Friday, January 15, 2010

Mount Washington

The story of our trip to Omni Mount Washington Resort is simultaneously a rant and a rave, as well as the final kick-in-the-pants it took for me to start this blog.

I found the resort through Groupon - a very amazing tool that everyone living in a major city should look into - and booked a night for $149. Which is quite a bit lower than the going rate. I wanted to just drive up and have a Night Away with Brian. No interruptions (except for his phone ringing, grr), no animals, no issues. Just him, me, a very nice dinner, a moonlit ride in a horse-drawn sleigh, and some privacy.
I had to re-book the room three times because of weather concerns. We finally made the trip up in the middle of January.

The first problem we encountered was when we tried to park the car. I'm sure the Valet is very good at his job, but I like to know where my car is. Also, we only had one bag apiece, there was no reason to take up a bell hop - not when people were coming in with dozens of items. So I parked the car myself.
Or, tried to. There were no handicap spots marked. There was a section of parking listed as "Valet and Handicapped Parking Only" but no blue signs to be seen. I took a Valet spot and then asked the Valet when he came over with the next vehicle what was going on.
He pointed to a flat part in the snow and told me those were the handicap places. I asked where the sign was - he said it was buried in the snow bank.
The spots were no where near cleared. I stayed in the Valet parking. There's no reason for Brian to slip in 3" of snow.
Since we were parked in the handicap area, I assumed there would be a ramp so Brian could get into the building. There was, not too far from the supposed handicap parking. Unfortunately, the ramp was covered in Yellow caution tape, and was unusable. I am not in the habit of ducking under strips of caution tape - and no one else is either, I assume, since the ramp had not been cleared of snow.

Now, for a resort wherein a discounted room will run you $150 - and that's the basic room - I would anticipate they would notice some one made a reservation for an accessible room. It is not as if they had no inkling that somebody with special needs was checking in. In fact, they had well over a month of notice. We didn't sneak up on them.

Brian's a trooper, though, and takes the stairs - carrying his half of the luggage AND the bottles of wine - up past the basement level to the lobby level. We find the elevator and ride up to the second floor, which is something else that should be addressed.
Why do hotels put handicap rooms on upper floors? In case of fire, the elevators are shut off - and even if they're not, they're definitely not safe. You see signs everywhere saying to take the stairs in case of emergency, not the elevator. So why, on earth, would you put a wheelchair room ANYwhere other than the first floor? The people who may not be able to take the stairs should not be required to navigate them in case of emergency. You're not just risking their lives, but the lives of everyone caught on the stairs above them... because there's no way I'm sitting in a burning hotel and waiting for help to arrive if Brian's in his chair. Him, me, his feet, AND his chair are going down those damn stairs, if I have to carry it all on my back.

So we find our room, and the first thing I notice is I cannot open the door all the way. Once I get into the room, I see this is because the night stand is too close to the door. The door frame is just barely the correct width - but if the door can't swing completely open, you get the 2" width of door still standing inside the doorframe, plus the space for the hinge, and the doorway is no longer navigable. If you can swing the door open the full 180-degrees, the door is completely out of the frame and doesn't impede traffic. So, had we been able to get a wheelchair out of the car in 3" of snow, and had the wheelchair ramp been usable and we were able to get the 'chair into the hotel, Brian would have scraped all the skin off his knuckles on the door, had we been able to get the 'chair through the door at all.
Normally I can tell just by looking whether Brian's wheelchair - with him in it - will fit through tight places. I really ought to start carrying a tape measure with me, though.

In the room, we have two arm chairs, a writing desk and chair, the dresser-slash-television stand, the bed and a night stand. The bathroom door swings out - hallelujah - and is wider than the room entry door. I peek into the bathroom, as is always my first stop, and notice three things:
(1) There is not room for a wheelchair to make a 360-degree turn. Its a roll in, roll backwards out kind of bathroom.
(2) The shower is a bathtub. With no bench. So someone would have to get out of their 'chair and lower themselves into the tub, and then somehow lift themselves OUT of the tub, soaking wet, to get back into the chair. Yes, there are couple of bars to hold onto. But for a resort this is pretty ridiculous. The bathroom has obviously been modernized - if they were sacrificing the historic/antique nature of the hotel already, why not do it properly?
(3) The handheld shower head, while positioned very nicely, is only operable if you pull the lever at the wall shower head - six feet or more off the floor. Which is not possible for someone stuck in a seated position.

There is a large discrepancy between the letter of the law, and the spirit of the law. I doubt the ADA specifies that a hand-held shower needs to have its controls located somewhere that someone wheelchair-bound can turn the damn thing on... but is that something that really needs to be said?

