Wheels with a View

Rental solutions for vacationing with a wheelchair (includes video and slideshow)

by Richard Senti on April 1, 2010 - 4:08pm

QUEST Vol. 17, No. 2

When considering your summer vacation options, wheelchair accessibility and transportation can be limiting factors. But renting specialized mobility equipment just might give you access to vistas you don’t normally see. And isn’t that what vacations are all about?

Hit the road, Jack

Maybe your modified van is OK for short runs locally, but you don’t have confidence in it for a long-distance road trip. Or maybe you’re flying someplace and need a way to get around once you get there. Consider renting an accessible van, decked out with you in mind, and large enough to comfortably carry the whole family.

Wheelchair Getaways (800-642-2042) has locations in almost every state. The various Getaways locations are independent franchises, so their vehicle stock, accessories and rates vary somewhat from state to state. But you can expect to pay, depending on duration, around $80 to $110 per day to rent an accessible minivan.

In a random call to the Getaways New Mexico location, we found they supply Braun-adapted Dodge Caravans with power side-entry doors and ramps, lowered floors and removable front passenger seats. A wheelchair can be secured by four-point tie downs in the front-passenger position or behind the front seats. Three wheelchairs can fit in one of these vans, leaving the two regular rear seats in place. Wheelchairs cannot be secured in the driver’s position, but if the wheelchair user is able to transfer into the driver’s seat, left-hand, push-pull hand controls are available.

Two other accessible van rental companies are located in about 24 states each: Wheelers (800-456-1371) and Accessible Vans of America (866-224-1750). If you’re traveling near Atlanta, Houston, or San Diego, you might want to contact AMS Vans (800-775-8267).

The best way to rent an accessible van is to familiarize yourself with the vehicles, services and prices available, then call the toll-free numbers and talk to the representatives about your specific needs.

Front-row beach seating is available through Beach Power Rentals in Gulf Shores, Ala.

Let’s go beachcombing!

Now that you’re on the road, wouldn’t it be fun to head for a beach town? You say power chairs and sand don’t mix? Well, yes and no.

Your skinny-wheeled chair may have a problem on the beach, but what if your chair had super-fat tires? Of course, unless you live on or near the shore, a beach wheelchair isn’t the most practical purchase. But it just so happens there’s a wide variety of beach wheelchairs, both power and manual, available for rent up and down both U.S. coasts.

Virtually all the myriad hybrid designs sport the same low-pressure balloon tires from Wheeleez (Wheeleez.com). Made of extremely durable plastics, the lightweight, highly flexible tires distribute the chair’s weight evenly over the sand, allowing the chair to be driven or pushed up and down the beach, be it wet or dry.

A number of entrepreneurs have formed companies that rent their own design of beach mobility vehicles. For instance, in coastal Alabama, Jerry Nasello, who received an ALS diagnosis in 2005, wanted to continue visiting his beloved Gulf Shores beaches, so he converted an old conventional power chair into a beach power chair that he eventually multiplied into a fleet of rentals and a business called Beach Power Rentals (251-967-3729).

In nearby Pensacola, Fla., a husband-and-wife team makes, sells and rents their line of manual beach mobility products, including a pushable chair with many interchangeable options and a four-wheel beach walker. Karen (who uses a wheelchair) and Mike Deming’s equipment can be rented in many locations around the country. Deming Designs’ Web site has a current list of these locations, or call (850) 478-5765.

Karen Deming, pictured here at a beach in Mexico, and husband Mike manufacture a line of manual mobility products.

Yet another beach chair entrepreneur produces his rigs on the West Coast, in Southern California. Pat Tallino, a disabled veteran with a spinal cord injury, manufactures the Stingray Beach Power Wheelchair (951-609-4135) in Lake Elsinore, midway between Los Angeles and San Diego. Tallino is not in the rental business, but a number of his chairs (see lead photo above) have been purchased by San Diego-area beaches and are available, free of charge, to people who need them.

If you’re heading for California, be sure to first visit an invaluable Web site — www.coastal.ca.gov/access/beach-wheelchairs.html, (415) 904-5200. It can help you find specific beaches all along the coastline with free beach chair loaners. There are nearly a hundred beaches listed, each with a phone number for making reservations.

California is not alone in offering this service. An Internet search for “beach wheelchair loaners” will turn up specific beaches with loaner programs in the coastal areas you’d like to visit. Call ahead to secure a reservation and make sure they have the type of chair you need. If you don’t have Internet access, another option would be to inquire at the convention and visitors bureau in your destination city.

Ahoy, mateys!

Cruises are wonderfully accessible vacations, but if you have to fly to get to the departure port, you may be leery about entrusting your chair or scooter to the airline’s baggage handlers. Don’t let that dissuade you from casting off. Several companies specialize in renting wheelchairs, power chairs and scooters designed to easily navigate your chosen cruise liner.

Scootaround (888-441-7575) rents manual wheelchairs, power chairs and scooters for cruise liners, hotels and air travel. In addition to standard scooters, they also rent travel scooters that come apart and fit in the trunk of a car.

Another company, Special Needs at Sea (800-513-4515), also works with the major cruise lines to fill the mobility needs of people with most disabilities.

Both companies offer other specialized rental equipment. Special Needs at Sea, for instance, rents oxygen and other respiratory equipment, lifts and ramps, walking aids and adjustable hospital beds. Scootaround also offers many accessibility items, depending on your location; it says it provides service in more than 500 locations.

The best approach in dealing with either of these companies is to make a list of all the items you might need, and call their toll-free numbers. Even if you don’t see what you need on their Web sites, they just might have it in limited locations; it can’t hurt to ask.

Ramping up

Let’s say you’ve found the perfect mountain cabin to rent for a couple of weeks, but there are two big barriers: getting in and getting out. The answer could be to simply rent a ramp.

One company that offers this service is Amramp (888-715-7598). Covering about 90 percent of the country, they will give you a free estimate, including installation and removal, for rentals by the day or week.

Another company that offers nationwide coverage is American Access (888-790-9269). In addition to offering temporary ramps, they also rent Liko mobile patient lifts.

If, at your vacation destination, you would be in need of some other piece of specialty equipment, say an adjustable hospital bed, you may want to contact a local durable medical equipment dealer.

Other good sites

Here are a few other Web sites that could come in handy for travelers with special needs:

Access Travel Center
Links to van and wheelchair rentals, accessible hotels and medical transport

When We Travel
Under “Quick Links,” click on Wheelchair Accessible Hotels for numerous options including B&Bs and RV parks.

Planet Mobility
(866) 465-4387
Click on “Rent It” tab, then “Find Your Dealer” for a state-by-state list of accessible rental van dealers.

Travel for Disabled People
Lots of accessibility tips

See also ...

Watch "Let's Go Beachcombin'!" a slideshow featuring a wide variety of beach wheelchair options (2-1/2 minutes). Watch a video of a coastal Alabama resident with ALS who builds and rents power beach chairs in the Gulf Shores area (2-1/2 minutes).
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