For the most part, travel for the majority of able-bodied persons is not a problem. Standing on long lines, dragging bags through airport, train or bus terminals and running from one gate to the next, is not a hassle (well sometimes it is). The same cannot be said for the differently-able. Considerations and adjustments have to be made to accommodate their need. As a versatile itinerary planner, my goal is to consider every aspect of a traveler’s profile when planning their dream vacation, including their disability. Creating an exciting itinerary for the differently-able person can be a challenge, which I like, but not an impossibility. To capture the travel experience of what it is like traveling with a disability, I interviewed a personal friend. This is what she had to say:
Q. How are you differently-able?
A. I am physically differently-able; therefore, I must use a walker or a wheelchair
depending on the distance I have to travel.
Q. Do you like to travel, and if so, where?
A. Yes. I love to travel. I have traveled by airplane, cruise ship, and of course, every day by car. I have been to places like: Belize, Cayman Island, Honduras, Margarita Island, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States of America.
Q. Tell me about your experiences at the airports and seaports.
A. In 2010 I became differently-able when I lost my first toe. Travelling at that point was not too difficult even though it had some challenges. During that trip I was about five months post-amputation, so I did not ask for any special assistance. I was traveling with relatives. I found traveling throughout the various airports was a bit challenging as I tried to keep up with the crowd and not get left behind. I recall one of my struggles back then as I was leaving Barbados was climbing the stairs to the plane with my carry-on luggage. I had no problems on the aircraft. In contrast to my experience on boarding in Barbados, when I disembarked in the USA I was introduced to a nice gentleman with a wheelchair who assisted me through immigration and customs without any problems.
On the cruise ship, my only problem was walking the ramp with the bumps to get on or off the ship. For the wheelchair-bound differently-able person it would have been uncomfortable. At some ports-of-call, the distance to exit or to pick up the tours were too far away, and I did not see any services provided for those like me who had a physical impediment. It was a mad scramble to board a bus or taxi and to complete our tour in the allotted time we were at our destination. Inside the ship was wonderful. Elevators were available on every floor making it easy to move around the ship, so I did not have to use the stairs. The bathroom facilities were spacious and easy to use.
Q. How were you treated at the airport, in the aircraft and at your destination?
A. In 2014 I travelled to the USA. By now I had lost more toes – two on my left foot and two on my right. This meant I needed assistance. From the moment I arrived at the airport in Barbados, a wheelchair was secured for me and I was taken from the airline check-in counter, through immigration and to the passenger waiting lounge. My daughter accompanied me on this trip. When it was time to board we were loaded onto a vehicle which elevated us to the door of the plane.
We were the first to board the plane, and from there I walked to my seat. We did not pay for special seats or extra leg room space. The only challenge on the aircraft was manoeuvrability in the bathroom. The space is tight and uncomfortable. When we arrived in the USA we were the last persons to disembark, but our wheelchair assistant took us through immigration and customs without having to wait on the long lines.
On this particular trip moving around our destination was more accessible. Some places posed a challenge where there was a ramp to go inside the building, but to access the lower levels like the basement where some of the activities were held, for example, in the churches I visited, there was no ramp.
Q. What changes would you recommend especially to help those who are differently-able concerning travel?
A. My answer to this question is not a one size fit all and may not apply to many places. However, I would like to see much larger spaces in the bathroom and dressing rooms specifically for the wheelchair-bound person and their care-giver. Another change would be the soap and the hand towel dispensers. Lower these bathroom services so persons in wheelchairs can reach them. My observation of the paved streets/sidewalks in modern cities should be built with more level sidewalks and less bricked tiles. Some of these things may look attractive but are uncomfortable for the differently-able person and they caregiver to navigate.
Q. Do you see a difference in North America than anywhere else?
A. The only places I have travelled to are: the Caribbean, Central America and North America. I must admit that North America is more developed than the other two regions. However, In the other two regions where tourism is one of their main sources of income, there has been some measure of progress to reach international standards. More consideration is given to the differently-able, more public awareness, and more laws are enacted to prevent able-bodied persons from using services strictly designated for the differently-able.
Q. Do you have a specific safety plan or an appeal for help if in difficulty?
A. To be truthful I never thought of what I would do if I am in trouble, because I always travel with someone. I remember once in New York City gun shots were being fired across the street from the store that I was in. I hid behind the counter until it was over. I guess if I am alone and need any help I would shout for help or ask a nearby stranger kindly for assistance.
Q. Do you like to travel alone or with a chaperone?
A. Since I am more ambulatory with the use of a stroller or a wheelchair depending on the distance, I do not mind going through the airport alone. I know the airport staff would assist me. However, right now I would not take a trip to a strange place by myself. Maybe I would do it in the future.
Q. Do you believe that your disability has limited you from travelling to places you would like to visit?
A. Certainly. I like to travel, sight-see and experience the cultures of other people. I cannot travel solo yet, and I do not like the idea to travel if I am a great burden to someone else. I would like my travel companion to enjoy the trip as well, and not have to worry about my every move.
Check out these other posts which highlight the pros and cons of using wheelchairs in hotel rooms, or learn first hand the experience of this deaf traveler. Their experiences showcase challenges, as well as, gives encouragement to those who are hesitant to travel just because of their disability.
I hope this post sheds some light from the differently-able person’s perspective regarding travel issues and challenges. I would love to hear of other experiences or even share a best-practice with fellow itinerary planners who arrange travel for such a special group of people. So what are you waiting for? You have four choices: comment in the box below, like, follow or share. I look forward to hearing from you.
P.S. If you receive this post twice, my apologies.