Tips for Traveling in a Wheelchair
For many people, there’s no experience that compares to traveling the world. It’s invigorating, recharges you, opens your eyes to new and exotic cultures and food, and renews your spirit.
However, if you require a wheelchair to get around, traveling may seem a daunting or near impossible feat. Outside of the controlled environment of your home, work and school, where those exotic foods and sights worth traveling exist, the roads may not be paved. Even in urban destinations, the accessibility may be sub-par.
Unfortunately, not all cities and destinations around the world have the same regulations as the U.S. that ensure any one, regardless of their abilities, can access stores, restaurants, restrooms and public attractions. Curbs may not be cut, airline attendants may be inexperienced in handling wheelchairs and scooters, public restrooms may not be wheelchair accessible, and ancient tourist sights cannot be altered for wheelchair accessibility.
Despite that, travel is still very much a possibility for wheelchair and scooter users. When you’re ready to travel, here’s the research you should do before jetting off.
Make sure the hotel you’ll be staying is wheelchair accessible. Check their website or call the hotel to make sure that there’s not only wheelchair access in and out of the hotel, but that your room can also accommodate your needs.
Also, look into attractions in the city you’d like to see and restaurants where you’d like to dine. When you call ahead to make reservations, find out if they’re accessible to wheelchair users.
You should also consider inquiring about transportation services such as taxis, buses and shuttles – ask about possible airlift assistance, elevators and ramps.
Before you leave, you should have a repair service check your wheelchair to ensure it’s in good working condition. If there are any broken or repairable parts that need to be serviced will be taken care of before you leave, eliminating potential delays or setbacks during your travels. If you use a wheelchair with pneumatic tires, it’s a good idea to pack a travel-size repair kit complete with tools and materials to change a flat.
If you’re going on a cruise, the ships tend to be readily accessible to wheelchair users. It’s getting on and off the ship that may pose difficulties. They usually use ferry services to transport their passengers to and from shore when they’re anchored at sea. The process of disembarking a ship onto a small boat to get to shore is called “tendering.” During a tender operation the ship is not at a pier and can be as far as a half mile from shore. Not all ferry services are equipped with lifts or ramps to help lower wheelchairs onto the carrier. Ask if the ship has these available. If not, ask if they use any other methods to assist wheelchair users off the ship – disembarking by tender is handled differently by every cruise line but most provide plenty of physical assistance to carry your wheelchair onto the tender.
If you’re flying, you typically can use your own wheelchair as far as the boarding point of the plane, where you’ll transfer to a special aisle chair. If you can walk a short distance, request an aisle seat near the entrance. Since flight times, numbers and seating arrangements can change on a whim, confirm your flights with your airline carrier within 24 to 48 hours of your departure. You should also notify the airline about your disability, the kind of wheelchair you have and any other equipment you need to be transported when you arrive – this will help the crew be prepared when you arrive.
You can also request a gate check in order to load your wheelchair directly to the plane’s fuselage. If you do this, remove all detachable parts before it’s stored and label the chair with your name and address and destination airport as a precaution against loss or damage.
All of the planning and confirming before your trip may seem like a hassle, but when you’re ready to hit the road, take to the skies, or the high seas, you’ll feel well-informed and know what you’re getting into, and what you might expect once you get there. The research and work planning the trip will ensure you hit less snags and delays sorting out issues, meaning you’ll be able to thoroughly enjoy your trip.
Photo from Seable.