Accessible Travel Series – Part I

I’m a world traveller and it just so happens that I travel in a wheelchair.

With or without a wheelchair, the best way to see a city is to take transit, get off in the heart of it, and wander around. I’ve lived in L.A., Atlanta, and Pakistan—so I’m not afraid of big cities or traffic. However, here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re planning a wheelchair accessible trip of your own.

Think “AAT”:  Airline, Accommodation, and Transportation

This seems pretty obvious, but it’s even more important for disabled travellers or their companions to consider when booking travel. Like many Canadian travellers close to the border, I find flying out of the States much cheaper. When I plan these trips, I like to drive myself to the airport because then I know exactly how I am going to get there and back, without worrying about accessibility. Unfortunately, Greyhound and Quick Shuttle are not very wheelchair friendly, so driving your own car makes sense. Take a bit of time to search for those extra services. When you’ve arrived at your destination, and get off the plane, how are you going to transfer to your hotel? What tours will you be taking? How will you get to the tour departure areas? Will the tour providers pick you up? Do they have accessible vehicles? How will you get back to the airport, and from the airport back home?

Accessible parking

Just like anyone else, I like a good bargain. I always look for long-term parking. The handicapped designated spots are wider than others and closer to the entrance. For example, the parking lot at SeaTac airport in Seattle has a shuttle bus with a lift and drops me off right at my car. When I fly back, I simply use the courtesy phone. If I have a good experience with a specific airline, then I’ll be a loyal customer; I appreciate nice people, general seating in the plane (first come first served) and good prices. If you have a favourite long term parking company or airline that you’ve dealt with that you think has great service, feel free to share it in the comment box below.

Take a Cruise

I love cruises! I’ve been to Alaska, the South Caribbean and the Nile. Cruises are a great way to travel in a wheelchair. Cruise ships already cater to travellers with accessibility, mobility and health needs. When I book a cruise, I always ask for an accessible room. These rooms are slightly bigger and have an accessible bathroom including a roll-in shower, hand rails and anti-slip/anti-fall flooring. Dining is also well set-up for wheelchairs, and I can take full advantage of all the entertainment, services and shows too. My Alaska cruise was my first King Crab “experience”. I loved dipping the giant legs in garlic butter! It was definitely worth the money for the seafood alone.

Philae Temple River Cruise
Me on the Philae Temple river cruise watching the sunset

Have fun:

I don’t see myself as having a disability; I’d rather see it as an ability to enjoy life. I find humour wherever I go- even in the airport. I remember arriving at Chicago O’Hare and heading down the long corridors; I rolled my chair onto the moving walkway and heard the constant drone of “keep walking, keep walking, keep walking…” I thought that was funny- it should have been “keep rolling, keep rolling, keep rolling”! I love those moving walkways- getting on and off of them in my chair is fun. I’m like a kid at the airport.

Maid of the Mist Toronto
On the Maid of the Mist – Niagara Falls

Always keep these tips in mind too, when planning a wheelchair accessible trip:

  • Look for and expect extra services. Remember, there should be no extra cost to you to book accessible travel or rooms.
  • Speak up! Don’t be afraid to tell them what you need- you might even get upgraded!
  • And lastly, choose a great travel companion.

Until next time,

Tabassum

World traveller and Claims Examiner

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