People With Disabilities Face Barriers Trying to Book Accessible Hotel Rooms in Halifax

Some told they could be bumped from an accessible room if it’s booked for a longer stay CBC News
Posted: Aug 18, 2023

People with disabilities are raising concerns over the lack of accessibility in Halifax hotels, and an apparent policy that can bump them out of an accessible room if someone books a longer stay.

These problems became clear to Elaine Murray and her husband Gordon, who live in the Clayton Park neighbourhood, after they tried to book an accessible room in the city while their roof was being repaired this spring.

Gordon has a rare neurological disorder that affects his mobility and uses a walker.

Murray said she called around for a fully accessible room, but quickly realized there weren’t many options. One hotel claimed to have one, but it only had a handheld shower in a tub and no grab bars by the toilet.

Others said they didn’t have any accessible rooms, she said.

Murray said she finally called Hotel Halifax on Barrington Street because it looked promising, but when she spoke to someone there, she learned there was a caveat to the only accessible room.

“She said you can call and make a reservation, but you need to know that we may bump you if somebody needs [the room] for a longer period of time,” Murray said

Frustrated, Murray called the hotel’s manager the following day. Again, she said she was told that was their policy.

“I said, do you not understand that with only one accessible room in your hotel, if you bumped us, we would have no other place to stay during the reconstruction?” she said. “And he just said very calmly, ‘Well, that’s our policy.'”

Murray said she was shocked a hotel could bump you to a different room even after you’ve specifically booked an accessible one.

As the province continues its work toward an Accessible Nova Scotia by 2030, the CBC’s Erin MacInnis has been talking to people who’ve tried to book accessible hotel rooms – rooms that can be inadequate to their needs and inaccessible due to practices like overbooking.
But in an email to CBC News, the front office manager of Hotel Halifax said that’s not their policy.

Michael Bogardus confirmed the hotel has only one fully wheelchair accessible room and some other rooms with grab bars installed in the bathrooms.

He said guests who require accessible rooms need to contact the hotel directly and hotel staff would guarantee that specific room for the guest.

‘He couldn’t stay there’

Zachary Ghazali, who splits his time between Tusket, N.S, and Windsor, Ont., had a similar experience last December at the Best Western Plus Chocolate Lake Hotel on St. Margarets Bay Road.

Ghazali is quadriplegic so his mother, Bernadine, booked him an accessible room at the hotel.

She said the hotel had sent her pictures of the room. It wasn’t totally accessible but it was good enough for a short stay, she said, and the hotel knew he would be arriving late that night.

But the room was given to someone else.

Bernadine said she was told Ghazali would be given a large suite instead, but that didn’t sit well with her.

“Well, are you going to give him a set of legs that work? Because he could get into the door but he couldn’t do anything. He couldn’t get into bed, he couldn’t use the bathroom, he couldn’t do anything. He couldn’t stay there.”

Bernadine said she wasn’t warned her son could potentially get bumped out of his room. She said at that point it was about midnight and she was prepared to drive four hours from Yarmouth to pick him up.

In the end, Zachary ended up getting into a different hotel, she said.

Celeste Baxter, the general manager at the Best Western, said the hotel does have two accessible rooms, but the other was reserved.

“We definitely need more than two, but we also have a contract – which I really can’t disclose the details – but the contract states that we need to keep an accessible room available until 4:30 each day,” Baxter told CBC News.

“So this was the one and only time that I know of it ever happening and I think that’s why they were so unprepared at the time. But someone who had been in the room already needed to extend their stay and it was part of this contract and we had to do that.”

Baxter wouldn’t disclose the details of the contract or who it is with.

She said the hotel tried to reach Ghazali, but he was flying in at the time, and when he arrived the room was occupied.

“They let them go look at a suite. But they said that the space wasn’t enough for him to negotiate with the wheelchair and so on,” she said.

Ghazali said he felt unwelcome in that situation, but it’s not the first time he’s had issues with booking accessible hotel rooms.

“A lot of times I book, they show photos online, but the photos online, they’re not the real thing. So when we go there either the sink’s too high or the shower itself, it’s not as accessible as it should be,” he said.

Vicky Levack, spokesperson for the Disability Rights Coalition of Nova Scotia, said this is a common problem in hotels รข and bumping is another hurdle.

“I don’t know why you would bump someone with a disability who has requested an accessible room when you don’t have anything else to offer them,” she said.

“It’s not like when you bump an able-bodied person and they can just stay in any hotel room and it doesn’t matter. People with disabilities require certain things. You can’t just bump them.”

Levack said this is why all hotel rooms should be accessible.

Julia Kent, the director of social responsibility and advocacy at Canadian Automobile Association’s Atlantic region, said she couldn’t speak to accessible rooms specifically, but overbooking is a common practice at many hotels in case there are cancellations.

“We are seeing more overbooking and more bumping lately as we experience travel shortages across the board. This relates to car rental shortages, you know, less travel routes for airlines as well as hotel rooms,” she said.

“So this is not new, but it is something we’re seeing increasingly as we deal with travel shortages everywhere.”

A spokesperson with the Hotel Association of Nova Scotia said it doesn’t collect data about room types and hotel procedures, but it does support members through advocacy and education.

Provincial accessibility standards

Nova Scotia has been working to become fully accessible by 2030 since the province introduced the Accessibility Act in 2017.

It requires accessibility standards to be developed and implemented in all sectors, including in businesses like hotels.

“One conversation that we’ve been in, of course, is with the tourism industry and that sector, and definitely they are looking at ensuring that there is a more accessible and inclusive experience for travellers with disabilities,” said Dawn Stegen, the executive director of Nova Scotia’s Accessibility Directorate.

She said education and awareness in that sector has also been a priority over the last couple years.

Stegen said she’s confident these accessibility standards will be enacted and enforced by 2030.

With files from Erin MacInnis

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