“Let’s say I’m disabled and want to travel to Israel with someone who is not disabled. We have the same interests, the same budget and the same availability. For the person without disability, it’s very simple to look on the web or get a recommendation for a hotel and that’s it. But for the person with disabilities, he may come all the way to Israel and find the hotel they booked is not comfortable for him, or maybe he can’t even get in the door.”

Yuval Wagner, founder and chairman of Access Israel, knows from personal experience that even when hotels claim to be accessible, it’s not always so. It’s a problem all over the world, he says.

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“And to make it more complicated, each person has to look for his own needs,” he tells ISRAEL21c. “A blind person needs to know if the rooms have Braille numbers on the doors. Someone with hearing impairment needs to know if they have a kit at the front desk that can be installed in the room so he’ll know if the telephone rings or if there’s knock on the door.”

A recent award-winning study by Ben-Gurion University researchers reveals that blind or mobility-challenged Israelis experience many difficulties with bathroom facilities, furniture placement and the height of controls, locks and light switches. Even if accessible rooms are properly equipped, the public spaces of the hotel may not be.

Those in wheelchairs must ask about parking, entryways, pool and elevator accessibility. Does the room have a wide door, a high bed and low electrical switches? Does the bathroom have a wide door that slides or opens out, space under the sink to roll the chair right under it, a shower that a wheelchair can roll into, a toilet with grab bars for stability?

The main entrance of the Haifa Crowne Plaza has a ramp for easy wheelchair access.
The main entrance of the Haifa Crowne Plaza has a ramp for easy wheelchair access.

Access Israel began a survey of Israeli hotels last summer covering many such details. The results (available only in Hebrew until someone funds an English translation) show that Israel is making progress as a 2015 deadline looms for implementing new accessibility laws.

In that spirit, the Israel Youth Hostel Association is building a new wing of the existing hostel at Ein Gedi with 18 fully accessible guest rooms and public spaces. It’s expected to open in summer 2013 as tourist sites in the area are also getting an accessibility upgrade.

“Accessible tourism is a big issue, and the tourism industry is taking it very seriously because they found out it’s a major niche,” says Wagner. “It includes not only the disabled but also the elderly.” Neither tends to travel unaccompanied, which means that making a hotel accessible equals better profitability and image.

Wagner warns not to rely on information from a hotel’s website. It’s always best to call and ask specific questions, and have someone check it out in person. Always inform a hotel of specific needs when you make your reservation.

Based on the Access Israel survey and our own research, here is ISRAEL21c’s top 10 list of accessible hotels in Israel.

1. David Intercontinental Tel Aviv

This property truly tops the list. It offers 10 rooms with full accessibility, including bedside grab bars and panic button, sink and shower wheelchair access and grab bars next to the toilet. Adaptive devices for the hearing impaired are available at reception, as well as an ionizer for guests with respiratory conditions. Guide dogs get their own bed and chew-bone. The hotel has accessible parking and wide doorways, Braille elevator buttons and raised room numbers. The pool has a ramp, and all public areas, including the restaurant, can be accessed by wheelchair.

In addition, the Intercontinental has staffers who’ve learned sign language from the hotel chef’s assistant Shmuel Haberman, a hearing-impaired man chosen as the only Israeli torchbearer in the 2012 Olympic Torch Relay in May.

2. Ashkelon Holiday Inn

The Holiday Inn-Crowne Plaza group did a major accessibility upgrade at its eight properties in Israel five years ago. The Ashkelon Holiday Inn has two accessible rooms, including wheelchair-accessible showers, adaptive telephone and television devices for those with hearing or vision impairment, raised numbers on room doors, a special lift for the pool, and accommodations for guide dogs.

3. Dead Sea Crowne Plaza

Six accessible rooms offer amenities for people with mobility and vision impairments, and kits for the hearing-impaired area available for installation in any room. Every area of the hotel is accessible, including the spa and pool, and there are raised numbers in the elevator.

4. Astral Village, Eilat

In a city that has an impressive number of accessible hotel rooms, the Astral Village stands out for its 16 wheelchair-accessible rooms. The parking lot and walkways are easy for wheelchairs to navigate, and because the whole property is on one level, there is no elevator or steps to contend with. There is a lift at the pool and service dogs are welcome. However, there are no special facilities for people with hearing or vision impairments.

Other standouts in Eilat include the Isrotel Royal Garden (11 wheelchair-accessible rooms), Isrotel Royal Beach (six accessible rooms with adaptive devices available for the hearing-impaired, five of them suites) and Le Meridien (four fully equipped accessible rooms with hearing kit).

5. Haifa Crowne Plaza

The bathroom in an accessible room at the Haifa Crowne Plaza has all the right requirements: plenty of space for a wheelchair, grab bars, panic button, phone, and a sink that the chair can roll right up to. There’s also a roll-in shower.
The bathroom in an accessible room at the Haifa Crowne Plaza has all the right requirements: plenty of space for a wheelchair, grab bars, panic button, phone, and a sink that the chair can roll right up to. There’s also a roll-in shower.

Two wheelchair-accessible rooms feature bathrooms with extra-large showers, grab bars, panic button phones with large numbers and assistive devices for the hearing disabled. There is a pool lift and parking access, and service animals are welcome. The lobby has steps, but when a guest in a wheelchair is expected, a portable ramp is put in place before arrival and for the duration of the stay.

6. Jerusalem Crowne Plaza

While the Inbal and Moriah Classic hotels each have eight wheelchair-accessible rooms and the Crowne Plaza has just four, these four are fully outfitted for a variety of disabilities (two of them have raised room numbers). That includes sound- and sight-enhanced telephones, room buzzers and televisions, an emergency alert vibrating pager on request, bedside panic buttons and wheelchair-accessible showers. The pool has a chairlift, and the hotel’s main entrance has separate entry doors to accommodate wheelchairs.

7. Canaan Spa, Safed

There are two wheelchair-accessible rooms that include grab bars in the washroom, and two accessible parking spots. There is no pool lift, but there are direct elevators to the pool and restaurant. Service dogs are welcome, and the lobby level has wheelchair-accessible bathrooms.

8. Leonardo Club Tiberias

This property has five wheelchair-accessible rooms with showers and grab bars. A lift seat is available at the pool, and room numbers are raised for the blind. It has no assistive devices for the hearing-impaired.

9. Nof Ginosar and Ginosar Village Resort, Kibbutz Ginosar

Many kibbutz hotels offer accessible rooms for people with disabilities. At Ginosar in the Galilee, eight rooms in the Nof Ginosar hotel are wheelchair-accessible with both bath and shower installations. At the nearby bed-and-breakfast Ginosar Village, seven rooms offer wheelchair accessibility with showers only. Both facilities share a pool and dining room reachable by wheelchair, but there is no lift at the pool and no adaptive devices for people with vision or hearing impairments.

10. C Hotels Hacienda Forestview, Western Galilee

Four extra-large wheelchair-accessible rooms have accessible bath/shower facilities with grab bars. There is a lift at the pool. For the vision-impaired, the elevator has raised numbers, but there are no assistive devices for the hearing-impaired. Public areas including the spa and dining room are all wheelchair-accessible, with a special entrance to the lobby for those in wheelchairs.