When an Accessible Hotel ‘Reservation’ Doesn’t


White man using power wheelchair, looking up at street sign with "handicapped crossing" set in parking lot

After nine hours driving across the southwest in my packed minivan, I could almost feel the hotel mattress by the time I rolled into the lobby of the Phoenix Hampton Inn. My achy shoulders and rumbling stomach subsided, knowing that after a week and almost 2,000 miles of driving, it was time for my Arizona vacation to begin. Five days in the sun, six baseball games and no responsibilities — I’d been looking forward to my first post-pandemic trip since I booked everything almost four months earlier.

I handed the receptionist my ID and credit card to confirm the reservation and watched her face change as she stared at her computer screen. I could feel my stomach and shoulders starting to groan again. Something was wrong.

“I’m sorry, sir, but we don’t have any rooms with roll-in showers available.”

“But I reserved one almost three months ago. I have the confirmation number right here. I even called to double-confirm it two days ago.”

“Our rooms with roll-in showers are occupied tonight, so …”

“That’s why I reserved one three months ago. I have a five-night reservation and I can’t shower without a roll-in.”

“I’m sorry, but we can’t hold those rooms, as we have to give them out if people need them.”

“I don’t think you understand what a reservation is,” I said, my frustration fully visible. The next 10 minutes felt like a humorless Seinfeld sketch. I tried to explain what I thought was a simple concept and she looked at me like I was from another planet.

If you’ve traveled at all as a wheelchair user, chances are you’ve found yourself in the same situation: denied the accommodations you need despite going beyond the letter of the law. Embarrassing, dehumanizing and rage-inducing don’t begin to describe the mixture of emotions swirling through your brain — because you know that despite having the moral and rational high ground, ineptitude and ableism are going to leave you with nowhere to stay and no satisfactory resolution.

I kept trying to explain how unacceptable the situation was, in hopes she would at least help me find somewhere to spend the night. A small part of me also wanted to make her feel the same hurt I did.  When it became clear that neither was attainable, I simply gave up.

Endless Frustration, No One to Help

Finding an affordable room with a roll-in shower for an extended stay is never easy. Doing so at 9 p.m. in a town full of spring breakers and elderly sun chasers adds a whole other level of intrigue. It’s exactly why I’d reserved the room months earlier. I ended up having to split the nights between two different hotels and paying almost $700 more than I had planned.

When I finally got home, I vowed to do anything I could to ensure no other disabled person had to endure what I did. My first call was to the property manager. She tried to give me the same spiel the receptionist had and eventually hung up on me. I calmly called back and explained I simply wanted to help her fix the problem. She gave me an 800 number and promised they had the power to address the situation. The number was dead.

Hampton Inn is one of Hilton’s many hotel brands, so I submitted a formal complaint through the company’s website and blindly emailed several Hilton employees I found on LinkedIn. None of the LinkedIn inquiries received responses, but I did receive well-formatted emails from Ankit, Mohit and Jaishiv in Hilton’s complaint response team apologizing but telling me they were unable to call me to discuss further.

One person who did return my phone call was Assistant U.S. Attorney Lauren DeBruicker. We’ve opens in a new windowprofiled DeBruicker in New Mobility before, and she is one of a handful of wheelchair users kicking ass and taking names in the Department of Justice. She turned me on to the DOJ’s revised ADA regulations around accessible lodging which clearly laid out exactly the arguments I’d futilely made to the receptionist and manager. Most significantly: When a reservation is made for an accessible guest room, the specific accessible guest room reserved must be held for the reserving customer, and the room must be removed from the reservation system.

As simple as that seems, Hilton properties have a history of struggling to comply. In 2010, in response to a DOJ complaint that around 900 of their properties had failed to meet ADA standards, Hilton agreed to physically bring these properties up to ADA standards and fix their reservation system so disabled guests could actually get the rooms they reserved.

I’m happy to acknowledge that Hilton has made lots of progress around accessibility in the last 13 years (we recognized its Home2 Suites brand as the best chain for wheelchair users), but my experience — and the similar experiences I’ve heard from many others — shows how much work remains to be done.

white male power wheelchair user and nondisabled white man posing in front of empty baseball field.
After countless hours of frustration and $700 in extra expenses, Ian Ruder was able to continue his vacation to baseball spring training.

Finally a Resolution

After a month of emails and calls producing no results, I was on the verge of giving up. The fading prospect of corporate accountability was losing to the daily demands of quad-life. Then, while I was about to dig into my Sunday breakfast, my phone rang with an unknown Texas number.

On the other end was an executive ambassador from Hilton’s customer relations team. Over a 15-minute conversation she apologized for what I had gone through and relayed the conversations she’d had with the regional director of sales who oversees the Hampton Inn where I stayed. She explained that through their conversation, the director of sales discovered an issue in their inventory and reservation system that prevented them from appropriately reserving rooms with specific accessible features. She promised me the issue was being fixed and would not affect any future disabled travelers.

Without booking another room at the same hotel, there’s no easy way to see if these promised changes have been implemented. The optimist in me hopes so. And the pessimist in me takes solace in knowing that speaking up about the issue, I prevented the local operators from sweeping it under the rug with no accountability.

As disabled people, we shouldn’t have to do extra work for the same access and benefits the rest of society enjoys, but unfortunately, we are often faced with doing so or accepting discrimination. If a hotel or other business has discriminated against you, or you think they are in violation of the ADA, I encourage you to submit a claim at

DeBruicker knows how hard it can be to find the time and energy to pursue complaints, but she assures me the complaints are seen by the DOJ and often lead to investigations and lawsuits. “It’s a pretty simple way to say something,” she says. “Honestly, if all of us reported everything, it would probably flood the system, but it would make an impact.”

Submit Your Hotel Discrimination Story

If you’re reading this before June 30, 2023, and you have a hotel horror story in which you didn’t get the room you reserved, couldn’t make the reservation you needed or were flat out discriminated against, a powerful disability coalition wants to hear from you. Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Paralyzed Veterans of America, the National Disability Rights Network, The Arc, and the law firm of Fox & Robertson are gathering stories to present in a brief to the Supreme Court, and have created a opens in a new windowsimple online form to collect incident reports. Fill it out and help hold hoteliers accountable.

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