As the weather gets warmer, many people start planning a summer vacation. If you have a disability, planning a vacation can take on a whole new meaning. As a person with a disability, I enjoy traveling, but I must admit it makes me very nervous most of the time. To calm my nerves, I try to plan and prepare as best I can for each trip.
I am visually impaired and my husband also has a disability and uses a power wheelchair. We consider many things when planning our vacations, including accommodations at the airport, accessible ground transportation at our destination and an accessible hotel room. This takes extra time and effort, but if you gather all the information, ask the right questions and know what your rights are, you can enjoy a wonderful and accessible vacation.
Air travel is often the easiest — and definitely the quickest — way to travel for most, but it can pose some challenges if you have a disability. Usually when you are purchasing your airline tickets you will have the option to indicate whether you need an accommodation because of a disability. When I’ve traveled by myself in the past, I have requested assistance boarding and deboarding the plane. In one instance, I had assistance making a connecting flight. When my husband and I travel, I do not need a sighted guide.
If you are traveling with a wheelchair, be prepared to answer questions. How much does the wheelchair weigh? What type of batteries does it have? Does it fold down? Do you need an aisle seat? If you have indicated that you need assistance boarding the plane, this usually means you will get to get on the plane first. But it also means you will be the last to get off the plane when you land.
I highly recommend preparing your wheelchair as much a possible by removing any movable parts, attaching any instructions and protecting the joystick or driving mechanism. When traveling with a wheelchair, you are allowed to remain in it until you board the plane, at which point you can transfer to an aisle chair. Airline personnel then whisk the wheelchair away to be placed on the plane with the rest of the luggage, and hopefully it makes it off the plane in one piece.
The ten to fifteen minutes from when the plane lands to when the wheelchair is rolled down the jet bridge are probably the most anxious moments of any vacation for us. As soon as my husband is transferred back into his wheelchair and powers it up with no issues, we both let out a sigh of relief. Now we are ready for our vacation.
As I mentioned, it is good to be prepared and know your rights are when you travel. The Air Carrier Access Act is a great resource to learn about what rights you have as a person with a disability traveling on an airplane.
Kimberly Lackey is the Public Policy Team Manager at Paraquad. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.