By Janelle Eckardt
July 1, 2009 (San Diego)--Wake up in Hawaii and take a deep breathe of sea-scented air; go to sleep in New York and exhale to the rhythm of sirens and honking horns. Such foreign lands are invigorating, enchanting, infuriating, and utterly impossible to forget. Travelling offers that strange cocktail of emotions: Relief to come home to old routines after even the best of holidays, soon chased by the anxious need to leave again. Craving the dizzy high of exploring a strange land? Still hung over from your last time-zone-hopping extravaganza? In either case, I recommend brushing up on some travel tips that might just be your raw egg and Tabasco sauce cure to the awesome migraine known as jet setting.
Using public transportation can be at best tolerable, and at worst the less desirable alternative to spending the night in a locked and very dirty restroom. For example, anyone traversing the wild terrain of the airport, not to mention the plane itself, with any form of physical limitation has a unique appreciation for the potential hazards such a journey presents. The sheer size of most airports, bus terminals, and train stations makes it very difficult for many travelers to comfortably move from one point to the other; and the compounded stress of juggling accompanying personalities, personal items, and seemingly impossible time-tables can drive the best of us to swear off travelling altogether… or at least until we have our next destination in mind.
There are many aspects of using mass transit we as passengers have little control over, but we can influence major factors that may decide if we ever book a ticket again. Not to sound like an afterschool special, but knowledge is power, and power is peace of mind. If you or anyone you know with any particular medical accommodations plans to take a trip, it behooves you to learn as much as you can about what services you should expect from carriers around the country. A great first-stop on the subject is the “laws and regulations” section of the DisabilityInfo.gov Transportation area. (http://www.disabilityinfo.gov/digov-public/public/DisplayPage.do?parentFolderId=131)
Every form of public transportation is discussed in relation to ADA requirements, and how these sanctions are enforced. This may be the single most comprehensive website for researching how various disabilities are accommodated by multiple modes of transportation. For instance, the “Motor Coach and Inter-City Bus” section has numerous articles relating to the over-the-road bus system. Each article specifically addresses ADA regulations, and how they apply to each transport service. Useful articles might include “Accessible Bus Service Under the Greyhound Agreement, “Mobility Devices on Transportation Services,” and “National Accessible Travelers Database Search.” Also, the website is structured to be fairly user-friendly – there are only three columns of content listings, and the article titles are posted in large fonts and offset colors.
For information specifically addressing air travel, I strongly recommend reviewing a couple useful sites. My only disclaimer is that however information-packed these resources may be, they offer an infinitely more potent punch of tediousness. That said, the US Department of Transportation’s guidebook, “Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Air Travel,” may just be the handicapped jet-setter’s Bible. (http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/rules/382short.pdf) I’m still not quite sure what “nondiscrimination” means, but I do know I’ve gone to this online manual more than once to be sure I was on the right side of the law. Behind the sections, subparts, sub-subparts, and amendments lay incredibly helpful facts like “Carriers shall, in cooperation with the airports they serve, provide boarding assistance to individuals with disabilities using mechanical lifts, ramps, or other suitable devices that do not require employees to lift or carry passengers up stairs.”(Subpart 382.40 (b)) The manual also discusses things like the proper handling of helper animals and intravenous medication.
Also relevant to air travel is the International Pompe Association (IPA) online manual, “Flying with a Ventilator in the US.” ( http://www.unitedpompe.com/pdf/430.pdf) This manual specifically addresses issues relating to the safe and proper use and stowage of ventilators on commercial airlines. As accessibility to all forms of public transportation improves, more and more ventilator users, including myself, are finding air travel to be a safe and reliable option. Before flying for the first time as a vent user, I spent many hours researching anything I could on the subject in part because I hate surprises, and also because my sister’s horror stories of past adventures kept me awake at night. This manual armed me with the knowledge I needed to feel prepared and safe in my travels.
Getting to and from our destination of choice may be our primary concern, but what about reaching the hotel? One might assume finding a handicap-accessible shuttle would be the easy part, but I’m sorry to say in my experience it’s the other way around. When planning one holiday I grew so frustrated with calling shuttle services, I conceded to what I thought was the option of renting an accessible limousine… It’s funny how being laughed at over the phone isn’t really that funny. Well, I eventually did find an accessible shuttle company, and haven’t strayed since. Super Shuttle serves thirteen states and thirty one cities nationwide, and offers timely and reliable transportation to and from airports and hotels. (http://www.supershuttle.com/default.aspx)
While the pleasant and helpful attitude of the staff and drivers is enough to keep my business, the true advantage of booking a ride with Super Shuttle is that they make it so easy. Requesting an accessible van is really as easy as checking a box during the online reservation process. Roundtrip? Yes. Fist name? Last name? Wheelchair Accessible Service Needed? Yes please. Done! Another feature that I consider an advantage is that reservations can be booked to share rides with other travelers. Not only does this option keep the cost down, but it is the greener way to go. And did I mention Super Shuttle explicitly proclaims it commitment to passengers with disabilities on its site? It does, and I quote: “Super Shuttle is committed to providing exceptional guest service for our customers with disabilities, including those who use wheelchairs and those who are accompanied by service animals.”
Each and every adventure promises the opportunity to discover a better way to travel. Whether by plane, train, or automobile, the possibilities are endless. So what are you waiting for? Stop reading this, shut down your computer, and get to it!
http://www.disabilityinfo.gov/digov-public/public/DisplayPage.do?parentFolderId=131 – DisabilityInfo.gov’s “Laws and Regulations” for ADA compliant transportation
http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/rules/382short.pdf -- The US Department of Transportation’s answer to a jet setter’s guide to traveling with a disability
http://www.unitedpompe.com/pdf/430.pdf -- The unofficial official guide to traveling with a ventilator
http://www.supershuttle.com/default.aspx -- Super Shuttle to the rescue!
Janelle Eckardt graduated from UCSD with a BA degree in English literature, in 2007. After gaining a spot in a competitive 12-week internship, she was hired as a writer and editor for a popular national restaurant review and reservation company. Hazards of the job include public displays of salivation over the countless mouth-watering dishes she is forced to describe, and the occasional threat of death-by-overeating. Janelle is a native of this most beautiful of counties, and is absolutely bent on showing it off to the world: bumpy sidewalks and all. And if she knows anything, it is this: bucket lists are for procrastinators–live as though you are … living.