I recently came across an article in Costco Connection. The name of the article (found here) was Making ‘Travel Accessible For Everyone’ with a picture of a person in a wheelchair. Since I’ve recently caught the travel bug, but worry about travelling with Chloe, this really grabbed my attention. The article talks about John Williams of wheelchairdestinations.com, his mission, and how he goes about it. I was thrilled to read that he previews tourist locations with the perspective and needs of wheelchair users in mind, then shares his findings on his website and with “Know Before You Go” videos. How cool is that! He focuses in the pacific northwest. We do have a couple trips planned in that area so I was thrilled! And it got me thinking we need more of this information for everywhere we want to go!
In addition to Shannon’s awesome special needs travel tips shared here, I realized how nice it would be to truly know before we go anywhere exactly what to expect in regard to wheelchair accessibility and other features at destinations that will be good to know. For example, I didn’t find out that Disneyland has a special area just off Main Street where you can take your child to nap or change their diaper. They also sell quite a few supplies. I didn’t find out about this until the last day of our third trip there with Chloe. Boy do I wish I would have known about it sooner! There were many times a trip there to decompress and help her climb out of sensory overload would have saved the day. Another example was when we went to South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore. I anticipated that as a national park, it would be fully accessible and I was correct about that. However, we also planned going on a train ride, going to a cave, and a few other nearby destinations, but faced road blocks at each one with regard to Chloe, her special needs, and/or her wheelchair. We were flexible, as all special needs parents learn to be, but I wished I had done more homework before going so we could have saved some time and frustration for our entire group.
So here’s what I’ve found. There are quite a few websites similar to John Williams’ wheelchairdestinations.com. With a couple upcoming trips in mind, I went in search of information and I liked wheelchairtraveling.com the most for what I was looking for. I’m the type of traveler who has ideas and destinations in mind when I go places, but I don’t have a locked down itinerary. Whether I’m traveling with Chloe or not, I l like to be flexible and be open to adventures. With that said, it’s fun looking up possibilities and having a mental list of things we might do. When it comes to Chloe’s sensory issues and accessibility needs, I’ve decided from now on, with my mental list of things to see in mind, I’m going to start doing some homework beforehand so I know what to expect and what will and will not work for us. Looking at reviews of things on wheelchair travel sites is a great idea for us because those reviews will have needs in mind that most travel reviewers will have no need to consider. Then contacting destination spots or checking out their specific websites is a great way to find out what features and accommodations they have for those with special needs. In my experience, staff are ready to answer questions about accessibility, restrooms, quiet areas, and often offer tips. I am not the first to call ahead and I won’t be the last. We are lucky to live in a time when advocates have gone before us and fought for disability rights so most locations have features and considerations in mind and in most cases, they are anxious to help. I also found it very helpful when I called an airline ahead of time to explain Chloe’s situation and possible needs. I was pleasantly surprised at how receptive they were and eager to give me as much information ahead of time and document what we might need so the crew would know how they could help us. A little communication went a long way in that situation and it made that trip much less stressful for me and for Chloe as well!
There have been situations when there are no accommodations that will truly work for us at destination spots. I need another cause like I need a hole in the head. However, there have been a couple scenarios where I asked to speak to someone in management simply to bring it to their attention that their facilities are exclusive. Each time I have done this, management has been receptive to my input about how they might make improvements to develop a more inclusive environment. That’s all I want. I don’t expect them to tear down and re-build, but I like when they are willing to listen. Twice, they have even followed up with me to let me know what they have done or plan on doing. What a great time we live in where acceptance and inclusion is important to most people. I’m grateful for that!
Okay, so I’ve got off track a little, but let me summarize by saying there are resources out there when planning trips. Whether it’s a day road trip for a picnic, a 2-week road trip in an RV, or a weekend getaway including air travel, there are resources. I’ve tried being spontaneous about things, but I’ve found that seeking out resources ahead of time makes more sense for my family and whoever happens to be traveling with us.
If you have any tips about traveling with your child who has medical needs or requires other special accommodations, please comment and share what has worked for you!