Traveling with a Disability
Having a disability can make travel a challenge.
As challenging as it may seem, there are world travelers who are quadriplegics. One of the more famous ones was Kirk Kilgour, a UCLA volleyball player, sports commentator and motivational speaker who reportedly made over 200 plane trips as a quadriplegic, some of which were international.
The following are some tips to help traveling with a disability to be smoother sailing.
1. Plan. The number one thing to do before any trip is plan. Plan again. And plan again. Murphy’s law loves people with disabilities, but many times the law can be defeated just through pre-planning. Think about every aspect of life, but start with ground transportation at each destination point. A couple national wheelchair van rental companies are Wheelchair Getaways (http://www.wheelchairgetaways.com) and Wheelers (http://wheelersvanrentals.com). Also, make sure you develop back-up plans for any equipment that may break down or be damaged during transport.
2. Research. Many hotels advertise handicap accessible rooms, but there are many definitions of “handicap accessible.” Unfortunately a room that has a door wide enough for a wheelchair and also has stabilizing bars in the bathroom is the typical definition. A phone call to the hotel to confirm exact specifications and needs is warranted prior to making reservations. Searching TripAdvisor.com for handicap accessible rooms may provide a wealth information from previous travelers. If a suitable hotel cannot be located, begin looking for small assisted living facilities, nursing homes or hospitals who may have an extra room they would be willing to rent or can provide information. TravelinWheels.com offers accessibility guides for 14 U.S. cities plus London.
3. Know the numbers. The U.S. Department of Transportation has an airline complaint hotline in the event a person with a disability believes they have been or are being treated improperly. Calls may be made to 1-800-778-4838 (voice) or 1-800-455-9880 (TTY) to obtain assistance Monday through Friday 9 to 5 ET, except federal holidays.
4. Equipment needs. Most hotels do not have a means to lift someone onto a bed or into a bathtub and most hotel beds are placed on a box platform that does not allow a lift’s wheels to go underneath. But almost every town has a medical supply rental company that would be willing to rent a Hoyer lift and other devices as needed. Unfortunately some adaptation may be required to make a room suitable, such as placing the bed’s mattress on the floor, moving furniture around or even requesting that some furniture be removed from the room to allow space to move.
5. Phone calls. When placing reservations be sure to clearly explain any items that will be needed as well as any special accommodations. Wait a few days or until another shift is working, then call back to insure that the specifications were actually noted on the reservation by the call-taker.
Even in our modern society, some of the travel and hospitality industry has failed to keep pace with the desire of people with disabilities to travel. Although the industry is slowly catching up, travel may be challenging for many years to come, but that is not a reason to stay home. A good attitude, “going with the flow,” and lots of planning will help make the next trip a success.
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