Category Archives: Accessible Guest Room

GKTW: Utimate Accessible Resort

Give Kids The World:  The Ultimate Accessible Resort Where Dreams Come True and Memories are Made

Tom and I recently visited Give Kids the World, an accessible resort that provides memorable, magical, cost-free experiences to children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. We were guests of GKTW for their Central Florida Bloggers Bash, sponsored by Mom it Forward and Central Florida Lady Bloggers.

GKTW Founder: Henri Lanwirth
Bronze statue of Henri Landwirth, founder of Give Kids The World

One thing few people know about me is that in the late 1980’s, after leaving Disney’s Live Show Design department, I joined the architectural studio of Benjamin P. Butera, AIA.  Ben is a visionary architect, who worked alongside GKTW founder Henri Landwirth in the original planning and design of the village.  26 years later, Ben is still on the team.  I was lucky enough to be part of that original design team.  

I always recommend Henri’s inspiring autobiography “The Gift of Life” to anyone starting a non-profit or anyone who is wondering how they can make a difference in this world.  The story  starts with Henri’s life as a young prisoner in the WW2 Holocaust concentration camps, his survival and journey to working in hotels in New York, to finding his twin sister in America, to managing the hottest Florida space   coast hotel during the Space Race of the 1960’s, to developing his Holiday Inn in the early Walt Disney World days, to founding Give Kids The World.  His friends Walter Chronkite and astronaut John Glenn  wrote the foreword and afterword.  The book is an inspiration for everyone to do their best.

Sitting in on design meetings with GKTW founder Henri Landwirth, he planted the seeds that:

Good architecture always accommodates and serves all people.

When you see a need, create the solution.

The gates of GKTW opened in 1989.  Today the Village is a 70-acre resort with over 144 accessible Villas, accommodations, entertainment attractions, whimsical venues and fun designed specifically for children with special needs.  With the help of many generous people, companies and partners, Give Kids The World has welcomed over 132,000 families from all 50 states and 75 countries.

Accessible Resort Restaurant at GKTW

The Give Kids The World Gingerbread House Restaurant. The original building had a simple gable roof. The parts on the top were built to add character. The roof is supposed to look like cake frosting and the beam at the entry is a vanilla wafer.
The Gingerbread House restaurant is a recognized symbol of Give Kids The World. Child-sized tables decorated with 27,000 real peppermint candies, over 2,000 dolls from around the world and the thoughtfulness of Angels (volunteers), all make the Gingerbread House more than just a restaurant.

One day Ben was handed me the blueprints for Ginger Bread House restaurant that Perkins donated to Give Kids The World  It was a very ordinary looking commercial style building with some Victorian brackets here and there.  It was nothing special at all.   From my quick marker and pen sketch, the iconic GKTW gingerbread house was born.  Little did I know at that time, that this building  would be recognized around the world as a place of loving and caring.

Accessible Resort Villas at GKTW

Accessible bath tub
Large soaker tub with grab bars in the accessible vacation villa at Give kids the World
Roll-in shower in the Give Kids The World vacation villa

One of the early projects we designed were the original accessible resort Villas.  I was still single then and had no clue that children living with a disability or life-threatening disease might have to shower flat or require the assistance of two people to bathe.  This is where I first learned that accessibility is much more than what is written as the acceptable minimum standard in the Federal ADA, American With Disabilities Code.

Visiting a new villa was a highlight. The guest suites of this accessible resort take all abilities into consideration in the design.   Here are the photos.  Since kids usually take baths, this unit is designed with a large bath tub.  The shower doesn’t have grab bars.

Accessible toilet and vanity sink in the Give Kids The World Vacation Villa

Often children who are wheelchair users use a shower chair and have their parents assistance in bathing.  The handheld shower is the important part.  I was surprised that there wasn’t a hand held shower at the tub to assist with bathing or a slide bar at the shower to position the shower head.

