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Jefferson Memorial at Cherry Blossom time, our hometown, Washington, D. C.
Over the years, we have received thousands of letters from travelers with special challenges. These are the questions most often asked. Your own situation may vary, but you should be able to adapt our answers to your particular needs:
Q. I am traveling to ABC , and XYZ this month and was wondering a little about what I can expect, accessibility wise. I have a wide chair with narrow tires.
In the larger cities across the world, such as London, Madrid, Paris, Beijing, Sydney, and Tokyo, accessibility is not a particularly big problem except for the WIDTH of your chair. My regular wheelchair is fine, but my "Dune Buggy" needs 27 inches to clear, and that can be a problem.
If you can afford it, buy a DRIVE travel wheelchair. It is rugged, lightweight, and can be collapsed easily. We take one with us and transfer Nancy from the heavier wheelchair into the DRIVE because it is so much easier/lighter to carry up stairs or across thresholds. Nancy will get out of her Dune Buggy or conventional chair, transfer to the DRIVE chair, be carried up a set of stairs, then transfer back into the regular chair (which someone hired to do so will carry, empty, up the stairs.) This is essentially what we did to get into the Taj Mahal.
In the smaller cities across the world, including those in Europe, Southeast Asia, Africa, Australia and New Zealand, you will have trouble, regardless of the kind of chair you have. The same is true for all of Central and South America. Shops and stores, for example, typically have doorways too narrow for even a conventional chair.
As a rule, the further you get from the large cities, the greater the problem becomes.
Usually, electric scooters are narrow enough for most doorways, but you can't tilt them up to go over even a single step; the anti-tilt mechanism means they lack necessary ground clearance, and we find them mostly unsuitable on uneven terrain. They work well in your home or in Disney and other theme parks, but are more part of the problem than solution in other travel situations.
Q. Can I take the train to (Insert city here)?
For information on train service anywhere you wish to travel, you will likely get the most accurate information online by checking with the Bureau of Tourism (or whatever they call it) for the country, city or town you want to visit.
Don't just ask about train service to a particular place. You ESPECIALLY need to know how you will be able to get on and off the train. Unless you can stand and transfer, assume you will NOT be able to use the lavatory facilities on the trains. If you face an hours long ride, cut your fluids the day before.
Q. I mostly fear bathroom emergencies and Montezuma revenge, especially being on the street or in a restaurant and not be able to get into a restroom. I function normally in this area and feel when nature calls so I do have a "warning alarm" and know when trouble is brewing.
All of us worry about this! Fortunately, this problem can be approached several ways:
Disposable underwear is a Godsend to those of us without a dependable "early warning system", or who find ourselves in places where Handicapped Toilets simply don't exist.
Remember to carry a plastic trash bag, some lotion, and a replacement paper garment. We have also found it expedient to bring along a small roll of toilet paper, as many times bathroom stalls are not adequately stocked.
Stomach problems are, for sure, something you MUST consider, especially if you are going to buy food from street vendors anywhere- from the larger cities as well as in the "boonies". We will not chance small cubbyhole-type restaurants in the poorer sections of large cities and towns, unless someone we know can vouch for their food safety. We know this will be difficult on limited budget travelers, but to us, it isn't worth the price you pay in inconvenience.
Restaurants with eye-appealing facilities in the better parts of town, and "Better" restaurants in the larger cities worldwide are ordinarily not a problem, but you must always be on guard with foods that are not cooked. If you see trash on the floors or a cook who is using dirty utensils, pass that place up and move on.
Q. Most B&B's and small hotels do not have adaptive equipment for their guests. I am bringing a shower bench so I can use the shower, it is very light and comes in a cardboard box. I plan on loading it as baggage and have my catheters and a small transfer board in it as well. Should I mark these MEDICAL SUPPLIES- FRAGILE- HANDLE WITH CARE?
For all supplies you consider essential, here's what we recommend:
First, GET A DOCTOR TO WRITE OUT ALL THE EQUIPMENT YOU WILL NEED ON A SHEET OF LETTERHEAD STATIONARY. Make three copies of this.
