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By Debra Wood
Thursday January 10, 2013

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Americans are notorious for wanderlust, the desire to see the world and to check places outside of their backyards off of their bucket lists, but for people with mobility limitations, travel becomes more challenging.

"Itís possible to travel," said Debra Kerper, an amputee and owner of Easy Access Travel (easyaccesstravel.com ) in Carrollton, Texas, who uses a scooter and has traveled the world. "People have to pack a smile and a good attitude."

Ben Trockman, a quadriplegic and spokesman for National Easter Seals in Evansville, Ind., agreed, adding, "Anyone in a wheelchair should not be scared or stopped by the thought of inaccessibility because there are so many things you can make happen if you plan ahead."

Planning a trip requires researching the destination in general and hotels, restaurants, attractions and other places the person might want to visit. Michael Gerg, OTR/L, MS, CHT, CEES, CWCE, director of the occupational therapy assistant program at Harcum College in Bryn Mawr, Pa., said websites and blogs have made the process easier and allowed fellow travelers to share their experiences. But calling ahead is critical.

"Itís still challenging, but there are resources," Gerg said. "The biggest challenge is being able to access sites, especially historic sites, which usually were not built with the disabled person in mind."

Often a travel agent who specializes in disability travel and is familiar with the settings can eliminate a great deal of stress. Kerper begins by assessing the potential travelerís abilities, equipment used and needs. "We can offer people things to simplify the process," Kerper said. For instance, she might recommend using a manual wheelchair en route if the person is capable of transferring, and then rent a scooter at the destination.

"Finding accessible ground transportation is a big problem if you are in a wheelchair," said Candy Harrington in Ripon, Calif., who has authored several books on the subject (candyharrington.com). "Many cities have wheelchair-accessible taxis and public transportation."

Mary Peterson, accessible travel consultant for Able to Travel (abletotravel.org), a program of the United Spinal Association in East Elmhurst, N.Y., said only one company, Wheelchair Getaways (wheelchairgetaways.com), rents accessible vans.

While she never likes to say no, Kerper will tell people when their desired destination is not readily accessible or will require additional costs, for instance, hiring someone to provide sightseeing, transportation and individual assistance.

Travel outside of the United States is more complicated because accessibility requirements vary, Kerper said. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 set accessibility standards for hotels, restaurants and other businesses. But Gerg warned that not all properties comply.

Peterson agreed itís easier to stay in the U.S., but added the European Network for Accessible Tourism (accessibletourism.org) is making progress on that continent.

Kerper recommended purchasing travel insurance, which will pay for medical care while abroad or, in some cases, transportation home.

Fly or drive?

Harrington said she prefers driving vacations. "You can pack along everything you need, you donít have to worry about the airlines damaging your assistive device, you can set your own pace, and you can stop whenever you want to," she said.

Flying can present many obstacles, despite passage of the Air Carrier Access Act in 1986. Trockman said air travel requires an airline lift team to physically transfer him from his power chair to a smaller, manual chair that will fit in the airplane aisle and then transfer him again into the airline seat. Then his chair flies below with the luggage and cargo, where it could be damaged.

"Weíd rather fly, but driving has been what we are left to do," said Trockman, who recently drove to San Diego for an Easter Seals event.

The Transportation Security Administration staffs a help line travelers can call 72 hours before departure to ask about screening policies and procedures. Its website also offers information, which can be printed and taken to the airport, for travelers with disabilities. Prosthetics and support braces do not have to be removed. If a problem arises, the traveler can ask for a supervisor.

Airlines cannot charge for transporting medical equipment packed separately, including adult diapers or fluids for G-tube feedings. The traveler can request an onboard aisle chair to use the restroom during the flight. Airlines also are required to have a complaint-resolution official with the ability to settle disagreements that may occur between the carrier and passenger with disabilities.

Once the traveler arrives at his or her lodging, additional challenges can present themselves. Because most hotels now have platform beds, Hoyer lifts cannot roll under the bed. Therefore, the person may need to use a slide board.

A roll-in shower makes life easier, but smaller hotels may not offer them. Restaurants, lounges and pools and beach areas also may not be easily accessible, Peterson said.

Cruising

The vacation of choice is a cruise on the right cruise line with the right itinerary, Kerper said. Many cruise ships have wide hallways and automatic doors, allowing people on wheels to move about on their own and attend their own activities. "No one pays more because they are disabled," Kerper said.

Mary Peterson agreed, and said Royal Caribbean and Celebrity are catering to people with disabilities and implementing accessible port excursions.

Tender ports, in which passengers must climb down into a smaller boat to proceed to shore, may present challenges to people with limited mobility. And some land tours may not be accessible.

Regardless of the trip, Peterson suggested travelers plan ahead and advocate for themselves. "Always be courteous and kind," she said. "You need to plan for the little things because little things make all of the difference on trips." •

Debra Wood is a freelance writer.


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By Debra Wood
Thursday January 10, 2013
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