Oct 05 2015
We went on our annual apple farm excursion last week, and as part of the overnight trip we stayed in a big name hotel. Fluffy made sure to request a handicapped room, because I need guardrails in the bathroom in order to help me negotiate the terrors of porcelain and tile.
When he called the hotel, he specifically said, “My wife uses a wheelchair so we need a room where there are grab bars in the bathroom.” The cheerful person on the phone told him that the request had been noted, and that all would be well.
When we checked in, Fluffy once again told the smiling Millennial behind the desk that a handicapped room was needed because his wife was in a wheelchair and needed grab bars in the bathroom. The desk clerk cheerfully complied, gave Fluffy his keys, and Fluffy went off to inspect the room.
Fluffy got his first clue that not all was well in Zion when he reached the door of the room and saw a big ear symbol printed on the door. He went inside the room, and sure enough — there were no grab bars anywhere in sight.
We had been given a handicapped room, all right, but it was a handicapped room that was designed for a deaf person. The room was equipped with a doorbell that flashes a light inside the room when pressed. That is all well and good for someone who is deaf, but isn’t much help for someone who has a difficult time walking.
But as far as the smiling Millennial at the front desk was concerned, a gimp is a gimp. You say Po-TAY-to, I say po-TAH-to. Either you can’t walk or you can’t hear. What’s the difference?
(This is not unique to Winchester, by the way. Last November when we went to Williamsburg, Virginia, we were also put in a handicapped-for-the-deaf room after we had specifically ordered a mobility handicapped room six months before. So I guess Millennials are not restricted to Winchester in terms of thinking that way.)
Getting back to the incident in Winchester, Fluffy came back to the car and discussed the situation with me. We actually ended up taking the room. We had stayed in this hotel several times before, you see, and we knew all about the handicapped rooms that were designed in this hotel for people in wheelchairs.
In the handicapped room on this trip, the bathroom was conveniently located right next to the bed. In the handicapped rooms for people in who cannot walk, the bathrooms were far, far from the bed, but that wasn’t all. The bathroom door opened such that I had to wheel beyond the bathroom and then open the door, because the door opening faced the hallway rather than the room itself.
But even that wasn’t all, because the threshold of the door was so tall that I could not wheel myself into the bathroom going forward, but had to back myself in. Just getting into the bathroom was such a major hurdle that we decided that we’d skip the wheelchair-accessible room altogether and see what the room for the deaf had to offer.
Sure enough, I learned to navigate by using the sink instead of grab bars. It turned out that the room that was not wheelchair-accessible was more wheelchair-accessible than the wheelchair-accessible room we stayed in on several previous visits.
Other than the advertised Wi-Fi not working and having the hotel housekeeper nearly beat the door down when she tried to get into the room the next morning at 9 a.m. and clean it (she thought we were deaf, you see), we had a perfectly delightful stay.
I wish this were an isolated incident, but it is not. We just got off a cruise ship, where the wheelchair-accessible room worked the same way as the wheelchair-accessible room in the big-name hotel. The hinge of the door was on the bed side, so I had to wheel myself past the door and open it, rather than just opening the door and going in. I also had to back the wheelchair in because the threshold was so high.
But the cruise ship added its own little humorous feature. The door of the bathroom (I guess I should call the bathroom the “head,” because it was on a ship) was designed to close as soon as you opened it. So I’d throw the door open and then try to turn my wheelchair around to back in. By the time the wheelchair was turned around so I could fit through the opening, the door had already closed so I couldn’t get inside.
Pause here for a string of non-Mormon-worthy expletives.
But getting into the bathroom was only part of the problem. Once inside, the handicapped bathroom was tiny. It was divided into three parts (sink, shower, and toilet) by — get this — a ceiling-to-floor glass divider that the wheelchair was supposed to navigate around. This glass divider was glued to the floor with putty.
If the wheelchair hit the glass divider, the whole divider detached from the floor and swung away from the floor and had to be stuck down again. And every time I moved in the bathroom, I hit the glass divider and dislodged it from the floor, causing it to swing perilously behind me. It was a real experience.
Lest you think I had trouble in that bathroom because I am so large, I must insert here that I do not travel with a large wheelchair. My travel wheelchair is a standard size, and there is actually one standard wheelchair size bigger than the size I use.
I have spent two cruises wishing that somebody from the cruise line would put a camera in that handicapped bathroom, and then put the president of the cruise line in a wheelchair, with his legs taped together, and see how well he navigates from the doorway to sit on the low, low toilet and then to the sink to wash his hands to then sit in the shower and then to the sink to brush his teeth before exiting the room.
The resulting video would be shown to the employees of the cruise line for their viewing pleasure. I suspect the employees would laugh and laugh to see their president being subjected to what wheelchair-bound people are routinely subjected to in his wheelchair-accessible bathrooms.
I suspect the handicapped bathrooms would be redesigned posthaste.
I’m sure those who design such things go through the checklist — extra wide door, check; grab bars, check; roll-in shower, check. But if the same people would sit in a wheelchair and spend five minutes navigating around their creations, they would find dozens of ways that their designs could actually be made workable with just minor changes, such as ordering a door where the hinge is on the opposite side.
I spend a whole lot of time doing secret shopping, where I attend restaurants to taste the food and subject myself to the service, just to let the owners know how well their establishments are doing. After being in a wheelchair for nearly three years, I think it’s high time that somebody started doing the same thing on behalf of handicapped people everywhere.
What we need is Rent-a-Gimp — an organization where people like me could go into a hotel and test the handicapped rooms to see how handicapped-accessible they really are. And they shouldn’t just go into one room; they should test all of them. Our experience just this week showed us that not all handicapped-accessible rooms in a single facility are created equal.
This sounds like a joke, but I believe somebody should do it. Hotel owners, cruise ship designers, and others who are allegedly designing handicapped-accessible rooms (and ramps and other devices) should know exactly how accessible they are. What exactly is the point of having laws about handicap accessibility if the so-called accessible things aren’t usable by the people they are supposed to help?
Of course, if anyone starts such a business, I hope you will at least hire me as one of your rental gimps. Send me out on the luxury cruise ships, please, with Fluffy as my handicap escort. This sounds like a terrible job, but somebody would have to do it, and Fluffy and I might as well be the ones to take one for the handicapped team.
This column first appeared in the Nauvoo Times.