By: Kelly Bonner
Whether you will be traveling with your child this summer or they will be venturing out with others, here are some important tips when it comes to traveling as a youth with a disability.
1. Know when to go – to the bathroom that is. If your kids are like most, they may not always “feel the urge” to go but that’s no excuse for being the stink bomb in the minivan. Be sure your child maintains their bowel and bladder management regimen. They should be aware that they may not be able to stop every four hours, especially if they are flying or driving with others. They need to take advantage when the opportunity arises, or they may need to ask their traveling companions for an extra stop. Either way, they will need to be proactive about the situation or it could make for a very long trip. One other final note on the topic: not all planes bring along their aisle chairs when in the air. Be sure to either request one ahead of time or use the facilities before boarding the plane.
2. Stay hydrated. It can be difficult to stay hydrated while traveling especially if you are trying to avoid an accident or having to pay the higher airport fees for water, but that’s no excuse. Dehydration can make for a miserable vacation with a chance of upset stomach, headache, or just plain old grouchiness. It is particularly important if you are traveling for an athletic event because you want to be able to perform to your best ability. And, just so we are clear soda, coffee and energy drinks don’t count! You will actually need to double your intake of water for any amount of caffeine you consume. Another note of caution, if you have a long plane ride in front of you don’t consume any acidic drinks like orange or apple juice as they will not sit well on the long journey and could cause some serious bloating and stomach pain.
3. Regardless of whether your child is traveling with you or with others, everyone appreciates someone who can carry their own weight, or luggage, in this case. If your child is currently unable to maneuver while caring their luggage, try practicing with a couple different forms. Some prefer a rolling luggage carrier so they can maneuver it easily and push it with their wheelchair. Others prefer to place their items in a duffle bag and throw the strap over their head and place the bag in their lap. Those who use a walker may need to find a way to attach it to the walker. How they figure it out is really up to them, but they need to make sure they can do it themselves. They also might need to rethink how much stuff they need to carry with them on the plane. Here are a couple questions to consider: Can they easily carry it themselves? Is it cumbersome if they also had to carry their meal? Do they really need that pillow, blanket and electronic item with them on the plane or can it be checked? They should be capable and responsible enough to carry whatever they have with them through the airport, on the plane, and be able to store it appropriately on the plane by themselves. If your child will be bringing another mobility device with them such as crutches, walker or sporting chair, have them practice maneuvering around with the extra equipment. It can be a challenge to handle all of that gear; it will just make it even tougher when all eyes are on them.
4. If your child will be traveling with a wheelchair, it is very important to make sure the chair is ready for travel. Here are some things you should do to make sure their chair is flight ready. First, give the chair a good washing. Make sure their cushion is clean; their axels are well lubed and cleaned of any hair or threads and check for any tears in fabric. For more information on this, check out our wheelchair maintenance and cleaning article (add link). Second, label all the parts. The airline will place a tracking number on the frame itself but you want to make sure every part of the chair is labeled in case it gets separated. This includes both tires, the cushion and the frame as well as any detachable parts like a footplate or tippy bars. Finally, be sure to take note of the chair’s overall condition and all its parts just in case something gets damaged along the way.
5. Our last tip and possibly the most important is to teach your child how to be an advocate for themselves while traveling. This can include everything from asking for an extra bathroom stop, to aisle chair needs on an airplane, to requesting an accessible hotel room. First, when checking in at the airport, they need to tell the attendant what assistance they will need to board the plane. For example, if they will need an aisle chair, they need to mention that to the ticket agent as well as the gate agent. They need to make sure their wheelchair or other mobility device is appropriately tagged by airport staff. They need to be vocal about keeping their cushion on the flight with them and how their chair should be stored on the plane. Upon arrival, they need to check their mobility device clearly for any potential damage. If damage has been done, they need to address the situation immediately and document it so that it can be taken care of by the airline. Hotel accommodations are another area where they should be prepared to be an advocate for themselves. They need to be sure to request an appropriately accessible room. They may also need to make the hotel staff aware of any special requests they might have like a need for a shower chair, lowering of the showerhead, extra towels or any other needs.
Following these tips can help your child enjoy a fun vacation season or competitive travel event!