The large accessible toilet is set up for an easy transfer.  The accessible sink vanity is higher with a lever faucet and knee protection from hot plumbing pipes. IMG_4281 The adjacent sink is a little lower to accommodate children.  All of these features are part of Universal Design.  The accessible resort cheerful kids room has two twin beds and plenty of space to roll around or play.  The beds are high to accommodate sliding a hoyer lift under the bed for transfer.

The accessible resort kids room has plenty of space to move around. The bed is raised to fit a hoyer lift to transfer a child.

The front porch of each accessible villa provides a smooth transition from the sidewalk through the front door.  We enjoyed tasting Gigi’s Cupcakes as we toured universally designed villa.

Give kids The World accessible villa. Notice the smooth transition in floor surfaces and the huge front porch.

Accessible Resort Chapel at Give Kids The World

We didn’t get a chance to walk inside the chapel during this visit. Henri Landwirth requested that we design a chapel so that the parents would have a place of peace.  We designed it as a Victorian tower added to the existing administration buildings.  I learned that for many of the children, their last wish is to come to Disney and meet their favorite characters.  Some have even passed away in the arms of their wish character or while visiting GKTW.

Every night the GKTW village celebrates a different holiday like Christmas, Easter, and Halloween.  They try to pack as many happy memories int as short a period of time possible.  Having a place for prayer and meditation offers a place for release.

GKTW chapel. I designed the chapel with Benjamin P. Butera architects in the late 1980s. The chapel anchored the existing administration building.

GKTWchapelThe hexagon shaped chapel has 4 huge stain glass windows representing Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.  There is a ring of hand painted clouds above leading to heaven.

 Walk-In Accessible Pool and Water Park

Every night there is a pool party with music, bubbles, and a D.J.

The evening when were there it was a pirate themed party.  You can see the pirate ship in the background.

Accessible water park

There are PVC wheelchairs for kids to use to just roll right into the accessible walk-in pool or the water park.

Accessible walk in or roll in pool.

  Accessible Enchanted Carousel

Castle of Miracles and Enchanted Carousel at GKTW
A wheelchair can slide inside the turtle for a magically enchanted carousel ride.

One of our favorite venues is the Castle of Miracles and Enchanted Carousel. The Castle includes Twinkle Hope’s La Ti Da Royal Spa, a mysterious forest to explore, Father Time, a Wishing Well that burps, Rusty the friendly guard and a Great Hall full of magic. Waiting for all Wish Children is the Star Fairy, who magically soars into the night placing the Gold Stars on the Castle ceiling.  Even children who are wheel chair users can enjoy sitting in the turtle on the merry go round.

The Ice Cream Palace serves Ice Cream Morning Noon and Night!

GKTW ice cream
Kids can have ice cream for every meal at the Ice Cream Palace

Give Kids The World ensures that every venue, activity and villa fully accommodates all of our precious guests. From The Park of Dreams pool to The Garden of Hope pathways, everything at GKTW’s whimsical Village is wheelchair accessible. A former wish mom recalls her family’s wonderful experience here at the Village.

“Our stay at GKTW was amazing and I wouldn’t change a thing. Everyone was so compassionate, thoughtful and treated us like a member of their family. It’s amazing to visit a place that meets the needs of such special children. There are not many places, which we go to as a family, that accommodate wheelchairs. Our family was so happy that my daughter could partake in the same activities as the other family members – even swimming and horseback riding! I would like to thank GKTW for this beautiful experience,” – former wish child, Juvollia’s family.king my daughter’s wish come true but for fulfilling my dream of keeping my entire family together. You have touched our hearts and we will .

Future Expansion, GKTW Town Hall

The New Town Hall at Give Kids The World will add new dining space. The existing Gingerbread House restaurant has gotten too small for all of the families and guests that visit each day.




About Us

Disability Smart Solutions is full-service ADA Consulting firm offering ADA Compliance Access Surveys, Project Consultation, Post-Compliance Audits, All-Ability Customer Service Training, Undercover Disabled Guest Mystery Shopping, Universal Design Product Review and Keynote Speaking.  Please contact us to review your accessibility needs.

