Travel Tips For Happy Traveling!

Posted by Candace Cable in Life After Paralysis on December 15, 2015 # Mobility, Travel

'Tis the season for spirited holiday travel to spend precious moments celebrating with family and friends and that requires some planning no matter where we are going. But planning for bouncing along the highways, clicking along train tracks or zipping through airports into the wide blue yonder can swiftly develop into slow, tedious torture for anyone without a little guidance. So to help cut down on the dread I've gathered some ideas to consider and actions to take that can keep our festive holiday spirit intact, not matter what the circumstances.

For people with any type of disability, planning a journey can be the cruelest abuse because the world still hasn't caught-up with a standard concept of Universal Design, the type of design that includes and meets everyone's needs, everywhere, which means you never know what to expect.

So until that time comes people with disabilities have to use all their resources. And that includes exercising patience navigating websites and during phone conversations as well as possibly imparting some disability awareness knowledge along the way.

It's important to devise a plan "A" and "B" this will help maintain a feeling of being in control in, out of your control situations. And don't forget to put your adventure hat and fun scarf on; the weather can change from sunny to dark as pitch in a moment's notice.

There are quite a few websites and travel blogs that focus on travel destinations with vetted access and options for people with disabilities. I'm listing a few of those sites here, but any search on the internet using key words, such as accessible travel or disabled travel will pull up ideas for friendly destinations information gathering.

Here are a few ideas for research, wheelchair and have wheelchair will travel. If you have any to share in the comments, please do! Now once your destination is settled upon, the question remains, what mode of travel to choose for the distance to be traveled?

The least amount of hassle and greatest control over my personal environment comes with driving a vehicle where I'm headed. When driving, I won't have to be mindful of baggage limitations or what snacks and drinks I'm carrying. If I can stuff it in the car, it goes. I can bring a friend at no cost and there are no security lines or checks.

The downside of a road trip is time, weather and energy. Driving across the country will take days and keep me up-close and personal with any and all weather "events" along the way. And then there is questions I have to ask myself, how much energy will this trip take, to take? Both time and energy are in short supply as I age with a disability, so these are real considerations that will limit precious time with my family and friends.

OK, so maybe taking a train across the plains to Grandma's house is a possibility. There's not much worry about weather or energy expenditures, but time will still be a big issue. Train travel in the U.S. is super slow, lots of stops and there's a possibility of changing of trains in route. Trains are the way to go for uninterrupted relaxation and quality book time, but don't plan to book the reservation online, you will need to call Amtrak to arrange accessible discounts and seating because not all train cars have accessible seating.

Platform access to board the train, in many stations can be an issue for wheelchair users. All stations have ramps and lifts, but they need to know 24 to 48 hours ahead, to make ready the necessary arrangements with an SSR code, a Special Service Request. These codes are put in your PNR, a Passenger Name Record and sent ahead so that travel is seamless.

But as you travel, keep reminding the conductor and asking for what you need, I have friends that have been forgotten on trains. The communication systems are still messy on trains as well as planes. The SSR codes help get needs met, but they are not fool proof. The speedy travel options of trains and planes create more actions to be taken by the system managers and sometimes are forgotten.

Once on board the lavatory in the accessible train car is semi-accessible if your wheelchair is medium sized, about 18 inch seat width or less. Also the seats are quite large and comfy if you want to transfer into one and have your chair locked down or you can stay in your chair. Keep in mind the direction the train is traveling when choosing a seat if you have any motion sickness.

Carry snacks and water because concessions on most trains are up a flight of stairs. The Conductor is required to fetch them for someone with a disability, but these folks are a challenge to connect with in route and a wheelchair can't pass through the narrow walkways from car to car. Keep all your personal items with you, as well as your bags, if you can. The train is a bit like the Wild, Wild, West, not very much security when comes to who and what rides.

Speaking of rides, service animals (SA) can travel on trains and planes, but they must follow three components to ride, be potty trained (there are pet relief areas along both routes), under control of the handler (no eating people food, jumping up or barking at people and able to obey commands) and trained to preform a task for the handler. Service animals are dogs or miniature horses, only.

OK, so it's time to fly. The paragraph above goes for the airports and airlines when speaking about SA, with one change, the airlines also take emotional support animals (ESA). The ESA is required to adhere to the same restrictions as a SA, but these animals need a note from the doctor as to why this animal is needed.

Again, if making reservations on line, many times a phone call to get the correct SSR's in your PNR will be needed. I know, I know, it's a hassle but it's all about the follow-up when it comes to traveling with a disability. The more PWD travel and are seen and heard from the faster the systems will change and offer equal service for everyone.

OK, dreaded TSA security and a word about TSA Pre, it costs money to get into that system and consistent treatment will NOT happen for someone using a wheelchair, every airport is different. Most don't require laptops and liquids to be removed for screening and more likely, a person that cannot walk will get a full pat down. Is TSA Pre worth it? I fly just about twice a month and I haven't shelled out the dough, yet, but I'm going to because I think it helps cut the time it takes to go through security. Check the website TSA Cares for more information on security screening.

A word of caution when traveling, keep a copy of your ID in someplace, other than your wallet and purse, so you can access if you lose your wallet. A prescription bottle, with your name on it, will do in place of a lost ID, in a pinch. Also think about something with your name and contact information on it placed inside, as well as on out side of your luggage.

The laws that govern air travel, specifically airplanes, are not the ADA, Americans with Disabilities Act. In the airport the is ADA enforceable but once I'm across the threshold of that metal projectile called an airplane, it's ACAA, Air Carriers Access Act all the way and they have some differences that you should know, so take the time to review them.

It is not required that you are pre-boarded, it's up to you. When the aisle chair service provider arrives to assist me, I ask the gate agent to give us a few minutes to board the aircraft and to please come check on us before they begin boarding the other passengers. This way I don't feel rushed and on display as people line up to board the plane and I'm still making a move to get seated on the aisle chair.

When interacting with the service providers, tell them what you can do and what you will need help with. If they are doing something that is incorrect, tell them. You can hop in the aisle chair anywhere on the jet way, it's up to you. I ask them to strap my legs first, before any of the other straps go on. As passengers with disabilities we have to be vocal about our needs.

It's our choice where we want to sit. The only seats we as passengers with a disability, have a right to sit in are seats that have armrests that lift up for easy access. Once I am seated, I sit back and relax to enjoy the ride. I started traveling with the Bose noise cancelling ear buds and they are so worth the price. They reduce the stress I get from flying and I am rested even after trans Atlantic flights.

I wish you all safe and easy travels, wherever and however you travel. Please remember to be proactive, speak up early and often, take names when there is problem and file the complaint properly. Enjoy your Ride and Bon Voyage!!

Blessing to All, in joy, Candace

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The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.