December 2nd, 2011 at 1:15 pm
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Elder mobility: traveling with a wheelchair

by Judy Kirkwood

My daughter-in-law’s 86-year-old father, Jim, traveled from the Midwest to South Florida with my son’s family for a visit with me last month. She rented a wheelchair from the local hospital as her diabetic father had some trouble walking. My son was flying separately with Jim and everything went smoothly until their layover in Atlanta.

When the wheelchair, which had been gate-checked, was brought up to the gateway my son could not open it. No one could open it as the frame had been bent when it was most likely thrown into the luggage compartment. The airline provided a wheelchair to use while in the airport waiting for the next plane, but it was awkward for my son keeping track of the broken chair as well as luggage while airline staff pushed his father-in-law to the next gate.

Wheelchair replacement by airline

What to do? Upon arrival at the Ft. Lauderdale airport, my daughter-in-law took the broken wheelchair to the Delta service office. Luckily, Delta had a relationship with a medical equipment rental and repair service not far from my house. It was time consuming, but everything worked out. We got Jim into my van with the help of his crutch, dropped off the wheelchair to be fixed and were given another one as a rental that the airline paid for while Jim’s was getting fixed.

Sightseeing with a wheelchair

I was worried about sightseeing with a wheelchair but found that it was almost an advantage. At Walt Disney World, all seven of us got to go to the head of every line and wait in a special area where we could leave the wheelchair and make the transfer onto the ride (all quite tame–no roller coasters for Jim). That’s like winning the lottery when it comes to accommodating three young children–hardly any waiting in line.

Consider the terrain of wherever you are going because it is quite strenuous to push a wheelchair up an incline and strength is required to hold it back when going down a hill. I was particularly concerned about taking him to the beach. But in the handicapped lot on the ocean side of the street was a sign for a special kind of wheelchair that goes over sand. The lifeguard brought a kind of reclining wheelchair with big orange plastic wheels that didn’t get stuck in the sand, which was perfect.

Don’t be afraid to travel with a wheelchair. It might turn out better than you imagined.

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6 Comments to “Elder mobility: traveling with a wheelchair”

  1. Judy

    I appreciate your comments. The main thing I learned was that although it is inconvenient and time-consuming to transport the wheelchair and the person who will go in the wheelchair (luckily my daughter in law’s father could stand for transfers), there are some rewards too.

    I loved the handicap tag for when we had 3 young children in the car who were eager to trick or treat (downtown in the afternoon) on a hot day, and of course it got us a closer parking spot at Disney World. I kept telling Jim that if it weren’t for him we’d have spent hours in lines for rides. I don’t think he would have gone on any of the rides if he hadn’t known he was helping out, and he would have missed the fun!

  2. I used to order wheelchairs to wait for us at the airport, but not once was one available when it was needed. That necessitated some very difficult adjustments, but once I found rentals I found them indispensable.

    The biggest problem was that my mom needed a walker, too, in order for me to transfer her in bathrooms and other areas. Threading the folded walker through the wheelchair handles always made me feel like I should have a “wide load” sign on my back. It was a terribly hard juggling act, but I wouldn’t have wanted to be without the wheelchair for a walk of any distance.

    As Judy mentioned, they are invaluable for many elders who wouldn’t normally need one, if you want to see tourist attractions.

    Most places are aware that wheelchair access is necessary, so renting one for an event is helpful for many.

    This post brought back memories!

  3. I, too, have found traveling with my husband and his giant power wheelchair is a challenge. It’s scary to give over responsibility for the sole method of mobility — a REALLY expensive one, at that — to baggage handlers for any airline. If you go by plane, you have no choice unfortunately. We ended up with the wires for my hubby’s controller electronics being yanked out and it took me 45 minutes to figure out how to fix the problem — I’m no engineer!

    We were lucky — arriving at midnight would have meant no way to get anything repaired that night nor would we have been able to get a rental chair in the interim.

    We’ve rented accessible mini-vans at our destinations so that we can travel at our own whim once we’ve arrived. While that’s expensive, we get to control so much more of our experience.

    Needless to say, with the negative wheelchair issues that MIGHT come up, we don’t travel as much as we probably could. And, while we’re not looking for problems to come up, the mere fact that they COULD always factors into decisions about whether to go someplace specific, the travel timeline, etc.

    Wheelchair travel without full, proactive planning has never worked out for us so we pick and choose as wisely as we can with the best data/information we can find. It’s a shame that there aren’t more accessible destinations but I know more are coming each and every day so my hopes remain high for broadening our horizons!

    But you’re also right about the special handicapped lines at certain places — larger venues DO make the extra effort to accommodate wheelchair and assistive device users, which can be a real blessing!

  4. Helen

    A wheelchair is one of those essential items, so I’m so glad everything was resolved. Whoever came up with the rental beach chairs is BRILLIANT! it makes ocean-going accessible to all.

  5. Lila

    What helpful hints you’ve provided to chair users and their families. Thanks!

  6. Kaye Swain

    Oh my! I would never have thought of that happening or how to deal with it. Great tips for all of us caring for the elderly parents and relatives in our families. I’m passing the info on via Facebook and Google +.

    One suggestion I can share – When my senior dad was in the end stage of Parkinsons Disease, we got him a lightweight travel transport wheelchair. It was much easier to push, even uphill.

    Thanks again for the tips.

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