The Disabled Wheelchair Traveller - Holiday Tips
As an abled bodied person before my accident, I travelled the world, without even thinking of the access issues facing disabled people who would wish to do the same journey as I was. But when you’re abled bodied, you just don’t think of access issues until it affects you.
I have therefor put together some travel tips which will hopefully help in planning a holiday for a wheelchair user. Most of the tips are common sense, but there may be a few you hadn’t thought of!
Locations & Hotels
Select the area you wish to visit.
Find out if the area is flat, if you’re going to Monte Carlo, you had better have arms like a bull wrestler! Why pick a location on a hillside, if there is a hotel two minutes away which is on the flat.
Contact the hotel by telephone to check if they have disabled rooms. Many hotels now have a website which will tell you this, but send them an email anyway, you will then have written confirmation if you get there and they try to pass you off denying knowledge that you are in a wheelchair.
Ask for a disabled room on the lowest floor in case of an emergency. Lifts are often turned off in a fire.
Be sure when you email the hotel about the disabled room to state your wheelchair width, and ask them to confirm their door widths. There’s no point in getting there if you can’t get through the door. Get the hotel to confirm the bathroom door widths as well.
If the disabled room has a roll-in shower, ask if they have a shower wheelchair as well. If they don’t, you may have to improvise. If you have a manual chair, wrap your cusion in a bin liner, and put a bin liner over your backrest to keep it dry. You can then use your wheelchair as a showerchair, but be carefull, as soapy water on bin liners will make your chair very slippery to sit on.
Warning - You must only try showering in your wheelchair as a last resort and at your own risk, and never attempt this in an electric powered chair for risk of damaging the circuits in your chair and/or getting an electric shock.
Ask the hotel what the check in and check out times are. If your plane doesn’t take off until 22.00hrs, but check out time is 10.00hrs, see if you can get an extension on your room. At least then you can freshen up, or have a lay down before your journey.
If you book your hotel directly by telephone, email the hotel and ask them to confirm your booking by sending you a booking confirmation reference code. This will be evidence of your booking when you get there, just in case for some reason the hotel denies a booking was made, it can happen.
Flights & Travel
Warning - not all airline companies are equal when it comes to the disabled traveler.
Search the internet for customer reviews and airline lifting policies before you book with an airline. The reason I say this, is because if you need lifting into your plane seat, not all airlines are prepared to do this. For example, Air New Zealand will not lift a disabled passenger into their seat on internal flights (even though they were one of the official sponsors of the 2004 Paralympics!). Quantas however will help and offer excellent service.
Try to book a seat with extra leg room, behind the bulkhead, as it makes transferring/lifting into your seat alot easier.
Check with the airline to see if they have pre-flight boarding. This will mean you get on the plane before everyone else, and not be caught up in the mad rush for seats and overhead baggage space.
Take your cusion on the plane to sit on, if you are on an international flight of long duration, the last thing you want is a pressure sore.
Sometimes on international flights you may be able to get an upgrade on your flight. You will have to be first in the que at check-in though, so get there early. An upgrade is when the airline have not filled all the seats in first class, or business class, and if you are lucky, they will let you sit there instead of economy class.
if you have to sit in a normal seat on the plane, try to book a window seat. Once you are seated you will not be getting up, and if someone next to you wants to get up and you are in an isle seat, they may have to climb over you to get out!. On a 7 hour journey, this can be a real pain! Also, the window will give you something to lean against if you wish to sleep, and something for you to brace yourself against when the plane brakes during landing.
Medication & Mobility
Some airlines will require a “fit to travel certificate” from your doctor, and a letter to say you are taking specific drugs. The letter from your doctor may come in handy if you are stopped by customs as well if you are on powerful medication.
Make sure you have travel insurance, and shop around for the best price. Also read the small print, and if in doubt, check with the insurance company before you sign with them that they will cover you for your condition. Check your home insurance will cover your wheelchair as a separate item if taken on holiday.
Two weeks before you travel, make sure you have all your medical supplies you will need, and take extra supplies for unforeseen circumstances.
Make sure your wheelchair has had a good service, and that you have a puncture kit with you. If you are going to an area which has alot of nightlife, it may be worthwhile fitting puncture proof tyres to your chair. Clubs and nightlife always means there will be broken glass on the paths!
Make sure you take a spare pair of pushing gloves with you, you would be suprised how quickly they wear out with all that extra pushing.
Double check with the airline that they will allow a battery operated wheelchair in their plane hold. Some airlines do not allow certain batteries in their planes due to leakage.
Check to see if the transfer bus from the airport to the hotel has a wheelchair lift, if not, you may need to organise a taxi.
When packing your bags, be sure to put two days of medication and bowel/bladder care packs in your hand luggage. If your cases go missing, you will at least have some supplies until you can get your cases back, or find a pharmacy.
If you use a catheter, always pack a replacement in your hand luggage, as well as a night bag. You may need to empty your legbag on the plane, and a nightbag is the easiest method.
Remember to pack some immodium or other anti-diahrea tablets. Hopefully you will not need them, but it’s better to be safe. Also, only drink bottled fluids, never drink tap water. Make sure food is ok to eat when on holiday, if in doubt, leave it. If you get an upset stomach it can put you in bed for two or three days, so you get diarrhea, get a doctor immediately to give you something to stop it, and remember to drink plenty of bottled water to avoid dehydration.
Remember to pack your suncream as you may not feel yourself burning in hot conditions. Sunstroke and heatstroke are the most common forms of illness when traveling to a hot destination. If you do get too hot, apply an icepack to the back of the neck, and drink plenty of cold fluids. Also remember to eat regularly, it helps your body cope with the heat better.
If you are going to a cold destination, be sure to wear thermal socks, frostbite is a very real possibility in someone with a spinal cord injury due to lack of sensation and bloodflow in the legs and feet. Drink plenty of hot fluids, and eat hot meals on a regular basis to help your body maintain it’s temperature.
The above travel tips are not conclusive, but they should help you when planning your holiday.
And don't forget, have a good time!