This month, I had the pleasure (yes, shockingly, it was a pleasure) of traveling on a plane with my power chair for the first time! I was outlandishly nervous to do so. For someone who travels for my career, this was so wildly out of my wheelhouse that it came across to me as intimidating. I had to get my power chair to the airport and on the plane, and then get to my hotel using the Metro.
Preparing My Power Chair for Travel
Fortunately for me, I know people who are experts in traveling with wheelchairs. They provided me with all sorts of tips and resources. I made a little printed sign with instructions on things such as how to lift the chair and how to put the chair in freewheel so it could be pushed. I also mentioned to not try and fold the chair or rewire anything. This absolutely makes me wonder what other people have experienced in this regard.
Accessible Taxis and Managing My Luggage
On the big day, I loaded myself into a prearranged accessible taxi to head to the airport. I’m fairly certain my driver was terrified on my behalf for how chaotic it was for me to get myself and all of my things into the car. He was probably positive that there was no way I’d be able to carry my luggage and manual wheelchair through an airport to my destination. Kudos to him, however, as he patiently waited for me to get organized and figure things out without trying to step in until I requested an assist. I must have looked like a hot mess!
Accessible Doors at the Airport
I was fascinated by all the accessible features I’d taken for granted. For example, I’ve never actually required an automatic door opener when using my manual chair. Sure, it’s nice to have, but in a pinch, I’d be able to open the door in my manual chair just fine. I found myself getting so frustrated with places that didn’t have the automatic doors as it was so cumbersome and difficult to open a door at times in my power chair.
The Benefits of an Accessible Bathroom
If a bathroom stall is designed to meet bare minimum access, this means that stall is entirely unusable with a power wheelchair. With this different experience, I became strikingly aware of the differences between a space that is simply accessible, versus universally designed and inclusive. I was fascinated, and thought about how I could integrate this concept into my profession and play. It’s such a different experience than what I am used to when operating my manual chair. I can only imagine how different play looks and feels in a motorized wheelchair.
Communicating with Airline Personnel
Once I arrived at my gate, I spoke to the gate agent, the ramp worker and the flight attendant. Everyone met me and learned how my power wheelchair, a critical piece of equipment, was to travel. When I arrived at my destination, I felt the airline and staff took expert care in returning my chair to me, and it arrived in one piece. I feel that the trip was successful, thanks to my open communication with the airline staff. This to me was the biggest hurdle, and after having learned how to schlep all of my stuff around, I got my things organized, grabbed a bite to eat and breezed right through the metro to my destination!
About Jill Moore White: Jill is an inclusive play specialist, bringing accessible playgrounds to local communities. She volunteers with disability organizations, including the Disability EmpowHER Network. Jill enjoys music, sketching and playing video games. Click here to learn more about Jill.
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