoist, always check the dimensions with the company to be sure that it will fit through doorways.
No hoist is small by any means but you can see that the one pictured above does fold and can be moved about. For the purposes of this blog post, all images are taken from mobility websites and I’m not endorsing any particular product just giving some idea of what’s available. If you use something that I haven’t included in this post. Please get in touch.
Patient transfer aids
If you don’t need a hoist but need some help transferring there are many disability aids available. You do need to be able to weight bear to use these.
A patient turner, like the picture above, is a device that assists you to transfer without putting a strain on the person assisting you. To use; stand on the disc with knees against the pads, holding onto the bar at the top. The bar can also be used to pull yourself up into a standing position and the patient turner can be wheeled short distances by your PA/carer. I’m not sure how portable they are in practice but the top bar can be unscrewed for transport on most models.
The image above is of a patient turntable, a more portable device then the patient turner. The disc turns around, enabling an individual to be assisted from A to B without having to struggle to move feet and turn their body. To use; stand on the disc and, with the help of someone else, the movement to turn around is initiated, the disc turns. This is what I use to get from my wheelchair to bed. By positioning my wheelchair next to the bed, disc on the floor, under my feet, I can stand, (with the help of my PA.) The disc turns and my legs go from being in front of my wheelchair to in front of the bed or vice versa, a 90-degree turn has been achieved and all I have to do is stand, very portable.
I use a bath step because it is very rare that furniture like beds and chairs are low enough for me to transfer onto. Steps like this are sturdy, non-slip and add height for those of us who need a bit of help in that department. I use it together with the turntable above. The step I use is made up of different blocks so that you can add or take away layers as required. It is very useful and in my case means I can stay in places where otherwise I would need a specialist bed that is height adjustable.
These blocks come in different heights and in rectangle, square or round shapes. They can be used to make furniture higher, either for transfers or so a hoist can be slid underneath, e.g a bed. Hotel staff, if asked, will position the feet for you but the bed, chair, etc will have to have feet of their own that can be encompassed by the blocks. Again it is something simple that turns the inaccessible accessible. Many are also stackable for storage.
Depending on what steps and access are available a portable ramp may be a good investment. These can be expensive, but if you’re patient some good bargains can be found online. I brought a 3ft ramp off eBay last year for £15. It lives in my car boot so I have it with me when I need it.
If grab bars have to be in a certain place to be accessible, suction grab bars can make the difference between not being able to stay somewhere and managing. They need to be fixed to the wall by someone with a lot of strength and having done so, weight should be put through the bar by someone who can cope if the bar falls off the wall. Only then should the person requiring the bar, start to use it. Prices start from under £10 to over £100. Some are better at sticking to walls than others. The ones I use are called Mobeli, expensive but worth it.
If you need something to sit on whilst in the shower there are plenty of portable seat options, like the one below. However, you do need a degree of balance which I don’t possess. That’s why I always ask if a shower has a seat attached to the wall. This means I can lean back on the wall for balance and affix a portable grab bar next to me to hold onto. I use a wheeled shower chair at home but it’s definitely not portable. There are also stools, some of which can be folded. These take up less room in luggage but have no back.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this post and are inspired to begin planning your trips away, ready for when this crisis is over. For now, take care of yourselves. Stay home and stay safe!