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Following Disabled Veteran Incident, Odessa, Texas Hotels
Review and Reinforce Disability Policies

By Jon Vanderlaan, Odessa American, TexasMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Aug. 20, 2012--Local hotels have taken notice of a paralyzed Army veteran's complaints that a Monahans Best Western employee mistreated him.

Staff Sgt. Chad Staples said he was trying to get downstairs from his third-floor room because a rolling blackout knocked out the elevators, but a front-desk clerk refused to help and mocked him.

MCM Hotels President Ed Lasater said although he spoke with the general managers of his hotels about the incident, he's confident with the current standard of service his hotels have offered.

The MCM Grande, which is grandfathered in to a different set of rules because of its age, has three rooms with roll-in showers and one other ADA-compliant room. If the 245-room hotel had not been grandfathered, under current ADA rules, they would be required to have 10 handicapped accessible rooms.

"We discussed the story and the results and the fallout," Lasater said. "We are pretty comfortable with our policies. Sometimes the best of companies will have a mistake made by one of their team members."

Lasater said he's sure the Best Western had policies as well, but the mistake was made by an individual.

Staples, who accused a now-fired employee of the Monahans Best Western of laughing at him when he asked for help, said he is helping one of the owners of that hotel improve their policies.

Staples said he thinks and hopes other hotel chains are taking a closer look at how they handle disabled customers.

"I think they're kind of refining their policies and hopefully not just going by what the law requires, but what's best for the customer," Staples said.

For his hotels, Lasater said the majority of their handicap-accessible rooms are on the first floor, and if a guest who is handicapped needs help, his employees accommodate them.

"We do a lot of training," Lasater said. "Friendliness and cleanliness are our whole deal, and if we can't pass those two barriers we don't need to be in the business."

Some of what Staples wants to change is making sure all the handicap-accessible rooms are on the bottom floor and holding those rooms for disabled guests.

Darpan Bhakta, the owner of Insignia Hospitality Group which owns six West Texas hotels and two New Mexico hotels with two more in the making, said his employees have ongoing training to know how to help disabled customers.

Bhakta also said most of the time, people with disabilities make reservations in advance, ensuring that the rooms are not taken up.

"If it's not available, then we can't accommodate you," Bhakta said.

Lasater said handicap-accessible rooms are the last such rooms to be booked, but they cannot be held when the rest of the hotel is at capacity.

"Nobody's required to hold a room just because it's handicap accessible, but those are the last ones we rent," Lasater said.

The president of the Texas Hotel and Lodging Association, Scott Joslove, said that may happen more often in Midland and Odessa because hotel occupancy is at 90 percent, but it will change soon with housing under construction and nine hotels in the pipeline.

Joslove said the treatment of disabled guests should be no different than that of any other guest -- that the hotel should "exceed expectations" of all guests that come into a hotel.

Joslove said he would give the same travel advice to everyone, regardless of disability, because in an area with such high occupancy, everyone should plan ahead to be guaranteed a room.

"Of course, we in the hotel industry not only want to meet ADA requirements under federal law, we want to make sure we do everything to make sure all guests are accommodated," Joslove said.

He also said being in contact with the Monahans Best Western, employees are being trained to better handle such situations.


Total rooms (ADA compliant rooms)

--1 to 25 (1) --26 to 50 (2) --51 to 75 (4) --76 to 100 (5) --101 to 150 (7) --151 to 200 (8) --201 to 300 (10) --301 to 400 (12) --401 to 500 (13) --501 to 1,000 (3 percent of total) --1,001 and over (30, plus 2 for each hundred, or fraction thereof, over 1,000)

Source: 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, Americans with Disabilities Act


(c)2012 the Odessa American (Odessa, Texas)

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