Lots of hotels nowadays cater somewhat to travelers with disabilities – but in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, the world’s first American Disability Association-compliant hotel recently opened. For people with disabilities who love to travel, this hotel in the Allegheny Mountains definitely belongs on your radar screen.
The Schoolhouse Hotel is a new boutique address arrayed within a refashioned historic schoolhouse in downtown White Sulphur Springs. Conceived to showcase the best of local lodging and hospitality traditions in an inclusive atmosphere, The Schoolhouse Hotel is the city’s first full-service boutique hotel, a welcoming setting for travelers to relax, unwind, and dine on leisure or business – and, quite admirably, it is the world’s first ADA-compliant hotel.
Charlie Hammerman is President and CEO of the Disability Opportunity Fund, a non-profit dedicated to serving the disability market that purchased the school building in 2019 and began its conversion in 2020. “With roots that go back more than a century, our goal is to embrace the charm of White Sulphur Springs and to bring the city and the mountainous region around it alive for all guests,” he told me.
Mr. Hammerman also explained to me what the new hotel is all about. “Once we decided to go ‘beyond ADA-compliance’ in The Schoolhouse Hotel, we pushed the envelope in showcasing all sorts of technology, including the guest bathrooms. The hotel was planned with accessibility in mind from sensory design, including lighting and sound, counter height, and automated services. The touchpads in the bathrooms allow for touch-control for raising/lowering toilet seat, flushing, cleaning, and bidet. The expansive layout and limited obstructions in guest rooms create extra space where ordinarily, there is no additional area for scooter or wheelchair storage.”
He also explained why this project is so important to him. “It began with my uncle, Dr. Burton Blatt, a pioneering advocate for the rights of people with disabilities, who 50 years ago helped initiate community living programs and family support services. Burton was also a national leader in special education, calling for programs to integrate students with disabilities into public schools and working to promote a more open society for them.”
“Inspired by his example, and my own experiences as a parent of a child with a disability, I’ve continued the mission. Following my legal and Wall Street career, the DOF has now assembled a team that is motivated to push society to live beyond ADA compliance and consider all issues faced by people with disabilities and their families.”
Even the needs of guests’ assistance animals are taken into consideration. Relief stations provide synthetic grass for service pets, naturally attracted to the feel of grass, but this material is durable, hygienic and immediately washable, draining into the floor or ground. The designated relief station also gives guests and their service companions the option to stay out of the rain or inclement weather, and the synthetic grass doesn’t become muddy.
“That a hotel can be accessible to everyone, no matter what their abilities, is key. Instead of fitting a few specially designed rooms for those with special needs into a property, why not design and construct the property to cater to all needs?”
He continued, “Every single room is completely accessible, and every public space is completely accessible. We hope this becomes a showcase for the hospitality industry. The differences between a standard hotel and one that is fully accessible aren’t difficult – this is how a hotel should be built.”
“We also will be showcasing art in the guest rooms from artists living with mental illness as a way of supporting them.”
In my humble opinion, this alone is a very laudable venture.
The Schoolhouse Hotel offers accommodations in 30 guest rooms including two suites.
All rooms pay homage to the building’s former life as a schoolhouse and are decorated in a range of earth tones, mauves, blues and accent plaids, with plush bedding, comfortable furniture and large multi-pane windows with city and mountain views. Each room is themed to a different school subject like art, history, literature, math, and woodshop. Interactive high-definition televisions and Google Nests are wired for communication with the Front Desk.
The Schoolhouse Hotel’s signature dining experience is The Varsity Club. With seating for 118, the restaurant serves an upscale menu of southern culinary classics conceived by Executive Chef Adeyemi Allen, whose experience includes four years as Lead Chef of The Greenbrier.
Why White Sulphur Springs? As a small city in Greenbrier County in the southeastern region of West Virginia, White Sulphur Springs counts some 3,000 residents as well as two nicknames: “Spa City” and “Home of the Greenbrier Resort.”
Opening rates at The Schoolhouse Hotel start at $150 per night.
It’s a great beginning for a travel idea whose time has finally come. Make sure to bring your service companion!
For more about my Wanderlust travels, please Follow me on Instagram at @DebbiKickham.
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