by Alette Coble-Temple, PsyD
As Ms. Wheelchair California 2015, I am honored that I have been asked to blog for Ability Tools. As a woman with cerebral palsy, interdependence is a foundational aspect of my life. I achieve interdependence by using assistive technology, devices, and personal assistants. While I consider myself successful in navigating life with a disability, traveling has always presented itself with unique challenges. Typically, travel adventures have meant restricted levels of interdependence due to multiple barriers.
One of my biggest barriers while traveling has been the fact that I have had to use a manual wheelchair when flying. Yes, I know I could take my power chair, however that means putting faith into the airline companies that they can successfully load a 500 pound chair and not break any of the controls. After hearing so many horror stories from my friends, and waiting years for my Permobil wheelchair, I decided the risk was too great to take this aspect of interdependence on trips involving airline transportation. This meant, every time I flew somewhere, I was forced to use my manual wheelchair and rely on another person to push me from Point A to Point B. For 40 years, this was a constant struggle and frustration for me. While I appreciated seeing new places and exploring different cultures, I always felt as if traveling meant losing aspects of independence. I’m sure many of you can relate to the feelings of not being in control when other people are pushing your manual wheelchair. Some people push too fast, too slow, others bump into things or navigate the chair as if you are on the Indianapolis 500 Racecourse. Not to mention, the endless situations where you want to go in a different direction than the person pushing you.
Last year, while traveling to New York City, my husband and I noticed a woman in the hotel restaurant using a power wheelchair called Wheelchair88. We were struck by its’ compact size and sleek appearance. After striking up conversation with her, we learned that the chair only weighed 30 pounds and folds to be smaller than a stroller. The woman let me test-drive it around the hotel, and I was sold!
As soon as I returned home, I ordered my first Wheelchair88. Never in my life, have I received a chair 48 hours after ordering it! I was in a complete state of shock. All of a sudden, a new level of interdependence opened up for me. All my life, I have had to use my ramp-accessible van when going out in social situations, if I wanted to remain independent. Wheelchair88 offers me the choice to go in anyone’s car and the ability to navigate travel at my own pace. At work, when people invite me to join them for a lunch out, I am able to accept without having to make my own transportation arrangements. I am able to ride with the group, and no longer have to take non-inclusive accessible transportation services. My colleagues love that they can enjoy my presence and invite me into their vehicles.
In the past few months, I have flown extensively: Las Vegas, Atlanta, San Diego, Los Angeles, Mexico, and Washington DC. I have to say, besides my newfound interdependence with this equipment, my favorite part of using Wheelchair88 is watching airline personnel reaction to the chair. They watch in awe as the chair folded and placed in a travel bag for protection. They then enter a state of disbelief when they discover that it weighs only 30 pounds as they carry it to be stored in the cargo.
What tips do you have for increasing interdependence while traveling with a wheelchair?