The Disabled Hotel Guest in a Non-Accessible Room

The Disabled Guest in a Non-Accessible Hotel Room

Have you ever wondered what happens in a non-accessible guest room when a person with a wheelchair needs to use the toilet? Disabled hotel guests often have to create their own accommodations.  Is that something any responsible hotel operator wants at their facility?

Kristen, a LI Paraplegic born with Spina Bifida, created  Living Able on Facebook and YouTube to demonstrate how she transfers, does daily tasks and makes her own accommodations in a sometimes non-accommodating world.  She offers tips for people living with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities.

I believe that every facility owner should watch her videos in order to understand what they are doing to people living with disabilities by not providing enough accessible hotel rooms that meet the new 2010 ADA Code for accessibility.  Every hotel owner needs to demand that all request for an accessible room be honored.  Reservationists need to be trained to ask clients requesting an accessible room, what request they might have for a comfortable stay.   I am honored to share Kristen’s video.

Hotel Guest Transferring to Toilet in a Non-Accessible Room

In the video, Kristen’s wheelchair does not fit through the toilet room door.  There were no available accessible rooms in the hotel where she was staying during a business trip to Nashville.  She had to stay in a non-accessible hotel room.  Kristen is an independent woman who is used to making her own accommodations.  She uses the rolling desk chair from the business center to get into the bathroom and to transfer to the toilet.   There are no grab bars.  She has to hold onto the sink, the door, the door knob and the  wall to balance herself.  As I watched her video, I was holding my breath hoping that she didn’t fall.  Kristen is a young Living Able person, but what happens when an older or weaker person is in the same situation?

  • As a hotel owner, what liabilities are you exposing yourself to in this situation?
  • What happens if a disabled hotel guest falls?
  • What is stopping you from providing simple room accommodations to engage more aging guests and disabled hotel guests?

Find Kristen on Facebook and Living Able  

Please call us at Disability Smart Solutions to discuss reviewing your facility for ADA accessibility concerns.  We provide cost-effective action plans to get your facilities compliant that increase the customer loyalty.

Disability Smart Solutions is full-service ADA Consulting firm offering ADA Compliance Access Surveys, Project Consultation, Post-Compliance Audits, All-Ability Customer Service Training, Undercover Disabled Guest Mystery Shopping, Universal Design Product Review and Keynote Speaking.  Please contact us to review your accessibility needs.

  1. Inspect your building for ADA violations
  2. Recommend the changes that need to be made
  3. Recommend how to make the changes
  4. Review the completed changes to make sure that they are completed correctly
  5. Enhance the customer experience
  6. Train your key people
  7. Limit your exposure to ADA lawsuits


Universal Design, Tips for Aging In Place in Your Own Home

Senior Housing
Plan now for your future by incorporating Universal Design and Ageing-In-Place ideas into your home

How does Universal Design help people  Age-In- Place in their own home?

At the beginning of the 21st century, those aged 65 or over made up five per cent of the population, in 20 years’ time, this proportion will rise to around 18 million, according to the Office of National Statistics.

Across the globe the number of those aged over 60 will nearly triple by 2050, rising to 2.4 billion, up from 894 million in 2010.

Universal Design is the principle of designing spaces for maximum usability for  people living with disabilities, of varying size or limited mobility.  There are no specific codes for Universal Design.  There are suggestions. Universal design is not law, it is a way of viewing how things work in our world.  These design principles compensate for a reduced range of motion, reduced sight, reduced sound and reduced strength.  Many universal design inventions were originally developed for military use.

Universal design solutions make life easier for people  with mobility, agility, balance and coordination differences.   Successful universal design creates a barrier-free living environment.

Since no two individuals are alike, no code solves every situation.  Everyone needs to be their own advocate for their individual abilities and aging in place.  Homes must be designed for the individual user’s unique capabilities.  There is no “one size fits all” solution. Children grow and adults change.

Consider designing  your next home with the future in mind. When selecting a designer for a home where you intend to “Age-In-Place,” find one who listens to YOU.   There are many CAPS certified designers and builders, but not all of them are looking at the individual’s needs. Explore options and solutions.  Create a design that gives you maximum ability within the constraints of your budget.   Strive for safety.  When people feel safe in their home, they gain self-confidence and increase independence.

