Written by: Kim Lathrop, Information & Advocacy Specialist, California Foundation for Independent Living Centers
It’s that time of year again where we spend the holidays with those who are near and dear to our hearts. For those who have family members far away or who want to skip town and go on an adventure, making sure you are prepared for traveling is inevitable. If you are a wheelchair user like myself, organizing a trip takes a little more planning than what most people are used to. Whether you are traveling by plane or in a car I wanted to share my top five travel tips for other wheelchair users traveling this holiday season.
1. Scheduling Care: The most important thing for me, because I require personal care attendants (PCAs) for most of the day is making sure I have scheduled my PCA’s as available to accompany me on a trip before I proceed with making other plans.
2. Contacting the Airlines for Accommodations: If I travel by plane I will always call the airlines ahead of time to let them know I will be flying with my power wheelchair. Each airline has different procedures when it comes to how they will handle an individual’s wheelchair. For example, Southwest Airlines has what is called a “can”. A can is essentially a metal container that my wheelchair is placed inside of to protect it from any damage that is caused from luggage underneath the plane. Calling ahead of time prepares the airlines for your arrival.
3. Bring a Backup Wheelchair: Whether I am traveling by car or plane, I always bring my manual wheelchair in case of an emergency. If my power chair breaks down or malfunctions, it is so important to have a back-up wheelchair because I am not close to home.
4. Making Sure the Hotel or Destination is Accessible: I call the location I am staying at ahead of time to make sure it is wheelchair accessible. If I am staying at a hotel, I prefer corporate hotels because they are required to make accessible room accommodations under federal regulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
5. Researching Accessible Excursions: I have been on vacations where I was not included in some of the activities that were planned. This left me feeling very left out. Now when I am going on a trip I research the area for accessible and inclusive activities.
Please keep in mind that these tips are what I find helpful when I travel, so they may not pertain to everyone. I believe the most important tip of all is to advocate for yourself and lay out what your needs are so they can be included during the vacation planning process. I hope these tips were helpful. Safe travels and Happy Holidays!