After 30 minutes unsuccessfully spent fighting a timing-out WiFi connection while we shared a glass or two of wine, Brian and I started getting things laid out for our evening. The plan was a sleigh ride at 6:30, back in the hotel by 7:00, and downstairs for dinner at 7:30. Which was doable. Brian needed to iron his pants, however. The iron and board were in the closet, which is wedged between the foot of the bed and the dresser holding the television.
Before you ask, no, there was no more than 2' between the bed and the television. And the closet door - behind which are the bath robes, the iron, the ironing board, the luggage rest, and all the coat hangers - is narrower than most "normal" bathroom doors.
Apparently, people in wheelchairs aren't allowed to use bathrobes. Or ironing boards.

I was beyond frustrated with our room.
I understand this is a 100+ year-old resort, nestled in the mountains of New Hampshire. I understand grandfather clauses, I understand maintaining the intergrity of historic structures. However, if you are grandfathered-in and do not possess accessible facilities, you sure as hell shouldn't sell me a handicap room. You owe me some honesty - allow me to take my business to someone who can actually accomodate me.

My husband is blessedly functional. He's very strong, and can pull himself out of a bathtub and into a wheelchair. He has long since built up the strength of character to maintain his dignity as he crawls across a bathroom floor. He is very resilient. Should he have to be?
I have a friend who is paraplegic. He doesn't have the option of putting on prosthetics to stand up out of his wheelchair and grab a bathrobe or turn on a shower head. What would he have done, had he tried to stay at this hotel?

Our sleigh ride was everything I had hoped. Our dinner was fantastic. We did have a good time. For that I can thank Brian's ability to walk, his relentless pursuit of being ordinary.

The next morning, when we checked out of the hotel, the desk clerk asked how our stay had been. I said, "The room was not very accessible."
The clerk replied, "Oh," and continued checking us out. Not, "Oh?" Not a question. "Oh," eyes drop back to the computer screen, the next thing out of her mouth is the money I owe them on the account as she hands me the bill and then receipt. Tells us to have a nice day and then goes back to whatever it was she was doing when we arrived at her desk.
Now, I could have gone off on her. But why? She obviously doesn't care.
I vote for option two, the scathing letter to her superiors.
Which I wrote, the day after I arrived home. The resort accomodated me by sending me a questionaire, asking me about my stay and giving me unlimited space at the end to type in any comments or concerns I had.
What I gave them was a very concentrated, shorter, much harsher (admittedly a little rude) version of this blog. I used words like "inconsiderate," "rude," and "illegal."

The day after sending in my questionnaire, I got a phonecall from the Mount Washington. Their Manager was appalled, upset, and grateful all at once; it seems she has only been on the job five weeks, and Omni had only recently taken possession of the Mount Washington Hotel. She had no idea there were such issues with the facilities, and she was pretty adament on finding out who it was at the desk that morning. Which is reasonable - that desk clerk has the power to either exacerbate or completely deflate the situation, and if I were the suing type, she would have partially at fault for disregarding my complaint.
The Manager was grateful that I had given her all this feedback. She was grateful to have the opportunity to fix a problem she didn't even know existed. She was apologetic and thankful, she listened when I explained my husband's disability, and she seemed to really take to heart the knowledge that there are thousands of servicemen and women coming home missing limbs, and we have a population of young adults who go out of their way to look ordinary, but still have special needs. They might push their wheelchair into the hotel, but they still rely on it, even if for only 20 or 30 minutes a day.
The Manager asked - repeatedly - if there was anything she could do for me to try to make the situation better. I told her - honestly - that her sincerity and her desire to improve were really all I wanted. I told her that, regardless of whether it is right or not, there are more hotels that are NOT accessible than those that ARE, and it was something Brian & I have grown accustomed to. The fact that she WANTS to change and she WANTS to make things better is more than we typically get, and I was grateful for her phone call.

She closed the conversation by stating that, should I ever wish to return to her hotel, I give her a call, and she would "take care of everything," although she didn't specify what that included.

I hope to go back, in a year or four or five, once I hear word that they've finished renovations, and see if they've fixed anything. I am cautiously optimistic... and with any luck, I'll still have this blog running and be able to tell you what I find.
For now, though, I have to recommend AGAINST the Omni Mount Washington Hotel for anyone who can't go without their 'chair. Its a nice place, the dinner was amazing, the sleigh ride was picturesque and romantic, and the location can't be beat... but the rooms are not accessible enough to make the stay enjoyable overall.

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