Good afternoon readers! I hope that you are all staying healthy and well during this pandemic. Like so many, I took a break from blogging and social media for a while so that I could focus on my mental and emotional health. I will return to posting every Friday, so turn on those post notifications and stay tuned. This week I was torn between two topics, but as a group, many of you were interested in travel. This post will be a bit different than my typical posts, but I think it is important to create the content you ask for.
I am going to divide this post into two sections: The three realities of travel when you have a physical limitation, as well as a list of my three favorite travel locations, along with my experience of accessibility during those trips. Traveling for many is a combination of excitement and worry; that is no different for individuals with a disability. So, what exactly do I worry about when I travel?
- Will my wheelchair make it to my final destination
This is the greatest stressor for me. As I’ve discussed in past posts I am fairly ambulatory, unless I am recovering from an orthopedic surgery OR I have to walk a significant distance. In 2015, I had a fairly complicated orthopedic procedure that left me unable to weight-bear or walk for about ten months. As a result, I was completely wheelchair-bound. This was the first time I experienced traveling with my own wheelchair, and let me tell you, it was stressful! At the time, the airline would not allow me to travel in it, and as a result, I had to use the airlines’ chair and check mine. The anxiety I felt whenever I thought about the airline losing it, or the chair not making it to my final destination was indescribable. Many have experienced what it is like to lose pieces of luggage, but imagine what it would be like to “lose” the freedom of independent mobility.
- Will I be left at the gate and miss my flight
This very thing has happened to me twice, (though I won’t mention the airline.) Whenever I travel I do so with assistance so that I have the support and a wheelchair to transport me from gate to gate. Most times, I am taken to an accessible seating section and the gate agent is notified that I need help getting to and from the aircraft. Now let me say that most of my travel experiences are positive and not a scene from a suspense film, but there has been situations in which the gate agents get busy, and I was forgotten. There was also an occasion where the agent did not approach me to assist me on the aircraft, so I walked up to the desk to talk to her, and in that five minutes, the wheelchair was taken from the seating area and I lost the ability to be wheelchair assisted.
- The screening process
UGH! Need I say more? Traveling became a little more complicated after the implant of my Programmable Shunt, which is magnetic. As a result, I can no longer go through the metal detector, as there is a slight possibility that it could influence the setting. I travel with a medical card so that I can avoid some of the annoying questions or looks of disbelief. As a result of not being able to go through the metal detector, I must go through a more thorough screening: pat-down, a wanding, testing of the wheelchair, etc. This process is more annoying (though I understand necessary) and a bit time-consuming. Having done this more times than I can count, I now go as prepared as possible: wearing a dress, loose pants, easily slipped off shoes, and I arrive earlier than most, just in case anything comes up.
I am someone that loves to travel, despite the challenges of traveling with a disability. It was almost impossible for me to choose three favorite locations, (nothing is as special as my home, Bermuda), but these are three locations that I don’t think I would get tired of visiting.
- England I was lucky enough to reside in Brighton, England when I was training for the Paralympics for Para-Dressage. (I retired after 2012 when my health took a severe decline). The beauty of the countryside is something I could not describe. There was such a cultural infusion where I was staying at the time, which helped me feel like I wasn’t so alone. At the time I did not use a wheelchair but I did struggle walking around town because of the cobblestones and I think that would have definitely created a challenge to push the wheelchair, but still, it is still highest on my list.
- Hampton Beach I was born and raised in Bermuda, so it goes without saying there is a place in my heart for anything or any destination that reminds me of my island roots. Hampton Beach was great in terms of being able to smoothly travel in my wheelchair, however, a lot of the seaside stores were not accessible. There were steps to get into the shops, and once in, there was little room to smoothly move around without feeling like a nuisance. That being said, I am a person with a disability living in an able-bodied world, so adapting is the name of the game.
- Boston Boston was a city that I learned to love in time. For about 20 years it was where I received my treatment, so I had to learn how to navigate the mental fear that I had, as I didn’t always have the best memories there. However, after I re-located, I began to see that Boston has a phenomenal transportation system, it is set up so that I could safely and independently live.
Tell me, what are your favorite travel locations?