Design Smart Solutions, with over 30+ years in the architectural design industry,  knows that great design solutions are limitless.

What is the Difference between Universal Design and ADA, the American Disabilities Act?

The American Disabilities Act provides legal guidelines for designing public buildings and space that accommodate the disabled.  The guidelines are a minimum standard based on the general population.

Universal Kitchen DesignUniversal Design is not law.  It is a free-thinking way of creating design solutions to address individual challenges. Universal Design and Ease Of Use design decisions can ease the transition as we age or suffer from injuries affecting our mobility.

None of us want to admit that someday we will be old and our bodies will not be as quick, our eyes not as focused and our reflexes not as sharp.  The home we live in and our reaction to it will change.

Our homes will either enhance our ability to live by our own choices or force us to move.  By planning ahead during construction, with a few Universal Design tips, we can all extend the time we remain in our own homes.

Doors, Windows and Hallways, Universal Design Tips

  1. Have a covered outdoor entryway.
  2. Allow space for a future ramp.
  3. Minimize the front threshold.
  4. Make sure that there is at least one step-free entry into the home with easy access to the driveway
  5. Install 3′-0″ wide doors with lever door knobs throughout the house.
  6. Do not block doorways.
  7. Consider a 3′-0″ out-swinging or 6′-0″ sliding glass exterior door in a downstairs Accessible Guest Suite for easy emergency medical support access.
  8. Consider 3′-0″ pocketing doors or 6′-0″ bi-pass doors on closets.
  9. Make all Hallways a minimum of 5′-0″ wide and use the extra space for bookshelves, a computer desk, or display furniture until a time when you need the additional access space.
  10. Make sure that windows are easy to open and easy to lock.
  11. Install towel bars that are rated as pull bars.
  12. Install 48″ high robe hook and towel bars near the shower.
  13. Consider towel bars that are also grab bars.
  14. Install a shower curtain rod or create an open shower area.  Avoid tight glass shower enclosures.
  15. Create a shower without a step.
  16. Install a comfortable seat in the shower.
  17. Install soap and shampoo niches near the shower seat.
  18. Install a hand held shower that mounts on a slide bar.
  19. Consider installing a blow drying machine to dry your entire body.
  20. Check the size of a step in bath tub with the door that closes after you enter the tub.  Many people do not like having to sit in the tub while it fills and then again while it drains.
  21. Add an instant hot water heater by your bathroom.
  22. Install lever faucets at sinks with pull out sprayers.
  23. Consider a heat lamp if you chill easily.
  24. Consider radiant floors for heat
  25. Add a large linen closet with a 3′-0″ wide door in the bathroom for large towels and personal products.

First Floor Guest Suite, Universal Design


  1. If you sleep upstairs, design a first floor Guest Suite large enoughIMG_4274 for a full size bed, large chair and dresser with a minimum of 4′-0″ clear on all sides and 5′-0″ clear on the closet side, exit door side and direct access to a 3 foot wide pocketing  bathroom door.
  2. The bathroom with this suite should be accessible.
  3. The entrance to this bedroom should be easily accessible for medical personnel.

Bathrooms, Universal Design

  1. Have the Builder put wood bracing behind the drywall and tile in
    Aging In Place and Universal Design Solutions for Homes
    Aging In Place and Universal Design Solutions for Homes

    the bathroom walls for future grab bar locations.

  2. On the first floor, have a roll-in curbless  shower without a step or lip (slope floor to drain in at least one bathroom).
  3. This shower should be a minimum of 5′-0″ wide by 4′-0″ deep.
  4. This shower could be located near a Guest Suite or used as the Pool Bath.
  5. Consider multiple shower heads.
  6. Have a hand held shower head mounted on a slide bar, with a separate valve to control it from a seated position.
  7. Install lever faucets in this bathroom and an adjustable handheld shower head.  Do the closed fist test, by seeing if you can turn the water on and off with a closed fist.
  8. Provide a toilet in the same bathroom with a 3′-0″ clear empty space next to it for transferring.
  9. Install comfort level toilets.
  10. Install a bidet if you have space.
  11. Consider a water wand at the toilet if there is no room for a bidet.

