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Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Joys of Traveling as a Disabled Person




I love to travel and considered myself a ‘road worrier’ during most of my career. I found traveling fun despite some of the challenges that we all encounter as part of the process.  Today, airports are getting bigger, so the distance between gates is longer. Also, flight schedules are tighter so getting from one gate to another can be a challenge especially if your departing flight is late taking off.

As a newly disabled person, travel has changed for me.  Today I need to prepare more and be cognizant of how I will get to my gate when I arrive at the airport or get to baggage claim once I reach my destination. If my flight is not direct, I need to make sure I request a wheelchair to take me to my next gate as the distance between gates in most airports can be quite long.  

I was recently introduced to a reporter from the Wall Street Journal by a colleague. The reporter was doing a story on the fact that airports were getting bigger causing walks to gates to be up to a mile long which is causing challenges for all travelers. As part of this story, he wanted to include how airport expansions have impacted the elderly and the disabled. I was glad to talk to him as I had taken a few trips recently that opened my eyes to the challenges people have when traveling especially the elderly and the disabled. Here is the link to the article in the Wall Street Journal. 

As the article did not fully capture the points I felt were important, I thought I would share them in this week’s post as I realize travel is important to many people whether able-bodied or disabled.

One of the things I have learned as a newly disabled person, is that I can still travel, but I need to take the time to prepare and be alert for resources that allow me to navigate in a safe manner.  I felt this was an important post as many readers of Nurse Advocate are challenged by disabilities in one form or another. Other readers are healthcare professionals who can help their patients know some of the challenges they are going to face when they travel and how they can help them avoid problems by being prepared. Here are some of the tips that I have learned traveling as a newly disabled person.

The most important thing that I can recommend is to plan ahead and make a list of things you will need so you are safe and can continue your treatment during your journey.  Second is to make sure you give yourself plenty of time, so you do not feel rushed, can handle setbacks that occur. This will allow you to be prepared, decrease your anxiety and have good experience.

Traveling by air is an efficient way to get from one place to another. Most people prefer air travel if their destination is more than four hours from their starting point. If less than four hours, consider driving your car as it might be more effective and comfortable for you. Having your own vehicle allows you to stop when you want and be on your own schedule. 

Air travel for the elderly and the disabled can be a challenge but by preparing you can be assured you get the assistance you need. When you make your reservation online, you will see that most sites have an area that you can check if you need special assistance. If you do not see this on the web page, call the airlines. Recently, I flew American airlines and did not see a place on the website to check that I needed special assistance.  When I called the reservation line, the person told me, that they took that section off the website as they wanted people to call them with their special request.  I was able to tell the person I needed a wheelchair to get to my gate when I landed between stops.

If you are not able to handle your luggage, you can check it in when you arrive at the airport. This frees you up and makes the possibility of forgetting or losing something less. If you are carrying your bags onto the plane, make sure you are aware of the ‘rules’ and comply. On most planes, you can take one bag and one small carry-on onto the plane. If you are over the limit, you will have to check the extra bags so make sure you know the rules and comply. If you have medication, keep them in your carry-on in case your checked bags get separated or delayed.

As I have to wear leg braces to ambulate safely, I usually ask the TSA people if I need to remove the braces to go through security. Depending on the airlines and the security, they have allowed me to go through security without having to take them off. As the alarm usually is triggered, I usually have to get wanded, but because I arrived early enough, this extra procedure was not a problem. 

As a disabled person, most airlines allow you to board the plane early so you can get your luggage stored before general boarding. This is a help as many people need a little more time and by boarding early, you do not hold up the line as you get settled.

I have been impressed by the systems that the various airports have in place for people who need wheelchair assistance. Most times, my wheelchair is waiting for me when I deplane. The people pushing the wheelchairs are courteous and help you with your bags and make sure you get into the wheelchair safely.  On the way to the gate, I have been asked if I needed to use the ladies room before getting to my gate. I thought this was so thoughtful as I try not to use the restroom on the plane if possible. If the distance between gates is long, you might be greeted on arrival with a wheelchair but taken to a central point where you transfer to an electric cart. Again, most of the major airports have their systems down to a science and are efficient in getting people from one gate to another. It is customary to tip the wheelchair attendant for this service. If you are satisfied with the service, please be generous as these people work really hard. 

For those with ambulatory issues once seated, they are usually ok, but if a person has other needs such as oxygen, the stewardesses are very helpful in getting things set up. Again, making arrangement ahead of time helps prepare the staff. Fellow passengers are usually helpful to those with special needs so don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.

If you are traveling by another means, like a train or bus, there is similar assistance available when requested.

When we were on a cruise a few months ago, the ship had resources for those who needed assistance with a variety of needs. Don’t be afraid to ask for help as it is usually can be provided or recommendations on how to accommodate the person can be discussed.  I shared our cruise experience and how it compared to the customer service in the hospital in a post in Nurse Advocate titled; Going Beyond Expectations to Create a Culture of Caring. If you do not recall reading the post, take a look as it will give you some good ideas on customer services that can help many in healthcare be more proficient.  

If you are going to be staying in a hotel on your trip, you may want to consider asking for a handicap room if needed when you make your reservation. I have been disappointed in some hotels as their handicap rooms are not always equipped to help a person. So it is important to be careful when you are in a hotel as it is different from your home. Things you take for granted might not be the same in a hotel. An example is the towel rack.  Do not depend on the towel rack being sturdy enough to hold your weight, so if you are off balance and need something to hold on to look for something that is sturdy. Another area to be mindful is getting in and out of the tub/shower. Most hotels have grab bars which help but be careful, so you do not slip and fall.

Make sure you pack your medication and keep it in your carry on bag as well as any equipment you might need.  On a recent trip, I forgot my medication. I called the local Walgreen’s (the same pharmacy I use at home). Unfortunately, the cost to get a few pills was cost prohibitive as I was between refills. Thankfully my husband was home and could overnight a few pills to where I was staying o I could stay on schedule. 

If you need other equipment while you are traveling, talk to your doctor. If you have a case manager or a patient advocate whom you are working with, ask them as they will be able to help you make arrangements so things can be delivered to you once you arrive.

As with everything I do now, pre-planning is important. By taking the time to prepare, I realize I can still travel and enjoy life.

Thanks for reading this week’s post. If you have had an experience while you were traveling you would like to share, please post in the comment section or email me at allewellyn5@bellsouth.net


Have a good week!