For people with disabilities, travel can present both wonderful opportunities and daunting obstacles — the latter due to the inaccessibility of transportation, accommodations and popular tourist sites.
The good news is that many countries are making more locations accessible to wheelchairs. And even more good news: Increasing numbers of devices and services are appearing on the market for the specific purpose of facilitating travel for those with disabilities.
Here's a little taste of what's available:
Lift and carry. Traveling often necessitates several transfers in and out of a wheelchair, sometimes performed by inexperienced helpers or in tight spaces. To make these transfers safer and easier, especially at the end of a tiring day, a “gait belt,” a thick belt that quickly secures around the torso, provides a surer grip. Price: around $20.
For more safety and greater hoisting power during transfers and positioning, consider the Liftvest, a lightweight vest with strategically placed strap handles. Available in several materials and in adult or child sizes; prices start at $175.
A sling-type carrier allows two people to safely lift a person off the ground, such as in or out of a boat or up a flight of tour bus steps. Sling carriers also serve as emergency evacuation devices. The Comfort Carrier, designed by a quadriplegic, fits between the back of the wheelchair user and the chair; two flaps fit beneath the thighs; handles are attached to straps of seat belt-like material in front and back. Price: about $250.
|The Comfort Carrier|
The Lovehandles carry seat by Redbarn Enterprises (approximately $400) can carry up to 250 pounds and folds to fit in a suitcase.
Portable grab bars. Used in the bathroom or on a hotel nightstand, portable grab bars provide a sturdy gripping point for steadying, standing and transferring. Grabit Portable Grab Bars attach to any smooth, flat, non-porous surface by flipping two levers that create a vacuum able to withstand up to 200 pounds of pulling force. Plastic bars come in various lengths. Prices range from about $70 to $135.
Commode, shower & tub chair. Small bathrooms can become accessible with portable shower/commode chairs, which provide wheeled access and a safer perch on the potty. Travel chairs come apart and store in a carry case, some of which have wheels and a telescoping handle and look like regular luggage. A travel “bath transfer system” (Nuprodx or Go! Mobility) features a separate commode chair that connects to a rail system that slides the occupant right in over the tub. Prices range from about $1,500 to $3,500.
|Grabit Portable Grab Bar|
Quick clean-ups. Travel-sized wet wipes (diaper wipes) are an easy way to stay fresh between baths. A little-known perk: Used right away, they also remove most food stains on clothes when lunch decides to take a trip down your shirt. To get into a lather, bring along a rinse-free body wash or shampoo; about $5 a bottle. For hair, a “no-rinse shampoo cap” looks like a shower cap, but transfers shampoo directly to hair, where it can be gently massaged in; about $5 for a single-use cap. Another product for quick hair clean-up is a waterless or “dry” shampoo in a pump or aerosol bottle. These products absorb oil, add fullness and leave a nice scent behind. Priced from $10 to $30. (Tip: try products at home first to be sure there’s no skin sensitivity.)
Keep germs at bay. Sanitize eating utensils, bathroom surfaces, telephones, remote controls, airplane tray tables and more with ultraviolet light. The cell-phone-sized Zadro Nano UV Disinfectant Scanner kills bacteria and viral DNA. Operates on two AAA batteries; priced at about $80.
Protective cases for wheelchairs. Veteran flyers know all too well the damage that can occur to the chair both from rough handling and from banging around in the cargo hold. One solution is the Haseltine Flyer — a hard polyethylene case that completely encloses the chair. Models are available for both manual and power wheelchairs, with prices about $370 and $690, respectively. Weighing in at 33 and 55 pounds, they’re not lightweights, but they are sturdy.
Customer service departments at American, Delta/Northwest and United Airlines all say they will transport wheelchairs inside hard cases at no charge, provided there is sufficient room on the aircraft. For that reason, it’s important that travelers call the airline in advance to advise of their intentions.
For more information about finding the travel aids described above, check out the resources in InfoQuest.
Especially when visiting other countries, it’s wise to carry several copies of a letter from your doctor that explains your neuromuscular disease, the state of your health, any medications you may be taking, precautions that might have to be taken (e.g, about anesthesia or respiratory assistance) and any other pertinent medical issues. Bring contact information for your home doctor.