Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Road Trip with a Wheelchair: Lodging

I was really excited to explore the world of Motel 6 and accessible lodging.  Motel 6 was often the cheapest motel, and yet its status as a national chain assured some sort of standards.  Plus, as a result of a recent ADA settlement with the US Department of Justice, Motel 6 was forced to update its facilities, adding roll-in showers and the promise that if they didn't have an accessible room that slept two people, they would provide a second room free of charge.  Motel 6 seemed a great way to organize our road trip.  That optimism and enthusiasm lasted about 800 miles.  

Motel 6 in Spokane, WA

The first night we stayed at a Motel 6 in Spokane, WA.  It offered cheap, accessible ground-floor lodging in clean environs, with a wheelchair-height queen bed, a roll-under sink, toilet grab bars, and a roll-in shower.  Perfect! 

This lucky streak ended the second night, with the reminder that not all cheap motels are used by travelers.  We no sooner pulled into this urban Motel 6 than we noticed the people and activity in the parking lot, and we were quickly warned by the people leaving that they had observed 2 drug deals in their short time there, while checking out the rooms -- which they claimed had unwashed bedding.  Unfortunately, although there were several cheap motels in that neighborhood, they all seemed to have similar problems.  

Luckily, we were able to find an appropriate, cheap, accessible room in a nearby neighborhood, with the help of the Super 8 reservations agent.  Two lessons learned: 1. Never commit to a cheap motel until seeing it, and 2. Join a group like Wyndham Rewards (even though there were no accessible rooms at the Super 8 that I called, the agent was able to find me one at a nearby Howard Johnson's, because those  hotels are part of the same hotel group).

ADA Bathroom

The folly of my plans became more apparent along the road, as I learned that not all Motel 6's have ADA rooms, and, in fact, most cheap motels do not.  In fact, many cheap motels do not even have elevators, and ground-floor rooms were usually already taken by the time we rolled into town (generally around 9 pm).  

Roll-in Shower

Thus was dictated our usual routine: after dinner, we'd assess how far we thought we'd go that night.  While my husband drove, I poured over Google maps and, trying to find cheap and available rooms for the night. Seldom were those rooms officially accessible, so I'd call around, asking for measurements or whether a wheelchair might be able to get into -- and maneuver around inside -- the room.  Of course, I'd have to provide a list of minimum requirements to answer this question, which changed with experience (ground floor, 0-1 steps, wide entrance door, space for the wheelchair beside the bed, and a sink I could access).  Often this would require the person to call me back, as they needed to measure and check.  Sometimes, they reached an incorrect conclusion, or it was simply unclear until we arrived and looked for ourselves.  




Using motel's plywood and
our portable metal ramp
to get inside Masterson's Motel
All of this was predicated on finding the local front desk number (rather than the off-site reservations number), which turned out to be quite difficult.  It also relied on the goodwill of the staff.  As my husband commented, the best people in the world are front desk clerks who like their jobs.  I would especially like to call out Jan at the International Motel in Calais, Maine, the woman at who found plywood for a ramp at Masterson's Motel in Napanee, Ontario, the concerned owners at the Village Inn Motel in Iron Bridge, Ontario, and the woman who pushed all sorts of food on me at the Day's Inn in Worland, WY.  The right person and attitude can sometimes make up for a non-accessible room.



Fairfield by Marriott has
ADA rooms

In retrospect, if you need a truly accessible room, it is probably worth it to budget for higher-priced cheap motels, such as Holiday Inn Express, Fairfield Suites, etc, where the ADA usually applies to at least one room.  This, of course, entails plotting your trip to ascertain that overnight stays happen where this is possible -- often suburbs or travel centers (truck stops).

Some cheap motels do
not have official accessible
rooms, but are accessible 
with creativity
Many of the places we stopped had no such options available.  However, we made it work, and we got to meet great people and motels that we otherwise would have missed.  Also, even the cheapest motels had microwaves, mini-fridges, coffee, ice, and internet connectivity.  

On the road, we almost always had phone connectivity, which was invaluable.  I can't imagine doing this without smart phones.  After the trip ended, I learned about a website that provides reservations for accessible lodging.  This seemed to me to be unbelievable gold, and I wish that I had known of it before the trip.   For the USA, and site is, and for Europe, I found    

Most of the time, we ended up staying in rooms that were barely accessible.  I came to expect to move furniture around.  I also came to expect to remove the bathroom door, since even those wide enough for a wheelchair were often wide enough only without the hinges.  Even so, I had to rely on the commode chair instead of a toilet and to forego showers many nights.

Fortunately, some of the units had sinks outside of the bathroom, so that the sink was accessible, even if the bathroom wasn't.   This was often the design that made an otherwise non-accessible room usable.

