By Alisa Brownlee
Traveling offers many exciting opportunities: a chance to meet with family and friends, see new places and experience different cultures. It also requires that you leave your daily routine and comfort zone. If you have difficulty getting around, traveling brings additional challenges. People with ALS should consult with their physician before making travel plans, and various modes of transportation need to be discussed with your medical team, especially airline travel. The foremost important question is: “Is it safe for you to fly”? The Air pressure is different in a plane, and you may need a special test to see if you can handle the stress.
When traveling with a disability, make your airline reservation as far in advance as possible and tell the reservations person that you will be traveling with a wheelchair. Inform them if you need assistance in boarding or an aisle chair to get to your seat. Remember that an aisle “wheelchair” is very narrow and offers no trunk or head support. If it is a long flight and you are able to use a standard plane restroom but are unable to walk to the restroom, ask that they make an aisle chair available to you during the flight.
Plan to arrive at the airport early. It is best to check your wheelchair at the boarding gate and request for it be brought back to you at the arrival gate. Consider using gel or foam filled (dry cells) batteries in your scooter or power chair. Standard acid filled batteries or wet cells will be removed by ground crew and packed in special containers during the flight. Make sure your name and address is on your equipment and that it has a gate delivery tag if it is being stowed below. If you have to change planes request that your own equipment be returned for the layover.
This not only assures your independence while in the terminal, it also reduces the risk of it getting lost or damaged. Since wheelchair users are last off the plane, make sure you allow enough time to make your connection.
To avoid damage to your wheelchair, remove seat cushions and any other parts that could easily become separated from the chair. Take these items into the cabin with you. Attach instructions to your power chair detailing how and where to disconnect the batteries, along with instructions for any other disassembly or preparation that might be necessary for transport. If you have a large power chair, be aware that on some planes, such as MD80's or Super 80's, the cargo opening is only 26 inches high; therefore, some disassembly may be required. You can ask what type of aircraft will be used when you make your reservations. Having instructions on your equipment is very important because, even if you are available to give the employees instructions, the crew at the other end will not have seen how it came apart. Before landing remind the flight attendant that you will need your equipment brought to the gate so they can call ahead to make the arrangements. This can help speed things up.
If you have any problems with the airline or damage to your equipment, ask to speak to the "Complaint Resolution Officer" (CRO). Each airline carrier is required to have a CRO available by phone or in person at all times. This person is specially trained in dealing with problems that travelers with disabilities may encounter.
Once you determine that it is safe for you to travel and how you will get to your destination, consider how to transport or rent your Durable Medical Equipment (DME), which is used to keep you functioning and enhances your quality of life (as well as your caregivers). Will you travel with your DME (wheelchair, commode, mechanical lifts, hospital bed, etc.) or can you rent or borrow necessary equipment at your destination.
When planning a trip and deciding where to travel, here are some mobility tips to consider:
Assess your personal mobility:
First, it's important to honestly assess how you get around. Think about these. questions: How long can you comfortably walk? What kind of physical activities do you find difficult, i.e. stairs, hills or standing from a seated position? What do you currently do to support your mobility?
What kind of trip will you be taking?
Next, closely consider your trip and the physical requirements you'll likely need to perform. Are you planning a trip that has you on the move? Will your trip require less activity, i.e. staying one spot with little walking?
Choose Your Tools:
Finally, you'll need to match the tools needed accomplish your travel goals with your physical abilities.
Almost every major city has a convention and visitors bureau. Use your favorite search engine to find the web site and either email or call with accessibility questions. They are an excellent resource for planning your trip.