Imagine arriving at your five-star hotel room and discovering that you can’t take a shower or go to the bathroom, get into bed or even get in the door.
People with disabilities often face this confusing and embarrassing scenario when staying in Victoria’s hotels because of the lack of standards around accessible rooms, say disability awareness advocates.
And in a city where tourism is a vital lifeblood, they are calling for better guidelines for hotel rooms and businesses to avoid the wide discrepancies surrounding what “accessible” really means.
“It is extremely confusing for everybody that looks into it,” said Jeannette Hughes, a former Sidney Councillor who has done consulting with hotels to make them more accessible. Hughes has multiple sclerosis and uses a motorized scooter.
“Any able-bodied person can walk into a room and say ‘Yeah, it’s accessible,’ but put them into a scooter and have them get around the washroom and see what they say.”
For Dennis Rogers, a quadriplegic and owner of a local spinal-cord injury treatment facility, the most important amenity for quadriplegics is a roll-in shower. “We have three people that want to come here and they can’t even find a hotel suite that’s accessible,” Rogers said. He added those rooms are often booked months in advance.
Of Victoria’s 4,340 hotel rooms, there are 15 rooms equipped with a roll-in shower — often considered the highest level of accessibility. There are about 40 rooms designated “accessible” by hotels themselves, but what they offer to guests with disabilities varies greatly from room to room.
There are eight Victoria hotels on the Access Guide Canada, a website run by the Canadian Abilities Foundation that lists accessible hotels by city. Less than half of the hotels on the list have rooms with roll-in showers. Some hotels on the list cannot accommodate motorized wheelchairs because doors are not wide enough. Other rooms have railings in the bathroom, but do not have lower light switches or door latches.
The Hotel Association of Canada gives its member hotels accessibility ratings on a scale of 1 to 4 if they are registered on the association’s Access Canada list (not the same as the Access Guide Canada). Hotels have been able to register on the website, obtain a rating and list their accessibility features since the early 1990’s, said association president Tony Pollard.
But the association updated its standards in early 2008 as the bar raised for accessibility in Canada. Hotels now have to re-certify for the program, something most have yet to do, he said.
There are no Victoria hotels on the list, but Pollard said hopes to have more than 600 Canadian hotels certified by 2010.
Marian Dashwood-Jones operates Access Victoria, a two-suite cottage in Saanich that she calls “barrier free.” That includes a roll-in shower, higher toilets with support bars, lower light switches and sinks and counters that cater to someone in a wheelchair. She has had clients book a last-minute reservation because they arrived at another “accessible” hotel only to discover it was not.
As for brand-name hotel chains, the Hotel Grand Pacific and the Victoria Airport Travelodge Hotel seem to have rooms with the highest level of accessibility in the city, although you won’t find them on either aforementioned list. In addition to the features listed by Dashwood-Jones, the rooms — eight at the Grand Pacific and one at the Travelodge — have a lower peephole and bolts on the door, lower closet hangers, a metal support frame on the bed and flashing lights that accompany the fire alarm for the hearing impaired.
“It’s definitely a demand,” said Travelodge manager Nick Coates. “We get a lot of people that show up and aren’t expecting it and are pleased.”
Something that many people with disabilities agree is glaringly absent is a provincial or federal disabilities act to regulate hotels and other businesses. In 2005 Ontario developed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, the first of its kind in Canada. But so far, other provinces have yet to follow suit.
Despite the legislation out there, any new business in the city should be sketching blueprints with accessibility in mind, said Michael Hanson, executive director of Victoria’s Disability Resource Centre.
With up to 17 per cent of Canadians who are disabled, hotels that aren’t meeting that need, simply will not survive, he said. “The fact our buildings aren’t accessible is intolerable,” he said. “Business owners have to understood that this huge [segment of the] population could be good business for them if they make a few small changes to cater to them.”