Monday, March 11, 2013

Jamaica 2013, #3: Challenges

2013 02 830 In my previous post I shared some of the positive experiences we enjoyed on our Caribbean vacation. Now it’s time to look at some of things that didn’t go so well at the resort.

First, I must acknowledge that all of the public areas at Sandals Whitehouse were essentially wheelchair accessible except for one key location, which was the piano bar. The entire resort was overlain with a broad network of smooth, hard walkways and gently sloping ramps. Thumbs up to Sandals for providing so many accessible public spaces. Thumbs down to Sandals for placing the most interesting night spot on the second floor without the benefit of an elevator.

Although the open spaces were accessible, the public bathrooms were a problem. Some of the bathrooms had no handicapped stall at all, and the several pseudo-handicapped stalls that we were able to find didn’t meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines. This is a reality of foreign travel. The combination of a low toilet and high handrails, coupled with insufficient floor space so that I couldn’t pull my wheelchair up beside the toilet, made toilet use unnecessarily challenging.

Luckily, I don’t need to transfer from my wheelchair to the toilet when I empty my bladder. I carry a little portable urinal which allows me go while sitting in my wheelchair. Yes, the advantages we men have in the bathroom, relative to women, extend even to the handicapped population. The only problem was that I had no privacy for this little task, because all of the stalls were too small for me to pull into completely. Men generally aren’t afforded privacy when urinating anyway, but given my unusual technique I certainly appreciate it when I can get it.

2013 02 768As I posted previously, when it comes to bowel control, I totally rock. So, on this five night visit I only needed to sit on the toilet twice. Since the one in my room had no accessibility features whatsoever, Kim and I scouted out some of the public bathrooms to find the one that might work best. In addition to looking for a higher toilet, lower grab bars, and a spacious stall, we also wanted to find a bathroom that was a little less busy than average. This way, Kim could come in and assist me with transfers without being, well, exposed to things she didn’t want to see.

We found the best location we could, and the process went fairly well. I needed Kim’s assistance on transfers, which I wouldn’t normally need in an ADA compliant bathroom. But things didn’t go so smoothly the second time, a couple of days later.

Instead of being smart and using the same toilet we had earlier in the week, I suggested we try a similar one much closer to where we were at the moment. With Kim’s help, I transferred to the toilet easily. But when it was time for the more difficult upward transfer (the toilet was lower than my wheelchair) we realized that this stall was designed differently enough from the other one that we just couldn’t figure out a way for Kim to help me transfer. We needed one more body.

I’m not particularly self-conscious in these circumstances, so I asked Kim to walk out into the general area and find “the first Jamaican dude you see.” The resort’s male employees were plentiful, clearly identified by their clothing, and always willing to help. Kim frowned at this suggestion. Oddly enough, she considered it in some way distasteful to approach a total stranger and ask him to accompany her into the men’s room. Women… sigh…can’t live with them, can’t go to the bathroom in Jamaica without them.

When Kim didn’t return in a couple of minutes, I surmised that she had set out to find my brother, not some Jamaican dude. Indeed, she hiked across the entire complex and found Tom, who was lounging at the pool nearest our hotel rooms. Of course, being the protective older brother that he is, he valiantly accepted the mission.

Eventually, in my boredom, I began to contemplate alternative ways to gain some leverage with my arms and transfer myself. It was a long shot.

After examining the problem with an analytical fine comb, and simultaneously solving multiple differential equations in my head, I contorted my body into a precise configuration to optimize the applied forces. Thusly, I accomplished by myself what Kim and I could not accomplish together. I give credit to what is left of my once keen engineering mind. Or it may have just been shit luck. At the very moment Tom and Kim burst into the bathroom to rescue me from the swirling abyss, I was smugly buttoning my shorts and sitting down on my wheelchair.

The other issue was the accessibility of our guest room. The overall layout was spacious, so maneuvering with my wheelchair was not an issue. The bed was of average height, so we were able to attach the blanket lift and portable grab bar that we attach to every hotel bed that we use. Bed transfers and sleeping comfort were therefore acceptable. Then there was the bathroom- always the bathroom.

We had reserved a handicapped accessible guest room, understanding that it would likely not meet ADA standards, but expecting that it would be better than a standard room. When we saw our room for the first time on Monday night we were surprised and disappointed that there were no grab bars in the shower, there was a tall curb at the shower entrance so that I couldn’t roll into it, and there were no grab bars near the low toilet. We wondered what had happened to the somewhat accessible room that we had seen pictures of online. We didn’t have to wonder for long.

2013 02 305We received a phone call from the concierge proudly informing us that we had received a complimentary room upgrade. That was all well and good, I explained, except they had upgraded us out of a handicapped room into a non-handicapped one. I asked if we could see one of the handicapped rooms. They indicated that none would be vacant until Wednesday, two days out. So we made do with the shower, although clumsily.

On Wednesday we looked at an available wheelchair accessible room. Long story short – the accessibility features would’ve been a slight improvement. However, we looked over the rest of the room including the walkout patio and its view, and that killed the deal for us. Given that it would have been a significant effort to relocate all our stuff and set up the new room, and given that we absolutely loved the view from our existing room, we decided to pass.

So once again, just like in the Bahamas, I became the all-too-willing recipient of daily sponge baths. These are work for Kim. But for me it’s like a shower and a massage rolled into one.

Because of these accessibility failings, I cannot fully recommend Sandals resorts for wheelchair users. However, if you’re adventurous, and you can work around subpar accommodations, then you may enjoy one of these resorts despite the accessibility shortcomings. I did – twice.

To be continued...

Other posts in this series:

Jamaica 2013, #1: Hello Paradise
Jamaica 2013, #2: The Good Stuff
Jamaica 2013, #3: Challenges
Jamaica 2013, #4: Taking the iBot to Jamaica
Jamaica 2013, #5: Flights - The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Jamaica 2013, #6: Final Thoughts


  1. You are a genius at writing about subjects in which I would have thought I'd have absolutely no interest whatsoever, and making them not only informative, but entertaining.

    You're not the first engineer I've come across with a sense of humor. Note to young women: stop hanging around with those liberal arts types and check out the techies,

  2. Daphne,

    Did you hear that Kim? I am a genius! Now stop arguing with me about stuff.