Guest Rooms with Mobility & Communication Features

    By Janis Kent, Architect, FAIA, CASp

    Aside from all of the scoping and technical information one is required to implement for transient lodging guest rooms, there are a number of other items to be aware of that may not be as clearly defined. We will have a closer look at features in the mobility and communication guest rooms that I find are often-times problematic or missing.

    Mobility Feature Guest Rooms

    Beds
    One of the questions that comes up—how high do the beds need to be? Currently this is not regulated. With that being said, it is suggested to track which guest rooms have beds that are high and which ones have beds that are low and provide it as a choice when someone books a room. Taller beds work better for some, whereas lower beds work better for others. If possible, it is about choice and communication. The other item about beds is to provide clear space on each side or if there are two beds in the room the space can be shared. If someone brings their personal lift device to transfer from their wheelchair to the bed, it is suggested to provide enough space underneath. Typically a clear height of 7″ by 30″ deep under the length of the bed, and this is a requirement in California.

    Area Rugs
    Another issue that comes up is loose rugs being placed in the guest rooms to provide a more residential feel. Although these may not be directly regulated, unfortunately, they can become a tripping hazard since they are not firm and stable. In order to avoid this, place special double-sided tape along the edges so the rug is fixed to the floor. This will need to be ‘re-taped’ depending on how often it is lifted and the floor is cleaned, in order to keep it securely fastened to the floor. And do realize, that the pile height should be kept to ½” maximum with firm or no pad, otherwise it is difficult to roll a chair over it or even use a walker or a cane.

    Clothes Closets
    Another item is closet space—one of each type of storage in each space is required to be within reach range in mobility guest rooms. So this could be hang rods, shelves, or drawers. Be aware of placing a safe or a small refrigerator under the lower hang rod since this can block the area for hanging pants, dresses, or other longer garments. Also, consideration should be given on only placing a partial amount of storage at a lower reach range, since a companion using the closet may be able-bodied and a higher hang rod is desirable for their use. So high shelves and low shelves, high hang rods and low, and robe hooks at 48″ above the floor works for everyone. And if there is a shoe rack, there should also be one at 15″ minimum above the floor.

    Storage & Misc Items
    Aside from clothes, many items may not be within reach range such as loose irons, extra blankets, pillows, towels, and other amenities on upper shelves, so another option should be implemented. Consider how and where hair dryers are stored. I have seen these placed in a bag hanging from a robe hook on the bathroom door. These may not be within reach range, and it is also quite difficult to access the dryer, since two hands are generally needed to get the dryer out of the bag. If a phone is placed on a nightstand, it may only be able to be accessed while in bed unless the nightstand has knee/toe clearance below. In this case, consideration should be provided for a second phone on the desk as well. And viewport height, if provided, is not specified for a required height, but I would suggest 40″ to 43″.

    Tubs
    If the guest room has a tub with a separate seat, thought should be given on where to store the seat when not in use. This is not a ‘seat-on-call’ but should actually be stored in the room itself. Although many hotels say it only takes five minutes to bring a seat, many times I have seen it take much longer. Another thought, if storing the seat in the room is not desirable, is to ask at check-in or when reserving the room if a tub seat is required and have it placed in the room ahead of time. The seat is not to be attached to the back wall or the short head end wall—it is to be removable and moveable.

    Controls
    Controls for the thermostat or a ceiling fan need to be placed within reach range. Many times these are located where there is no clear floor space and one cannot even approach the controls due to furniture blocking the path to them. If window coverings are adjustable, these too need to be accessible. So, the pull control needs to be within reach range and an accessible path of travel should be provided in both the open and closed position. A thin rod that is typically used, is not accessible since it requires tight grasping and pinching. Sometimes having remote controls with a switch works better.

    Kitchenettes & Countertops
    Some guest rooms have small refrigerators which should have the pull hardware within reach range and I would suggest at least one shelf including part of the freezer section. If a bar sink is provided, the faucet controls should be within a side reach range. The counter and sink are to be 34″ maximum above the floor. If a microwave is provided, all of its controls should also be within reach range and the controls should not have a dial which requires twisting. One of each type of storage should be within reach range as well. If there is a cooking element, then this may be considered a kitchen and 50 percent of the shelf space would then need to be within reach range.

    Communication Feature Guest Rooms

    Communication feature rooms do not require the mobility aspects listed above unless they are the 10 percent that are designated to provide both. One of the big issues I see is, if doorbells are provided, the requirement is to be visible, not necessarily audible, and they are not to be tied into an alarm signal appliance. If audible doorbells are provided, and it is allowed although not required, the ring might be better sounding like a doorbell with an adjustable volume. I have seen these connected to visual strobes and loud alarms like a fire safety alarm appliance which is confusing—if someone cannot see, how do they differentiate between the sound of an alarm vs someone at the door. And if a person is deaf, how do they differentiate between a flashing strobe alarm which also signifies fire vs someone at the door. So even though these elements may not be tied into the alarm system itself, if it sounds/looks like an alarm, there would be a problem and a source of confusion.

    Summary
    So while many of the above items are not explicitly stipulated for guest rooms, they are items that should be considered. Some items are indeed required, and a certain amount of thought should be given on how to provide for better access. And do not forget, there are also requirements for non-mobility guest rooms for both new construction and alterations that have to do with doors and accessible routes within the rooms as well.
    Nothing in this article constitutes legal or design advice for a particular project or circumstance. Be aware that your local city or county may have additional requirements that are different or more restrictive than the state or federal requirements. Also, this article is an interpretation and opinion of the writer which may vary for a particular project or due to other circumstances. It is meant as a general summary—current original regulations should always be reviewed when making any decisions and specific advice by a qualified professional should be secured for a particular project or circumstance.

    © Janis Kent, Architect, FAIA, CASp 2021

    Janis Kent, FAIA, CASp is principal of Stepping Thru Accessibility and the Founding President of the Certified Access Specialist Institute (CASI), serving those involved with access, whether private practice or public sector. She has given presentations on Accessibility at numerous venues from Dwell On Design in Los Angeles, to Design DC in Washington, at the National ADA Symposium in Texas, and the National AIA Conventions in New York City, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Chicago, New Orleans, Orlando, and Las Vegas. Her most-recent book, published by Wiley—‘ADA in Details—Interpreting the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design’ came out in 2017. Her previous book, ‘Stepping Thru Accessible Details’, is described by the Secretary of the San Francisco Access Appeals Commission as, “The most comprehensive and thorough compilation of accessibility information I have encountered.”