Carry one with you to the airports to show to the staff at the check-in counters. This will help get their attention so your stuff doesn't end up in Ireland while you are headed to Kenya.
Keep a second copy of the doctor's letter somewhere safe in case the first one is lost. It is much easier to have the added copy than to have to call transAtlantic to have the doctor's office fax you another.
Place the third copy inside a special suitcase or container in which all your essential supplies are placed. The copy should be on top of everything, so it is the first thing anyone opening the case will see.
Next, buy a hard case (Samsonite or some such) storage container large enough for your supplies. Pack them carefully to maximize prevention of damage. Assume what you use will not be easily available in foreign countries, and even then, you will need help locating stores selling such equipment, should any of yours be lost or damaged.
Medical supply stores are not plentiful, and are generally located in one specific, compact area. Usually the cab drivers know where these are, but if not, the concierge at any large hotel will know. If you are staying somewhere that does not have a concierge, go to the largest, best hotel in the area and ask for help from the front desk manager.
Do not expect to find a large supply or variety of whatever you need, and your choices will usually be limited. Say, for example, you need a medium size disposable undergarment. The store may have only XL, and only two of those. You will have to be flexible.
REMEMBER- NO PLACE IN THE WORLD CAN OFFER YOU THE VARIETY OR QUANTITY OF SUPPLIES THE WAY YOU ARE ACCUSTOMED TO GETTING THEM IN THE U.S.
This warning applies not just to outlying areas, but all too often, it applies to larger, modern cities as well. We cannot find under pads anywhere in Quito, the World Heritage capitol of Ecuador.
Q. What about restrooms on the plane. How do I get there with out my chair?
The larger airlines all have aisle wheelchairs you can use- unless you are substantially overweight- in which case you will not fit through the aisles of smaller aircraft.
This simple amenity is often unavailable if your carrier is not a major airline, or you are flying in less developed countries. When we were in China, we flew in a plane which had only one class and only one toilet. The toilet was in the rear of the plane, but they insisted in placing us in the first row of seats near the cockpit. Fortunately, it was a short flight.
Be sure to discuss your need for assistance when you book your tickets. Sadly, many airlines around the world employ agents who are totally clueless about what you will need, so you have to be thorough and be sure in your own mind they understand what you are telling them. We use the old adage "Telling isn't teaching and listening isn't learning".
Just because they are shaking their heads "Yes, yes." does not mean they really understand.
When you board the plane, get one of the male flight attendants aside and explain your situation to him if you are a male. If you are female, establish an understanding with a female attendant. They will be glad to assist if you can explain your needs sufficiently so THEY will feel comfortable handling you.
One way to insure this is to use the Google Translator:
Go to their website. Type out what you need in your own language; indicate what language you want the final copy to be, then hit "Translate". Instantly this will be done and you can then print out the translation. Hand it to the flight attendant at the appropriate time.
In fact, this is an excellent thing to do in general. Write up all the details of what you will need, be it the trains, hotels, or restaurants. Print these out in the language(s) of the places you will visit, and keep them handy. We have found this much more effective than trying to use a translation book on the spot.
Q. Do I need extra inner tubes? I never get a flat here at home.
If space permits, we suggest you pack the same medical supply bag suggested above with tools, spare parts, and definitely anything you might need to repair a flat tire. After several flats in Israel, one in Spain, and three in Ecuador, we have learned!
Inner tubes in Europe and other parts of the world are not the same size as in the States, and the air valves are different, too. If you do get into trouble with your wheelchair tires, head for the nearest bicycle shop, not garage, and you will find everyone more than willing to go out of their way to get you back on the road. We have never had anyone try to take advantage of us is such situations.
Remember, too, everyone else in the world uses Metric tools. You should carry a crescent wrench, a vice-grip pliers, a multiple head screw driver set, and a set of Allen wrenches, both metric and regular, at all times. If you try to carry these in your onboard luggage, they will hassle you at security, because tools can be used to assemble bombs.
For other "major" parts, most places world-wide, have small shops where you can rummage through what they have and find what you want. Smaller cities and towns usually have central markets with sections specializing in fruits, meat, clothing, tools, parts, etc. Go there and ask around. Use the Google Translator. Make a drawing of the part you need; include a description of what the part is supposed to do.
