May 28, 2018 - El Poché

From the Inbox: “I own a Bed and Breakfast and would be happy to make accommodations for fat people, but I don’t know what they would be… I want you to be comfortable and enjoy your stay. Help!”

Image description: A photograph of a fat Woman of Color reclining on her side, propped up on her elbow, atop the bedclothes on a bed. Her hair is in loose curls, and her gaze is cast gently down to the bed's surface. A beige blanket lays around her hip and knees.

First of all, thank you for asking, and thank you for your willingness to pro-actively accommodate. It gets tiring having to ask for accommodation all the time, so it’s heavenly when we enter a space where these things have been thought about already! We have a few good tips to start you off in the right direction.

When it comes to mobility, fat people have widely varying ability with their bodies. But gearing your first floor room to be more accessible for anyone using mobility aids (not just fat folks) is a great idea! You mentioned in your message that even your first floor has stairs. If you think they’ll fit in the space, high weight-capacity modular ramps can be purchased online. These would be an investment, as they cost a couple hundred dollars. But that way, your B&B can still be an option for people who can’t do stairs, and you don’t have to add permanent new construction. Is your B&B a historic home? If your door frame widths are too narrow to wheel through, it would be considerate to note this on your website.

Beyond the stairs/ramp, it’d be a great idea to keep that accessible bedroom more open, with space to maneuver a mobility aid, or wide hips, or both. There’s no point in having an en suite accessible bathroom, for example, if the door can only open so far before hitting a piece of furniture. Thick carpeting might bind under wheels, so keep the pile low, and make sure there is good slip resistance by using a rug gripper pad underneath. No one likes to fall or feel unstable!

Lots of room in the bathroom is also important. Room to transfer on and off a mobility device is ideal. Install sturdy grip bars near the toilet and in the shower. Having the ability to offer a heavy-duty stool to use in the shower will win you smiles and set you back about $50. Here’s an easy one: put in a curved shower curtain bar! The curve of the bar adds valuable extra inches of space inside a tub-shower set up. For hygiene, too, a shower head on a long flexible hose would be so thoughtful. If you are the kind of B&B that offers plush ‘one size fits all’ bathrobes, consider alternatively offering a big stack of lush ‘bath sheets’ —which are bath towels, but larger. Do you offer a la carte spa services? Check to make sure your provider has a massage table with a higher weight limit. Any quality massage table will be rated at 600lbs, minimum. Earthlite massage tables hold 2500lbs.

Perhaps most importantly, let’s talk furniture. Many of my stays at B&Bs have been hampered by anxiety around ornate, antique furniture. Am I going to break this bedframe? Is this chair at the breakfast table going to explode dramatically into a billion splinters when I sit on it? No one needs that kind of stress on vacation! And honestly, you don’t need the liability. Sturdy, armless chairs are a must— whether these are antique or something new, make sure the construction is A+ solid, and that the legs are perpendicular to the floor (as opposed to out at an angle). Worse comes to worse, one anachronistic, armless, metal chair in each area won’t kill the Victorian vibe if it means we’ve got somewhere safe to sit!

Same with the foundations of beds. Check out the Zinus SmartBase Foundation and other similar designs; it comes in varying mattress size, has a higher weight-capacity, and won’t break the bank. You can even buy brackets for them so you can still attach those ornate, focal-point-of-the-room headboards. Another bonus: they’re not tremendously tall after you’ve put the mattress on top. Transferring ‘uphill’ from a wheelchair or mobility device onto a tall bed is a struggle. There’s also open space underneath this type of foundation! Some folks with disabilities travel with a portable Hoyer Lift, a piece of equipment that helps transfer them between their wheelchair and other surfaces, like the bed. The bottom of the lift needs to be able to roll underneath the bed during the transfer.

(A side note: To find some of these higher weight-capacity products, you may need to use the search term “bariatric.” But please, please do not use this word otherwise. Not on your website, and not when talking about how you can accommodate. This ‘b-word’ is often seen as part of a pathologizing of a body type, and isn’t remotely as acceptably reclaimed as “fat” is!)

Other things to think about: Do you know how to turn on closed captioning on the television? Do you have information about paratransit in your city (eg. private companies, or accessible bus routes)? Are all of your Area Attractions brochures aimed at non-marginalized folks? Do you make your welcome to marginalized folks explicit in your advertising and on your website?

Of course, some of these things are more easily implementable and affordable than others. But each add value and inclusivity to your business. If you’re not deploying a permanent ramp, or there’s no room in the bathroom for the shower stool to live there unobtrusively full-time, one of the next kindest things you can do is make their availability clearly known on your website. Asking for accommodation we know you will be able to provide is far less emotionally daunting than going in cold!