By Jeri Murphy (Anything Is Possible Travel)
What’s travelling like for wheelchair users across the pond? Jeri Murphy, writer and photographer for Anything Is Possible Travel tells us all about her travels across the US and beyond with her daughter Carrieanna who has MS and uses a wheelchair, and how accessible they find the States.
Are you planning to go travelling this year? Let us know what you think about Jeri’s advice, or offer some of your own, by tweeting us at @AbilitySStore!
From your blog, we can see that you’ve been to lots of different places such as Amsterdam, Alaska, California, New Zealand and many more! In your experience, do you think any particular place is better for wheelchair users than others?
Due to Federal ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] laws, I believe it’s definitely easier for wheelchair users to travel within the United States. Most businesses are required to provide accessible restroom facilities, hotels must have accessible rooms (with appropriate modifications to make toilet and showers accessible). Exceptions are made for existing buildings built before 1993.
Obviously, planes must feature a lot in your journeys; what do you think about their accessibility? Do you think anything could be improved for Carrieanna when you travel by plane?
Since she cannot walk Carrieanna needs an aisle chair to get to her seat on a plane. (Fortunately, she is able to stand for a few seconds so she is generally able to pivot and sit rather than being lifted into her seat.) She is often able to acquire front row seating, which is helpful for boarding and also when she experiences spasticity in her legs (a common MS symptom). The toilet facility on a domestic flight is small and, to the best of my knowledge, does not have grab bars which would allow a disabled person to hoist herself onto the commode. This is generally not a problem for Carrieanna on a short flight, but would certainly be an issue on a cross-country or International flight.
What are some common obstacles that occur when travelling and how do you think they could be overcome?
The US is generally very proactive in providing accessibility. Other countries that I have visited are less so. We are always very specific when searching for lodging that meets Carrieanna’s needs. Most importantly, an accessible toilet and a roll-in shower (with shower controls within reach of the shower bench) are two details that we pay close attention to. Wheelchair-friendly sidewalks and paths are another important consideration. For example, we need to pay strict attention to our path while rolling over cobblestone in Amsterdam, Paris and San Juan, Puerto Rico, or through nature preserves in St. Maarten or Point Lobos State Natural Reserve in California.
How accessible do you find most hotels to be? Do you think anything could be changed to make holidays easier and more accessible for wheelchair users?
In the US we have had success with lodging, although we must be very specific with our needs. (We recently encountered a bathroom accessibility issue at a hotel in Tucson, Arizona. This was chronicled in a review on the TripAdvisor website.) A book entitled “Resting Easy in the US” by Candy Harrington, with its very detailed review of accessible lodging, has been a very helpful resource. Outside of the US, it is more difficult to find accessible lodging that meets our needs. A website or registry of accessible lodging throughout the world, with specific features listed for each accessible room — similar to Candy’s book — would be very helpful and make international travel more appealing to wheelchair users.
What inspired you to start going travelling and where was the first place you visited together? How did you plan in advance to make sure everything was suitable for Carrieanna?
Carrieanna’s father was an avid traveller, and before her MS diagnosis, they travelled (or camped) frequently. He also encouraged Carrieanna to travel with school groups, and as a teenager, she visited Italy, Germany, and the Galapagos Islands. After she began experiencing the physical challenges of MS her father was committed to helping her travel as much as she wanted. Our first international trip post-diagnosis was a week in Amsterdam in the spring of 2007 (a college graduation gift to Carrieanna). Her father spent weeks thoroughly researching and reserving accessible lodging and airline seating, as well as confirming accessibility at most of the most interesting tourist attractions in Amsterdam. Two years later we three again visited Amsterdam, with four days in Paris added to the trip. Six months prior to that trip I spent a day in Paris confirming the accessibility of our hotel and the museums and other attractions we wanted to visit.
We have to say, we love Carrieanna’s positive and upbeat attitude and her belief that: “if you haven’t tried, you don’t know if you can do it”. How does it feel to know that you and Carrieanna have most definitely inspired many disabled readers across the world, and what would you like them to know?
We are grateful for the travel opportunities we are able to enjoy in spite of the added mobility challenges Carrieanna faces. And we truly hope to inspire others to get out and explore as much as they want. There are many resources listed on the “blogroll” page of Anything Is Possible Travel’s website, and we hope that the blog posts and photos will encourage others to experience the joys of travel, whether near or far!