There Is Room At The Inn – Book Review

Circa 2006

Inns and bed and breakfasts (B&Bs) dot the United States, from standard New England cottages to scenic overlooks that keep watch over the West Coast. Whether these intimate hostels are suited in Victorian style or modern architecture, they evoke a single common perception among people with disabilities: inns and B&Bs are not accessible.

In some cases, this perception is warranted. When author Candy Harrington, founder of the accessible travel magazine Emerging Horizons, asked one innkeeper why he doesn’t upgrade his property to meet ADA standards, he replied, “Those people don’t travel that much anyway. It’s just a waste of my money.”

It’s also a waste of potential clients. As one of the top five expanding consumer markets, according to some business analysts, people with disabilities are proving that innkeeper wrong. In turn, Harrington’s latest book, There Is Room at the Inn: Inns and B&Bs for Wheelers and Slow Walkers, from Demos Medical Publishing, challenges the general perception that B&B means inaccessibility.

There Is Room at the Inn is a comprehensive guidebook for selecting accessible inns and B&Bs in a range of locales broad enough to match any traveler’s tastes-in cities, on mountains, along beaches and even in the middle of nowhere. If you want to go there, Harrington allows you to, providing you want to stay in a B&B.

Which begs the question: Why B&Bs?

Many travelers delight in the intimate setting of an inn or B&B, where they can actually get to know the owners. Harrington writes that B&Bs can also be good choices for travelers with disabilities for three reasons: innkeepers know every detail of their places; innkeepers point out their facilities’ shortcomings; and innkeepers are usually willing to save and block rooms that are accessible.

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In researching for There Is Room at the Inn, Harrington did her homework. In years of writing for Emerging Horizons, she made herself an expert on the subject of accessible travel. A friend inspired her to create a regular column about B&Bs, which she titled “InnSider,” and her interest in sharing unique travel stops for readers in search of accessibility blossomed. Before long, the idea for a guidebook was born.

More than 700 interviews and a “combination of personal experience, on-site visits and recommendations by other travelers” went into Harrington’s research, and the result is a smooth composition that examines 118 properties located in 40 states.

Maybe you want to spend a weekend involved in a murder mystery during the gold rush days. You can. “If someone who uses a wheelchair signs up,” says innkeeper Tom Bender, “we make sure all of the murder mystery activities are held in accessible locations.”

Is Arkansas more your speed? “We like the country because we don’t hear sirens, busses or late-night pedestrian traffic,” Arkansas innkeeper Jerry Allensworth tells Harrington. “The noises we like are hoot owls, whippoorwills and our rooster clearing his throat at dawn.”

Maybe you’d rather have breakfast delivered by an elephant, as is the case at one of two Northern California safari properties Harrington reviews.

Or perhaps you just want to experience a traditional B&B along the New England coast, an area rich with options.

In establishing criteria to evaluate the properties, Harrington created an access checklist that focuses on entranceways, parking, pathways, accessibility to guest rooms and public rooms, as well as several less obvious features. She includes this list in the book so readers can use it when considering places to stay.

But There Is Room at the Inn is not simply a list of properties and tally marks. Harrington unveils each property with a page-and-a-half story, treating the reader to a touch of each inn’s history and a dash of authentic comments from each property’s owner, along with her detailed review and complete description, room-by room and foot-by-foot.

Is parking available near the building and is it accessible? Are there steps to the front entranceway, and if so, is there an alternative entrance? Does the threshold have a raised lip, and does the innkeeper store a portable ramp for people who use wheelchairs? Where is the accessible room located in proximity to the breakfast room? Are there accessible activities in the surrounding area? And finally, how much does it cost? Harrington answers each question with more than just yes, no or numbers.

But if it’s hard-core statistics you need, Harrington doesn’t fail. She gives measurements from the parking area to the front entranceway. She tells when doorway widths are-and are not-36 inches. She points out when there is-and isn’t-a five-foot turning radius inside a room. She describes where grab bars are located in bathrooms and whether there’s a roll-under sink or shower seat. She explains, “My basic requirement was that a person in a wheelchair should be able to get in the front door, get in the guest room and use the bathroom.”

One of the properties profiled is a universal design demonstration home in Wisconsin. By day it provides a wealth of knowledge to visitors seeking ideas for modifying their personal homes; by night it doubles as a B&B and allows guests to “give the equipment a real hands-on test,” Harrington writes.

Some properties didn’t make the cut, mostly because they either weren’t accessible or the “innkeepers didn’t have a good attitude,” she explains. “Attitudinal access is just as important as physical access-therefore, the innkeepers comments are included.”

As comprehensive as Harrington’s book is, she humbly admits it is not the end-all-and-be-all for B&B scouting. Technology, after all, is strong competition to the writ ten word, and the author suggests travelers also try an Internet search for inns and B&Bs, although many online descriptions do not provide information on accessibility. In Harrington’s experience, many properties are accessible even though the owners don’t promote those features.

The best way to determine if a property fits a traveler’s needs, she suggests, is to pick up the phone, call the owner and ask questions. Thus, she concludes each review with the phone number, address and website (if applicable) of the highlighted property.

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It is the traveler that Harrington speaks to, but There Is Room at the Inn is also designed for another audience: innkeepers. While she doesn’t detail the reasons she did not include certain inns and B&Bs in this first edition (because yes, she writes, there will likely be another to follow), she lays out the criteria for innkeepers who may want to make round two of her listings.

One way to speak directly to travelers, Harrington advises innkeepers, is to speak the language of accessibility-turning radiuses, threshold lips and grab bar locations.

She notes that several of the B&B owners made their properties accessible because of personal or family experiences, but cautions them, “The term ADA compliant is meaningless to the average traveler.”

There is Room at the Inn goes a substantial way to laud innkeepers and B&B owners who have made an effort to provide access to all travelers, and the guidebook demonstrates to those who haven’t the business value of beginning to consider accessibility. “Our disabled guests who come again and again tell us we have given them a new choice for their getaways,” says Linda Humphrey, owner of Shiloh Morning Inn in Ardmore, Oklahoma.

Harrington’s book does the same-she proves that the charm and unique character of inns and B&Bs can be available to everyone.

by Josh Pate

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