The local people will see that you get what you need- and they will insist the vendor sell this to you at a reasonable price.
Do not expect to find electronic parts abroad. We always take spare controllers, fuses, battery chargers, etc., as these are difficult to obtain, even in the United States.
Q. I worry that my bags will get lost. What do I do if they don't show up at the airport or can't be found?
This is every disabled travelers' nightmare because replacing medical or important "special needs" items is not like going in to a shop and buying a replacement blouse or pair of pants.
If your regular stuff gets lost, file a claim and buy replacements. The only bag you really must not lose is the one with the medical necessities in it.
You will have to call and see what the latest regulations are, but at the time we are writing this, the airlines cannot charge you extra for this bag under any circumstances, as it violates the A.D.A. laws. They may want to open and inspect it, however, hence our advice about having the doctor's letter of explanation on top of the case. You can even place the doctor letter inside a clear plastic sheet (or laminate) and Scotch tape this to the top of the case.
If it is not too bulky or heavy, see if they will put it in the cabin with you- specifically to minimize the possibility of "lost luggage syndrome". Be gentle, but firm in dealing with aircraft personnel with regard to this case. They have no idea how much your life will be made miserable should that bag not end up in your hands at the end of the flight. Its contents may be irreplaceable overseas.
Below are some of the letters and requests we have received as the result of your feedback forms. Perhaps they address your particular concerns.
Q. I am making inquires to travel to New Zealand for my father who is totally disabled. He is 60 years old, has MS, weighs around 130kg, and has a motorized wheel chair that would weigh a similar amount. He needs to be transferred by hoist to and from the chair and it is impossible to move him without a hoist.
We need to arrange for air travel, vehicle and suitable motel accommodation. Do you have any information that would help us get him there?
You probably have as taxing an assortment of difficulties as imaginable, yet it is still possible to accomplish what you wish.
First, as we advise in our Disabled Travelers Guide, make a list of ALL the needs you can think of for your Dad. The more you include on the list, the fewer difficulties you will encounter on the actual trip.
Because of so many special needs, we would suggest you enlist the aid of an agent.
Use your computer and Google-search for "travel agents New Zealand." Then begin to contact the agents that come up from the search and contact them with a letter similar to this one you have sent us. Include a copy of the list you have drawn up so they have a clear idea of what they
need to arrange for you.
In short order, you will have a much greater idea of what will be required logistically and an approximation of the costs involved. Then you can make the decision to go or not.
QUESTION- A test of faith:
i have a grown son who acquired TBI in 2004 at the age of 29. his father and i separated after 30 yrs. of marriage. he was abusive to me and the children.
he had the money for expensive lawyers, i didn't. my son is home with me. i am 59 and broke. i work evenings and do therapy with my son during the day.
how do you manage to enjoy life? how do you tell disabled people when they are sad and fed up that Satan is making you test your faith? how can you help them be thankful for life when they are sad?
It has always been our feeling that G_D never places more of a burden on your shoulders than She thinks you can bear. However, it certainly sounds as though your load may be a bit much!
There are several anecdotes in our book that address the very issues weighing on you. You apparently did not notice the book is free. You can read it online or download it as you wish, and I suggest you do so.
Look for the story of the farmer and the pumpkin seed. Read the bit about Nate's response when the doctors told him I would never be able to live a useful or meaningful life. And be sure to read the piece about "The Gambler". After doing so, please write us back and let's see what else can be done for you. Remember, our themes essentially incorporate the thought that one should never give up hope.
As for your ex-husband, rest assured there is a special place being reserved for him elsewhere. As he has sown, so shall he reap.
With warm regards,
Nancy and Nate
QUESTION: I have a blind client who would like to holiday in Thailand for about a month. Can you advise on a guide that would be available for an extended stay?
As a suggestion, Google something like "guide thailand" and see what comes up. There are a lot of young people, out of school between semesters, for example, who would be more than willing to knock themselves out to help your friend.
