It's tough to check into a hotel when you can't see over the reception desk.
In a nation where the average man stands five-nine, the 1.2 million people under 4'10" might find some things a little high for their taste. And before you envy the five-footer her cramped airplane seat, think about the 4'5" person whose feet don't reach the ground (and who's suffering from circulation problems through the whole flight.)
In your standard hotel room, a really short person -- the organization Little People of America calls them "little people" -- will find herself constructing teetering towers of objects just to reach things, standing on trashcans to reach the sink or poking at the room's security latch with a long object. Forget looking through a door's peephole or maneuvering the showerhead in a shower.
"Showerheads -- for me, that's just something I've never had in my life," said Gary Arnold, vice president of public relations for LPA, who stands 4-3 and has flipped over many a trash can to use as an impromptu stool while traveling.
"The stool works wonders . . . but some stools are better than others," Arnold says. "We want a stool that we can cart around with us, that's light and easily maneuverable."
Enter US Franchise Systems, which owns two hotel brands -- the entirely coincidentally named budget Microtel Inn & Suites (www.microtelinn.com) and the more upscale Hawthorn Suites (www.hawthorn.com). They've built a reputation on helping people who have trouble getting around, get around with a minimum of fuss.
Helping the non-standard traveler isn't just about being ADA accessible, USFS chief operating officer Roy Flora says. It's about doing things like including upper-body-training equipment in gyms, so people in wheelchairs can work out, offering all their hotel literature in Braille, and training all of their hotel employees in "disability etiquette."
Perversely, it turns out that some common ADA adaptations make things even harder for little people. "An ADA room has a heightened toilet, and the bed may be higher," says USFS spokeswoman Barbara Wiener-Fischhof.
Microtel is now the first chain of hotels where the central office has made sure every single hotel has a little-people accessibility kit designed by Direct Access Solutions, a company founded by little people, said Colleen Meichtry, DAS" office manager. The DAS kit has five items; a closet rod adaptor, a security latch adaptor, a "reach grabber" arm, a "push-pull" rod and a stepstool custom-designed for people with very short legs.
Some Marriott, West Coast Hotels, Hyatt, Shilo, Country Inns, Radisson, Park Inn and Park Plaza hotels also carry the kits, according to DAS.
Microtel is also encouraging travelers to request the kit when they reserve their rooms; rather than having to lug it from the front desk, they'll find it in the room on arrival.
"It's a little insensitive to make them carry the stool down the hall; let's just go ahead and put it in the room," Flora said.
Microtel and Hawthorn hotels are all over the country, but generally not in the downtowns of major cities. Short people going to destinations like New York might want to check with DAS (www.lp-access.com) or with Little People of America (www.lpaonline.org).
Do you feel like you're too short, or too tall, for the average hotel room? Talk about it on our hotels discussion boards.