Wheelchair Access in Lodging

Young girl transfered from wheelchair to bedroom desk to study
Photo by Jessie Gladin-Kramer
How do you know if the hotel, host family home, dormitories or other living situations abroad will be wheelchair accessible?

The living situation for an exchange participant is not just a place to stay, but a way to learn about family, culture and language. Some participants will be better suited to living in a dormitory, while others will thrive in a homestay family. In either case, what's key is finding a place and people who will welcome a participant with a disability into many aspects of life in the new country.

Accessibility abroad may be different from what is common at home. Suitable lodging and living situations include access to the sleeping area, meals and dining, the toilet and bathing facilities, and participation in family life.

Some adaptations, like raising or lowering a bed, using an inflatable mattress, adjusting a table, or replacing a bathroom door with a curtain, are inexpensive and will allow  greater ease and accessibility. Use the sample questions and tips below in your search.

Sleeping Area

Is it possible to get to the bedroom or dorm? Look for a smooth, wide path of travel with no steps, broken pavement, or objects in the path of travel (bikes, garbage cans, etc.)

Is the bed at the correct height to transfer onto the bed? To adapt a bed that is too low...

  • Raise the bed frame by putting something under the legs.
  • Add a blow up mattress or additional box springs.

You can adapt a bed that is too high by:

  • Taking away the box springs.
  • Removing the bed frame and placing the bed on the floor.

Can you get near the bed in a wheelchair and turn around if needed?

What can be moved to make more space? If there is a nightstand or dresser, could it be relocated?

Can the bed be oriented differently?

Is it necessary to have access to electricity?

Is there an extension cord or power strip that will make accessing electricity easier?

What other ideas does the participant have to make the lodging more accessible?

Bathroom/Toilet

What is the route to the toilet facilities? Beware of toilets that are upstairs or at the end of narrow hallways and watch out for sharp turns or obstacles in the path to the toilet. Is there an alternative path?

Is the doorway wide enough to enter? Can the door be removed and a curtain added for privacy?

If bathroom is not accessible, can a toilet commode be set up elsewhere in the room or house?

Is the toilet at the correct height for the participant to transfer onto the seat? If not...

  • You can adapt a toilet that is too low by adding a toilet booster or ring at the base.
  • You can adapt a toilet that is too high by building up the floor around the toilet if there’s room.
  • Adaptive equipment, a seat booster or handrails can be added to allow safe transfers. 

If the toilet style in the host country is generally inaccessible, such as a squat toilet, see our page "Where There is No Accessible Toilet" linked from this page.

Shower/Bathing

Is there access to the bathroom, shower, or bathtub?

Can a door be removed or replaced with a curtain to offer easier access to the bathroom, shower or bathtub?

What adaptive equipment, such as a shower bench or shower head hose extension, will allow access to bathe?

Is there another obstacle in the way (steps, rough path, cabinetry)?

Is there an alternative for bathing such as another home or school nearby?

Meals and Social Life

Is there access to the dining area or to eat with the host family?

Is the sink and faucet in the kitchen in reach to assist with preparation and clean up? Is there room for the wheelchair to roll under the sink? If there are cabinet doors in the way, can they be removed and covered with a curtain?

If there's not access to the dining facilities at all, is there an alternative area for sharing meals, such as eating at a school or workplace cafeteria or an alternate family whose house is more accessible?

What adaptations would assist at meal time? This might include alternative utensils, lower or higher table, different cutting board, or outdoor seating.

What about access to the other areas in the home or dormitory where family or friends gather to socialize or for recreation?

Is there access to the laundry facilities for cleaning their own clothes? If not, what alternative arrangements can be made?