A recent vacation taught me some valuable lessons on accessible travel that I would like to share with you. My own temporary disability that lasted only a few months presented me with valuable first-hand experiences that will benefit our readers.
My decades-long career as a Disability Insurance Advisor gave me a unique perspective of being actively involved with employees of client companies filing long-term disability claims (LTD). We essentially “advise” disabled employees filing LTD claims that they did not understand the claim process.
“Hitting the wall” … At the point of being disabled, there is the “shock” of “crossing the line” in one moment. One minute we are healthy, the next we are disabled. It happens in the time it took you to read this paragraph.
The most obvious impact on his “psyche” began with the psychological impact of not having excellent health without limitations. When added to the instant negative impact on your medical condition, it is compared to “walking against a wall.” In addition to the physical and emotional trauma of being disabled, the additional impact of an immediate change in lifestyle can be overwhelming for the toughest souls.
How do we get to the second floor bedroom in a wheelchair? How are you going to get in the shower? Where do we buy handrails for the bathroom? And who is going to install them? For older people with arthritic hands, where do we find clothing or shoes with velcro fasteners? They are the most welcome benefits for older people with arthritic fingers.
At the worst moment imaginable, decisions need to be made to adapt to a completely new and very different lifestyle.
Since I had a month to go before rotator cuff surgery, I couldn’t use an arm normally. Taking public transport from Gaulle Airport in Paris brought us to the “tube” (the rapid transit system under the streets of London). Upon reaching our stop on the ground floor of our hotel, we discovered that there was no “elevator” (a street-level elevator). After dragging two heavy suitcases with one arm, very steep stairs, I was grateful for my “good” arm.
Upon returning home to the US I went online and did my first accessible travel search. My first task was to open a map of London’s rapid transit system and a whole new world of opportunity appeared on my computer screen. There was a map of the entire London rapid transit system where I could see all the transit stations that had “elevators”.
Then I could have looked for hotels and bed & breakfasts that are near the stations with elevators. If I was disabled next time, I would simply do accessible travel planning to enjoy a trip to London.
The key message here is “do your homework” before you embark on your vacation trips. My guess is that future vacations will bring you more fun than you could have ever imagined.
The next part of my accessible travel trip was an invitation to speak to a Parkinson’s support group. When I had created a handbook on accessible travel opportunities, a young woman discovered my publication and my online biography. He asked if I would be willing to talk about accessible travel to a group of 40 to 50 people consisting of Parkinson’s patients and their caregivers.
What I learned below is probably the most valuable lesson I can offer to anyone with some form of disability or handicap who used to travel but has completely stopped. My epiphany occurred when I simply asked if members of the support group were having difficulties with their travels. What I heard later was “yes”, it seems like everyone in the group had basically stopped traveling entirely!
Since my working life was about helping people file disability claims, I discovered that there were a multitude of variations in Parkinson’s severity. I learned that there were people with symptoms that initially led to a specific (Parkinson’s) diagnosis, even those who were severely handicapped and totally disabled. It seems that with the initial diagnosis, that was a primary factor in stopping his journey. Possibly it was assumed that continuing to travel would be too much to deal with.
When asked what had happened, there was no way of knowing if a conscious or subconscious decision had been made. I was wondering if it was fear of the unknown, or possibly assuming “it” (traveling) would be too much to handle. Would there be any chance of being away from your doctors or treatment centers? Or was he just fearing the unknown?
Another option I considered had to do with how many of us felt more comfortable with a family environment. We have all heard the expression “creatures of habit”. For most people, we know that “home is where the heart is.” More than being honest, our homes are where we feel most comfortable. A family environment gives us a feeling of comfort.
Don’t we have all of our favorite restaurants? I know from myself that there are at least three different routes I can take to drive to my office, all the same distance, but I have to make a conscious effort to change my route.
Going back to my Parkinson’s support group experience, each member came with a spouse, parent, or friend who were caregivers. I asked the audience for a taste of those with Parkinson’s. So I asked if it was annoying that vacation travel had stopped. There was universal recognition.
I fully understand that it can be more upsetting to see a loved one facing a recession in terms of health. There is no way that a healthy caregiver can fully appreciate the impact of declining health. The most relevant point I want to highlight is that you are the one who is becoming more fragile due to a compromised medical condition, be aware of the impact on your life partner who is no longer joining you on vacation and acknowledge your knowledge of their care and lifestyle changes
Allan Checkoway, RHU