If you rely on a wheelchair to get around, you know how much of an issue just going to your neighborhood grocery store can be, never mind traveling even more extensively. Whether you use a manual wheelchair or a “Rascal” style wheelchair, it can be frustrating finding accessible entrances, facilities, and other ways to enter and exit. While you cannot change the structure of your intended destinations, there are still some things that you can do to make traveling much more convenient for yourself.
Your wheelchair, whether motorized or manually powered, needs to be serviced regularly. If it has been a while since you last had it serviced, consider having it done before embarking on extensive travel. While this extra effort may seem like a pain, it will likely prevent you from having to deal with breakdowns while traveling.
If you are traveling domestically and must surrender your wheelchair at any point (such as for a flight) make sure to label your chair with your name and address. When traveling internationally, be sure to also include your country and contact number at your destination. If you use a motorized chair that has pneumatic wheels, make sure to bring any tools necessary to repair flat tires. Often a bicycle repair shop will have all the necessary materials. While it is possible to get repairs in other areas, they can be more difficult to find and less easily accessible than local shops you that you may already be familiar with.
Also think strongly about bringing a portable wheelchair ramp with you. These allow for easy elevation to areas that you might not be able to enter without one. Many of them are designed to fold up and can be carried just like a suitcase.
Just because you are wheelchair bound does not mean you cannot go on a cruise. In some situations, a cruise ship may require disembarkation by “tender.” This means that the cruise ship anchors up to ½ mile from the shore, and a smaller boat is used to bring people to the pier. There is no standardization when it comes operating a tender and all cruise lines handle it differently, but most can assist wheelchair-bound passengers during the process. Double check this with your travel agent.
Other situations allow the cruise ship to disembark directly at a pier. If you occasionally use a wheelchair but are generally mobile, you can request assistance with walking down the gangplank while a steward brings your wheelchair. If you are not mobile, the crew typically is trained to be able to carry you down the gangplank in your wheelchair. The third option uses a device known as a “creepy crawler.” It is a motorized device that mounts under your wheelchair and walks you down the gangplank.
If you are traveling in a motorized wheelchair, you will need to transfer to a manual wheelchair before embarking or disembarking the ship, whether by tender or pier disembarkation.
To alleviate any stress, start by confirming your flight with the airline and reconfirm that you are wheelchair bound. Be sure to mention this when purchasing your ticket too so that they can choose an appropriate seat on the plane. Ask the person at the ticket counter to gate check your wheelchair. This ensures that you can roll directly up to your flight and then either walk to your seat or receive an aisle chair which will assist you to your seat.
When handing your chair over at the gate check, make sure to remove the leg supports and any other non-necessary parts. Bring a bag just large enough to fit them into your carry-on luggage. Bring a strap to keep your wheelchair in the collapsed position. This will help to make sure that your wheelchair does not get damaged while stowed.
If you are traveling with a motorized wheelchair, take all of the applicable measures listed above, in addition, try to travel with a scooter that uses dry cell batteries, as wet cell batteries need to be removed from the scooter and stored in a container. This could lead to unintended damage. Make sure to remove any accessories like storage baskets before handing your scooter over to be checked. Restrict your throttle control to the slowest speed to prevent the employee who checks your scooter from careening out of control. Finally, if possible, remove your joystick control before boarding the plane. Joysticks can be easily damaged during storage.
Lastly, bon voyage, and have a great trip!