 Floors, Steps and Stairs, Universal Design

  1. Select slip-resistant flooring that is comfortable.Solar Step Lights
  2. Limit stairs.  Design stairs wide enough to fit a future chair lift.
  3. Consider building a 5 x 5 closet on the first floor with a 5 x 5 closet above, for a future elevator.
  4. Minimize changes in floor level throughout the home and outdoor spaces.
  5. Anywhere that there is a step-down, select two different colors of flooring material.
  6. Minimize any step down to the garage.  Provide enough clear floor space for a future ramp.
  7. Make sure that there is adequate space in the garage to maneuver a wheelchair with an assistant around a parked vehicle.
  8. Add extra lighting to the Garage for maximum visibility.
  9. If you need to walk through a Laundry Room to access the garage, make sure that it is large enough for both a wheelchair to turn around in and clothes hampers on the floor.

Lighting and Electrical, Universal Design

  1. Automate Lighting Systems.DSSoutlets
  2. Maximize natural light.
  3. Locate extra security system and lighting controls in the rooms where you plan to spend most of your time.
  4. Install adequate lighting throughout the home for safety and visibility.
  5. Locate electrical service boxes, security boxes, main water disconnect valve and any system controls that you might need to access in an emergency, where they can be comfortably reached from a sitting position. 42″ to 48″ off of the floor.
  6. Make sure that the thermostat is not higher than 48″ off the floor.
  7. Make sure that electrical outlets are 18″ to 24″ off of the floor.
  8. Make sure that all switches are easy to reach from a seated position.
  9. Consider easy touch lighting and electrical switches.
  10. Install task lighting in all areas.
  11. Make sure that kitchen some electrical outlets can be reached from a seated position.
  12. install flood lights on all corners of the outside of the house.  Have them on timers.

Kitchen & Laundry, Universal Design

  1. Create work areas in the kitchen. Accessible Microwave Oven
  2. Install pull out racks and drawers in base cabinets.
  3. Keep everyday storage at waist level.
  4. Install dishwasher drawers.
  5. Add a 9″ high kick plate under a standard size dishwasher.
  6. Install a Microwave drawer.
  7. Add under counter safety lighting.
  8. Bring outlets to the front of the cabinets for easy reach.
  9. Leave a minimum of 48″ clearance between surfaces in kitchen aisles.
  10. Buy a front-loading washer and dryer set and mount them on a Accessible Laundry Roompedestal.
  11. Consider an adjustable height sink that raises and lowers at the push of a button.
  12. Consider an adjustable height range that raises and lowers at the push of a button.
  13. Buy a side by side refrigerator freezer.
  14. Provide a pull out shelf below a wall oven door
  15. Use “D” shape cabinet pull handles.
  16. Have multi-level countertops for different tasks.
  17. Use light colored countertops to make items easier to see.
  18. Use easy slide and close drawers.
  19. Use a 3′-0″ pocket door on the pantry.
  20. Mount wall ovens at a height where they can be reached from a seated position.
  21. Add an instant hot water faucet at the sink.
  22. Install a pull out flexible faucet at the kitchen sink and laundry sink.
  23. Select  lever faucets.
  24. Locate the faucets to the side of the sink for easier reach.
  25. Put lockable caster wheels on a kitchen island for flexible space.

We are team builders. Disability Smart Solutions has the knowledge, innovation, imagination and collaborative partners to create successful inclusive solutions. Please call us if you have any Universal Design questions, require assistance with universal design or would like us to speak about Universal Design and Aging In Place at your event. Please contact us to enhance your employee and customer engagement with both the aging and disabled populations.


  1. Inspect your building for ADA violations
  2. Recommend the changes that need to be made
  3. Recommend how to make the changes
  4. Review the completed changes to make sure that they are completed correctly
  5. Enhance the customer experience
  6. Train your key people
  7. Limit your exposure to ADA lawsuits