The Gamble of Hotel Beds and Wheelchair Users

If you ask any power wheelchair user what they worry most about when staying at a hotel, I am willing to bet that “bed height” at least makes the top five. I think we all worry about whether the hotel does have an accessible bathroom or pathways that are actually as wide as they should be. These things are governed in the United States by the regulations for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

The ADA regulations, however, do not provide any requirements for bed height in hotels. Why is this an issue? Because far too often, the height of the bed in a hotel room is much higher than a standard power wheelchair user. In fact, the average wheelchair sits at about 19 inches above the ground while the height of an average bed is 25 inches. We also know that hotels often do not have the average bed and have much taller beds instead. 

Using iLevel on My Motorized Wheelchair

Now, if you’re like me and you have iLevel®, then you can simply raise your power wheelchair to the height you need in order to transfer safely to the bed. Unfortunately, not every motorized wheelchair user has iLevel, which means there are many individuals who take a gamble every time they book a hotel room. They have no idea if they’ll be able to get into the bed or not. 

What’s the solution to this issue? Well, the Department of Justice could certainly publish regulations that list a specified height for hotel beds. Yet, the issue with that is that people with different disabilities have different needs. While power chair users may need a lower bed, a person who uses a walker may need a higher bed, so they can stand up and get out of bed. In cases like this, the regulations could require that bed heights in a certain percent of hotel rooms be 20 inches and another percentage be 25 inches or higher. 

white bed sheet set
Photo by Engin Akyurt on

Alternatively, hotels could address this issue without having new regulations. Hotels could simply choose to have beds with adjustable risers. This would allow beds in accessible hotel rooms to be set at 20 inches and can be raised to a different height on request. 

While it’s great to talk about potential solutions for the future, that doesn’t help anyone who is traveling right now. We can advocate for new regulations or for hotels to use risers in the future, but for those of us travelling right now, we need a solution today. 

Tips for Ensuring You Can Reach the Hotel Bed

If you do not have a motorized wheelchair with power adjustable seat height, such as iLevel, there are still things you can do to make staying in a hotel less of a gamble. You can call hotels to ask them what the height of their beds are before you book the room. This is a pain, yes, but at least you’ll know if you can get into bed at night. You could also ask the hotel to make reasonable accommodations for you. When I travel with my friends who are also power chair users, we regularly request that the box spring is removed to make the bed substantially lower. When that’s not an option, we’ve requested that the entire bed frame is removed and two mattresses are piled on top of each other to have an accessible height. As a last resort, we’ve asked to change rooms to a suite with a pullout couch because they tend to be a good height for transfers. 

So, as we collectively advocate for long term change, don’t be afraid to request some reasonable accommodations in the meantime. This ensures you can get into your hotel bed. Wishing you sweet dreams! 

About Stephanie Woodward: Stephanie is a brand ambassador advisor for Quantum Rehab® and works as a disability rights activist. She has received many awards for helping communities become more accessible, as well as for her actions in fighting for the rights of disabled individuals as it relates to Medicaid and other support services. Click here to learn more about Stephanie.

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