Return To:Life With MS
By Jeri Murphy
When I travel on my own, whether to a neighboring state or across the country, my arrangements are fairly simple: book an inexpensive flight; find a clean, convenient hotel; and rent an economical vehicle.
However when I travel with my stepdaughter, Carrieanna, who has MS and uses a wheelchair, I must pay attention to accessibility and her energy level while making travel arrangements.
She and I have traveled together frequently during the past decade, and with the help of resources such as SNG Certified Accessible Travel Advocates and the “Barrier-Free Travel” books, we have learned how to make the experience as easy and enjoyable as possible.
Transportation – Air
Direct flights are our preference. Changing planes and hurrying from one gate to another takes a lot of energy. When we are unable to get a nonstop flight, we need at least 90 minutes between connections; two hours is better.
Because the seats with the most leg room – first row and/or bulkhead – are generally the most popular, the sooner we can make airline reservations, the better. If those seats are unavailable, we try to sit as near to the front as possible so that if Carrieanna must ride on the aisle chair, it’s a short trip.
Arriving at the airport early, Carrieanna uses the first class line to get her boarding pass and check her luggage. For a direct flight, we often use curbside luggage check-in.
When she arrives at the gate, she lets the airline personnel know that she will need assistance boarding, and that her wheelchair will need to be folded and stowed once she is on the plane. If we have not secured front-row seating, she asks if it’s possible for her to switch to one of those seats. It never hurts to ask.
If airport personnel offer to push the wheelchair to or from the plane, or to a distant gate, we accept. They know the terrain and any potentially wheelchair-tipping areas, as well as the easiest and most direct path to our next gate. (They always appreciate a nice gratuity.)
While “persons needing assistance” are entitled to early boarding, Carrieanna often chooses to be among the last. Since she’s always one of the last to disembark, this shortens the amount of time she spends sitting on the airplane.
There is one important tip that, fortunately, we have not needed to use. If we encounter a flight or accessibility-related problem at the airport, the Complaints Resolution Official on site must be available to resolve the problem.
Transportation – Ground
Because the step up into a standard airport shuttle is often too high for a tired disabled traveler, and a taxi would not have room for the wheelchair, when we are being picked up at the airport we request a vehicle with a wheelchair lift. We’ve had success with Super Shuttle.
However, we usually rent a car at our destination and have found that an Intermediate SUV is the right size vehicle for our needs. The cargo area is large enough to store the wheelchair, and it’s generally neither too low to the ground nor too high for Carrieanna to easily transfer from wheelchair to passenger seat.
Choosing a hotel with a wheelchair-accessible room seems like it would be easy, but there are challenges. We need a room with two beds, and often the ADA room only has one queen or king-size bed. So we have to shop around.
We always bring a mattress protector for Carrieanna’s bed. And because bed height is not regulated by the ADA she has, on occasion, had a bed that’s too low for her to easily get in and out.
The room must also have a roll-in shower, and I know I must be very specific in my inquiries because “accessible” seems to have a very broad definition in the lodging industry.
An off-site reservation agent may not fully understand that a tub with a shower chair is not the same as a roll-in shower. While Carrieanna can sometimes transfer herself onto a shower chair in a tub-and-shower combo, the amount of extra energy necessary to make that transition is often not worth the trouble.
I prefer to contact the hotel directly and ask that they visit the accessible room to confirm the bathroom configuration. An additional resource is the housekeeping department; they clean the room so they know the shower setup.
I also ask that the bathroom doorway be measured to ensure that it’s wide enough for her wheelchair to roll through. Otherwise, maintenance may need to remove the door which, of course, also diminishes privacy.
With patience, trial and error, and the assistance of our resources, we have learned how to make travel a little less challenging and, therefore, a lot more enjoyable. And it’s worth it!
Jeri Murphy is a traveler, photographer, writer and non-denominational minister. Her blog,“Anything is Possible Travel”, is inspired by Carrieanna, her stepdaughter and frequent travel companion, who, in spite of receiving a diagnosis of MS 12 years ago, not only believes that anything is possible, but also that “if you haven’t tried, you don’t know if you can do it.”