Q. Part of my disabilities include the need for many medical supplies, some of which are IV solutions which take up a great deal of room, and many of which need refrigeration. With all the restrictions at airports with carry-on stuff, and due to the fear of checked baggage often being lost, etc., I have not been able to travel,
There are several things you need to do in addition to those mentioned earlier.
The most important is to engage the airlines as part of the solution. Let them know of your need well before you intend to fly.
You need a note of explanation from your doctor regarding the nature of the materials you are carrying, the need for refrigeration, and a statement as to the fact that what you are bringing with you is absolutely necessary and life-saving.
Make several copies of this doctor's statement. Carry one on your person, place one in whatever container you are bringing along, and have a third ever ready to show anyone who stops and/or questions you along the way.
If they make you check your supplies and do not permit you to carry them aboard, ask them to mark you bag(s) with FRAGILE and SPECIA HANDLING tags. I would even go so far as to buy a plastic MEDICAL MATERIALS tag. If this is not available, have one made (check under SIGNS in the Yellow Pages).
As you board the plane, speak to the chief steward or purser about your irreplaceable, absolutely must-have materials, and ask him/her to help you see to it that these are carefully delivered to you on landing. If the container you are using is easily portable, ask them to have the bag delivered to you at the fuselage on landing, rather than have the bag off-loaded onto the baggage carousel.
Q. I would like to have a holiday in Greece next year. I travel with a wheel chair and wheelie walker. My friend will be accompany me, so I will have support in that way. Would you be able to let me know how that will be for my situation.
As you can see from our pictures of our trip to Greece (not the Greek Islands), we had no problems- and you shouldn't, either. You may want to check ahead on your planned itinerary, however, as the country is mountainous and some of the areas are not really accessible to people in wheelchairs. Advance planning is the key. Google for the Greek Board of Tourism- or whatever they call it.All things are possible.
Q. Is your wheelchair an all terrain vehicle, and is it heavy? Does it travel well (airplane)?
You can find out about the wheelchair at www.landeez.com In fact, if you click on the "Photo Gallery" the fist two photos on that site are of me in the Antarctic. (No money or gifts were received.)
In its original form, the chair has a mix and match set of interchangeable wheels, suitable for any terrain you will encounter. With the largest set of wheels, it weighs only 36 pounds. It does travel well, but takes some practice and patience when breaking it down to store in the trunk of your car- or a taxi.
If it is raining, you will get soaked putting it together or breaking it down. However, it is the single best piece of adaptive technology we have found. It is expensive, a bit over $2,500, but it has enabled us to have access to places we would otherwise have found impossible.
We have had the chair more than five years. As we have gotten older and a bit less physically capable, Nate decided to add motors to the chair (you can see it with these modifications in the pictures from Namibia). The project turned out to be daunting and quite expensive, but permits us to continue traveling, though both of us are near seventy years of age.
Although not a question, a reader wrote a letter to us recently that embodies everything we have tried to accomplish at this site:
"I love to travel, but haven't since I became disabled. I've been one those persons who has limited myself because of my physical problems. I am still able to walk, but I must use two canes.
I've also sat around feeling sorry for myself. Besides becoming disabled, my husband of 27 years left me, and I have been alone for 7 years since.
Nancy, I had tears running down my cheeks when I read about you and Nate. I know that you must feel so loved and cherished by your husband. Nate's writing paints a beautiful picture of a great love for his wife. You are blessed and I know that he is blessed for being such a good and caring husband. My heart feels filled with joy for what you two share.
I live on a very limited income now days, so I doubt that I'll be able to do as much as I would like to do, but having explored your web site... your optimism and refusal to succumb to "I can't do that," has lifted my heart and has encouraged me to adopt the same attitude.
Thank you so very much for taking the time to write and share pictures with me (and others). I am looking forward to reading your book. I hope that the Lord blesses you over and over again.
Each traveler has unique problems. If you have a problem and would like us to help you, contact us and we will do our best to help resolve your issue.
There is no cost or obligation for this, but we do ask a favor: Please download our book first. It is free of any bugs or other contaminants. It is also free of charge, and includes much more specific information than is available at the main web site.
"The Disabled Travelers Guide"
Read the complete book online for free