Hotel Accessibility for Deaf Guests

Hotel room with a bed and a window in background and a table with glasses in foreground

According to the Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), hotels, motels, inns, and other places of lodging are responsible for making their facilities accessible to individuals with disabilities. Not only they need to make their lodgings accessible, but also their websites and communications between staff members and their guests with disabilities.

For deaf and hard of hearing guests, hotels need to ensure that their rooms have a Deaf Kit installed upon their request. All TV sets need to have captioning decoders in guest rooms and public facilities in hotels need to have captions turned on their TV. Buildings need to include visual fire alarm strobes in case of emergencies. Guests with disabilities can also ask hotels to put their names in emergency list so that their rooms would be checked out first in case of emergency.

Sadly, from my personal experience and experiences of many other deaf and hard of hearing travelers, many hotels either are not aware of the ADA requirements or offer wrong accommodations. There were several occasions when I was assigned to a room for wheelchair users, but it had no Deaf kit installed that I had specifically asked for. Deaf guests are not supposed to be placed in a wheelchair accessible room unless they or their companions also use wheelchair. Such rooms are actually not accessible to me, a tall woman (whose height is 5’11”) – because their closets have low clothing racks which makes me need to bend my back in order to be able to hang my clothes on.

There were often situations when the Deaf kit that I asked for was not provided or not installed before my check-in. The front desk sometimes handed me a Deaf kit suitcase and I had to explain why it needs to be installed before a deaf guest checks in as they pay the same price as a hearing guest. Many hotel staff members don’t know how to install Deaf kit. Many hotels have old kits that have missing or broken parts and need to be replaced like any other types of technologies. Various manufacturers sell Deaf Kits, but not all are same and some are behind in technological advancements.

I also experienced several situations when front desk people asked me to sign a document to “borrow” a Deaf kit. They explained to me that it’s because some deaf guests stole Deaf kits. I had to speak to their managers and to ask them if they do the same to wheelchair users by asking them to sign a paper. When they told me no, I told them that it’s discrimination against deaf guests because they pay the same price as others and accommodations for deaf guests are mandated by the ADA. I also explained to them that hearing guests could steal pretty much anything from a hotel room (a pillow, a bathrobe, a remote control, a Bible book, to name a few possibilities) or even damage it and they are usually penalized with credit card charges. Only then managers realize that their hotels need to comply with ADA and are not supposed to ask deaf guests to sign anything in addition to regular paperwork done by regular guests.

Another frustrating experience with some hotels is when they can be contacted only via phone calls or don’t respond to my emails. Like any businesses, hotels should not expect all guests to contact them via phone calls only – even via relay services. They also need to offer their guests other options to contact them directly – such as via emailing, texting, instant messaging – the tools of the 21st century. I had a great experience with one hotel earlier this year whose staff members were willing to communicate with me via texting – especially after my coach bus accident on the way to the hotel. They later implemented texting system which is a great additional option for those who need it instead of voice phone calls.

Hotels need to be hospitable to everyone – including those with disabilities. There are also many deaf and hard of hearing people who are not even familiar with their rights for access at hotels and may not ask you for certain accommodations. They would often hesitate about staying at an hotel alone unless someone can accompany them or feel nervous about this when they have to do that as part of their work travel. So hotels need to ensure that their guests with disabilities can enjoy their stay by clearly stating on their websites about how accessible they are, taking care of their requests, and following through them.

My article is not comprehensive and there are a lot of factors to be considered to improve accessibility. If you are in the hospitality business and want to learn more about how to make your lodging accessible to guests with disabilities, you can contact us for consulting and training for the following:

  • explaining to you about different types of disabilities and different types of deafness and hearing loss to better understand deaf people;
  • helping you with improving your website to make it more accessible to guests with disabilities while booking a hotel room;
  • describing to you what Deaf Kit is like and what components it needs to include, how and where it can be purchased or borrowed (from other hotels), what types are easiest to use and install in an hotel room;
  • guiding you through all steps of hotel accommodations for deaf guests from online reservation to check-out to ensure that things go smoothly;
  • providing training all of your hotel staff members about deafness and disability awareness.