I’m Georgina from the Power 100 award-winning blog, Disabled Travel with Georgina. I’ve had some magical moments of global travel but I’ve certainly experienced my fair share of horror stories! To combat this, I thought I’d share some “wheelie” good tips surrounding disabled travel for wheelchair users.
Travel can be stressful even for an abled person but I definitely think travel anxiety can be greater for a disabled passenger.
My first top tip would be to prepare as much as you can; research your destination to get the most out of your holiday and ensure your hotel, experiences, and plans are all accessible for your wheelchair and needs. Also, make sure to book your door-to-door transport in advance and make sure it’s disabled-friendly. Ring the airline if you are flying and go into great detail as to how mobile you are and how passenger assistance can help you board the plane – think about whether you will be taking a power chair or a manual wheelchair and whether you need the aisle chair during boarding. This is a particularly narrow wheelchair that is designed to fit down an aeroplane aisle and should help you get from the boarding door to your seat. Some plane designs allow wheelchair user passengers to get onto the plane with an internal tunnel or ramp and some designs mean you have to board outside from the runway via a mechanical platform lift. Every detail you give in advance will help the crew on the day and make your experience better. Throughout boarding, make sure to openly communicate with those helping you if they’re not helping you correctly or if you need more aid!
I would personally recommend arriving at the airport in advance of the specified time (usually three hours ahead of an international flight and two hours ahead of a domestic flight) since it may take longer to get through security checks with a metal wheelchair and medication, even though you have a prescription. A wheelchair like the Ergo Lite 2 would be an ideal choice if you were a partially ambulatory wheelchair user who struggles with the huge amount of walking through an airport and who might use a chair during your holiday to enable more exploration. It folds up easily so taking it through airport security will be much easier and storing it on the plane will be far easier! I love aluminium frames on self-propel chairs as it takes some of the weight away from the propelling and allow it to be more portable if you can fold and lift your chair.
I struggle with self-propelling for long distances so sometimes travel with a powered chair which makes things more worrisome since, from my experience and that of those around me, powered chairs seem far more likely to be damaged during transit. However, there are a few tips to minimise damage. First of all, remove all the parts of the wheelchair that can physically be removed such as the side guards and foot pedals. If you are able to have a travel companion take these onto the plane then do so but otherwise, make sure they are placed on the seat of your chair and preferably secured together with a bungee tie that also secures them to your powered chair itself. Take your cushion onto the plane to sit on. I also make sure to attach a sticky label somewhere on my wheelchair with my name, home address and the number just in case the airport label gets lost. A good idea is also to place an A4 “how to” sheet on the seat to show the moving team how to properly put the brakes on and put the powered chair in “freewheel” mode so the attendants can push your chair rather than ride in it (which they are NOT meant to do!). It also pays to explain all of these bits to the loading team so they have the best instructions for your particular chair before you travel too!
Making sure you’ve chosen a wheelchair that suits your destination is very important also; you don’t want to choose a really bulky mobility scooter (they aren’t allowed on planes anyway) if you are trying to nip around the plethora of corridors on a cruise ship or the tight streets of an intricate, interwoven city such as Venice! I like the design of KARMA’s Ergo Traveller as it’s a powered chair so would suit my spinal cord damage but also is really easily collapsible if you need to pop it into a taxi abroad or are staying in a cruise ship cabin which is really compact (unless you spend lots of money!). I also love the black and grey upholstery of the Ergo Traveller as I feel it has a sleek, modern design that’s suitable for all ages.
Obviously, things can go wrong when travelling for anyone but I think with a little forward-thinking and preparation that travel as a disabled person can be just as much fun and so rewarding!