Here are some of the (accidentally brilliant) items we packed to make wheelchair life possible, even in non-ADA motels and rooms:
  • Transfer board (a Hoyer Lift would be an energy- and back-saver, but it requires space under the bed)
  • Screwdriver (often the bathroom door was too narrow with hinges on, so we removed door)
  • Short (3') foldable metal ramp (to get over steps
  • Self-propelling shower/commode chair
  • Long shower chair to get over/in tub 
  • Portable under-mattress bed rail
  • Suction cup grab bars (warning -- they don't always stick!)
  • Electric kettle (for instant meals)
  • Dishes and dish soap
  • Towel to put on chair after shower (some motels did't have enough towels for this)
  • Wet wipes
  • Washcloth
  • Hair washing tray
  • Dry shampoo
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Electric foot heater (to plug in while sleeping)
  • Pillow (for car and for some motels)

Portable folding metal
ramp (3' length fits in car
and helps wheelchair
over 1-2 steps)
Long sliding tub/shower chair

Under-mattress bed rail

Sometimes we got lucky and stayed in a motel with an ADA room:

Spokane, WA: Motel 6 -- ADA room with a low queen bed and an ADA bathroom with a roll-in shower

Pendleton, OR: Red Lion Inn --ADA room and ADA bathroom with a roll-in shower: it seemed like an older resort, which had passed its prime

Idaho Falls, ID: Fairfield Inn -- ADA room with a king bed and ADA bathroom with a roll-in shower

West Yellowstone, MT: Day's Inn -- Small town full of tourists, motels, restaurants, and souvenir shops. Motels were cheaper than those in the park (park lodges were $300+/night), but non-park motels were still pricey ($200+/night, $150+/night if no access to bathroom).  We didn't stay in an ADA room, since it was $100 more than our ground floor double-queen regular room, which worked.  There was a wide entrance door, with a big room and bathroom.  The shower/tub combo had a fixed shower head and no grab bars.  In the large bathroom was a low toilet with no grab bars. There was a large roll-under sink outside of the bathroom. There was an official ADA room, but it was $100 more expensive.

Billings, MT: Howard Johnson's -- ADA room and ADA bathroom with roll-in shower; big, old & moldy

Worland, WY: Day's Inn -- huge double-queen ADA room with 2 high beds. Big ADA bathroom, raised toilet with grab bars behind and on side, and tub with grab bar on side and hand-held removable shower head with long hose. The room had wide doors and a short ramp over the threshold of the outer door. There was a designated disabled parking space and flat curb access on the side opposite room 140. The roll-under sink was outside of the bathroom. There was a ramp to the outside picnic tables and grill, a ramp to the ice machine and to the laundry room, and a ramp to the main office, as well as lots of food and drinks.
Oacoma (Chamberlain ), SD:  Econo Lodge -- ADA room with a king bed and wide doors.  The bathroom was a bit grungy, and the sink was too low to get under, but the tub had horizontal and vertical grab bars, with a hand- held shower that slid down a vertical pole at different levels, and the toilet was high, with grab bars behind and on the side. The owners were very concerned.  Interestingly, the space between the dresser and the foot of the bed was almost too narrow, making it difficult to reach the roomy far side of the bedroom and the bathroom.

LaCrosse, WI: Holiday Inn-- ADA room with a king bed. and ADA bathroom with a big roll-in shower. They offered us a walk-in discount.

Sault Ste, Marie, MI: Hotel Ojibway -- ADA room with a king bed, wide doors, lots of space in the bathroom, tub/shower with grab bars and shower chair, and a roll-under sink.  There is just barely enough space for a  wheelchair next to the bed, and the toilet has no grab bars on the side. The room has slanted alcove ceilings with sky lights, and the hotel is next to the park and locks on the main street.

N Stonington, VT: Hilltop Inn -- ADA room with a king bed.  ADA bathroom with a roll-in shower that has a big threshold and a bench on the opposite end from the controls (even though shower hose reached).
Quebec City, Quebec: Best Western -- Disabled room with two queen beds (plenty of room beside bed). The main door is plenty wide; the door to the bathroom is wide enough, but it involves a tight turn. The shower has a hand-held shower, sliding shower head holder, and grab bars on wall. There are grab bars on the side of the toilet, where the seat is cut out in the front, and there is a roll-under sink.

Montreal, Quebec: We did not stay in a hotel with an accessible room, but I know that Cory Lee (who writes the blog, Curb Free with Cory Lee) has a suggestion on his website for the Hotel de l'ITHQ, which is located in the heart of Montreal.  Also, I saw a Fairfield by Marriott downtown, and I bet that has an accessible room.

Sudbury, Ontario: College Boreal Student Residence -- Two wheelchair-accessible suites, each with 2 accessible bedrooms (each with a twin bed), and with a kitchenette (full fridge, microwave, sink, and table). Each suite had 1 accessible bathroom with a raised toilet with grab bars, a floating sink, a tilted mirror, and a small roll-in shower with a fold-down bench and hand-held shower head.  The suite was cheap and spartan, with no carpet, in the dorm.  There is a whole series of dorms and conference centers offering rooms for summer travelers in Canada. The website is

Next week's blog: the trip begins!

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