Pack your bags and set out on your
next adventure By Rachelle Friedman
Don't think that travel is impossible because of a disability. I was so nervous leaving my home and getting onto a plane for the first time after my injury, but I've had some amazing experiences in the years since. Here are my tips to travel smoothly.
- Transportation: Before deciding on a destination, explore all your options. The easiest: a location where you can simply walk or roll to the local attractions. If that's not possible, research other available options like public transportation and taxis. If you’re traveling in Canada or the US, you might refer to rent an accessible vehicle – if you’re going farther afield, you’ll need to see what’s available. And don't forget to pack your parking card with you!
- Hotel: I have learned that simply asking customer service if the hotel is wheelchair accessible is not good enough. How wide are the doors? Is there a roll-in shower? How high is the bed? How heavy is the room door? Are there stairs to get to the pool, beach or other guest areas? You need to ask very specific questions. If you need to rearrange room furniture to get around more easily, go for it. Most hotels want to accommodate you.
- Accessibility: If you have help from a caregiver or family member your options increase exponentially. When I went to Fiji on my honeymoon, I knew I was attempting a trip to a location that didn't exactly cater to wheelchair users. But my husband Chris can pick me up, wheel me through rough terrain, and pop me over curbs. I found the staff to be the most helpful group of people I'd ever encountered! They helped carry me on and off boats and even wheeled me over the cobblestones when Chris was on a snorkeling excursion. If you are looking to explore independently then you need to check out each attraction, restaurant, or recreational facility that you plan to visit. Cruises are often the go-to plan for people with disabilities. The ships are accessible and easy to exit when they port at a destination.
- Packing: I was never much of a list maker before my injury, but with so many things to pack that influence my health and wellbeing, I make sure not to take any chances. There are two things that I depend on: my medication and my leg and overnight drainage bags that I use with my supra pubic catheter. I literally can't function without these things. I also put these items in a carry-on just in case my luggage is lost. It's OK to over-pack medical supplies in case of an emergency. I also pack my medical necessities in their own bag. Remember, if you are flying you shouldn't have to pay to check any medical items, so make sure that the bag check personnel are aware of this
- The Plane: Many times, airline staff is oblivious to the protocols associated with boarding a passenger with a disability. When you arrive at the gate, make sure to check in with the staff to let them know what your needs are. If you need an aisle chair, make sure they are aware well in advance of boarding. When you have a layover, remember you will need to gate check your wheelchair so that it is waiting for you when you land at your layover destination. If you use a power chair, unplug the battery, put it in neutral and remove the joystick if you can. Also, inquire about seat options. I always let them know that I’d prefer a seat closer to the front of the plane and sometimes they are able to accommodate that request. I like the window seat so people don't have to climb over me. Remember, you should board first. If you use an aisle chair then you should be the very first person on that plane. No one wants to be carted down the aisle in front of other passengers.
Traveling with a disability can seem beyond challenging. The travel industry has evolved to provide many more accessible options and sites like disabledtravelers.com and travability.travel have a lot of useful information to help you plan the perfect trip.
Rachelle Friedman is a c6 quadriplegic who was paralyzed at her bachelorette party in 2010 during innocent horseplay by the pool. Her story went international and has been featured on the Today Show, CNN, HLN, MSNBC, Vh1 and other media outlets. Since then she has become a motivational speaker, blogger and ambassador for the spinal cord injury community. Visit rachellefriedman.com to read more about Rachelle's story and to connect with her on twitter on Facebook.
Video: this is from Rachelle’s website – the video on the right
A beautiful wedding, a dream honeymoon
“Don't ever think that travel isn't possible because of a disability.”
These resources have lots more great tips.