How to Travel with a Disability

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Traveling with a disability caused by chronic illness can be challenging, but it’s not impossible. In my experience of traveling with Muscular Dystrophy (MD), doing the right type of research and proactive planning (in advance) can help create a comfortable, enjoyable and memorable trip. Some of the simplest outings (a date, night on the town or happy hour) can pose major problems when it comes to moving about freely with a disability. I’ve had too many experiences not to learn how to make sure the venue and overall trip will be as comfortable as possible. There are a few suggestions I want to share with those who may be unsure of how to prepare for going out for a night or overnight while living with a disability of any type or cause. Here’s my best advice:

Do your research! The first thing I do when going out with friends or headed to another speaking engagement is to ask the following questions to make sure, I will be comfortable throughout the night or trip:

  1. Is the venue wheelchair accessible? You’d be surprised how many restaurants, bars, and even hotels will say they are wheelchair accessible and have broken door openers. It’s a bit ridiculous and can be a major pain for someone who struggles with physical energy and strength. Call ahead and have them check if possible.  
  2. Does it have a working elevator? This can seem like a silly question, but there are venues that may have upper levels, like balconies and sectioned-off areas of the space that don’t come with an elevator. Before you call, google the venue and see if any pictures pop up. If it looks questionable, ask.
  3. Is the ground/walking area flat? This is important to know when it comes to planning which equipment you may need to bring or leave home. For me, keeping my balance is critical to preventing falls. Make sure you know exactly what you’re dealing with so you know exactly how to prepare.
  4. Is there Handicap parking near the entrance/exit. This may seem like another silly question, but most nightclubs or lounges don’t have handicapped parking and some stores that have it still require at least 40 feet or more walk to make it to the main entrance which can seem like miles to someone in my shoes. Knowing this information is helpful when figuring out transportation (to Uber or not to Uber).
  5. Chat with others: This is where support groups really come in handy. When you are thinking about or preparing to travel, reach out to the groups you are a part of to see what others have done to make traveling doable (support groups, social media etc).

Image result for handicap room on cruise ship

On the flip-side, I also want to share some advice with restaurant owners, conference and event organizers on what to anticipate for patrons/attendees with disabilities. This is also a good list of requests to make if you are a speaker or featured guest at an event:

How to prepare:

 

  • Have a ramp (so the person can get in). Some accommodations are an easy fix. Having a portable ramp will help wheelchair or scooter users navigate easily on and off stage or through one area of a venue to the main exits or additional areas.
  • Have seating options that include higher chairs. Sometimes the hardest thing for me to do is to sit down and then find the energy to then lift myself back up again. Make this easier by providing seating that is higher (bar height) and more comfortable for those with different physical needs or limitations.
  • Send/google pictures/call ahead: If you are organizing an event, try to take pictures of entrances/exits, stage areas and any other key venue areas that your participant may have to travel through. If you are a traveler, don’t feel like calling ahead to hotels, conference venues or weekend destinations is an inconvenience. This is about your safety and comfort.
  • Roll-in shower – not just handlebars (hotels): One of the best experiences I’ve had in a hotel included a roll-in shower. Having this option in addition to the handlebars on the sides of the shower made one of the most normal routines (taking a shower) safe and comfortable. Ask for this accommodation if you are traveling. If you are the organizer/host, make sure to ask both your guest and the lodging location if a roll-in shower is a part of the disability-friendly rooms.
  • Handicap toilets with the bar rails/raised toilet seats. Another small, but important aspect of disability-friendly accommodations for travelers is another aspect of the bathroom. Being able to get on and off the toilet is a simple luxury that folks without a disability take for granted, but having the added touch of a raised toilet seat can make ALL the difference for someone who struggles with balance, strength and wanting to be as dependent as possible. Go the extra mile for yourself or your guest.

A Few More Items to Look for:

  • Back Cushions (for long periods of time)
  • Flying – call ahead and ask for a wheelchair ahead of time (cut the line, get there on time, curbside service)
  • Apartments: elevator, walk-in shower, total accessibility
  • Traveling on a cruise: you can rent scooters and appears to be handicap accessible – from personal experience (Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines)
  • Check for Medical Supply Stores: get what you need to travel – or use Amazon.

Best places I’ve been:

  • Foxwood Casino and Resort in CT
  • Mohegan Sun Casino and Resort in CT
  • Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines

Remember: Traveling IS possible for those of us living with a disability of any type. You can enjoy a night out with friends. You can go on a getaway overnight or out of town and still have a great time. Don’t let anything or anyone tell you that you can’t enjoy life. Be safe. Be smart. Be prepared. Do your research. Make plans and live your best life. See below for a few more suggestions on traveling safely and comfortably with a disability.

For more information on how to travel with a disability check out transportation.gov.

Have any travel tips to share? Comment below!

 

Also just another tip below:

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How I Reacted to My Diagnosis

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This is what being diagnosed with a chronic illness is like:

1st Day: Confused. Never heard of it. What does this mean? Google black hole. What is going to happen to me? Is this information correct? Every day after that for the next few months: Denial, learning in secret and surviving.

It started with falling, losing my balance and I thought if I lost more weight I would fine. I started exercising and it wasn’t working, I started losing feeling in my arm and couldn’t raise it. Went to the Orthopedic doctor who then recommended I see a Neurologist and a series of test ensued. In the meantime, my cousin and I did Weight Watchers, I lost 32 pounds and kept living life. After losing the weight, I began to feel a little better.

At 25 and while in graduate school I was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy (MD). I wasn’t telling anyone. Only people who knew were my close family and friends. I would tell prospective employers I used a cane because of a car accident. If anyone else asked I would say I sprained my ankle. I was in total denial. I always walked with a limp and it continued after. Overtime I understood that my employer needed to know. There were tasks that I wasn’t physical able to do and had to end up letting them know. It was hard to tell people what I had because I didn’t initially accept it.

6 months after the diagnosis, I was still researching (sometimes the internet is wrong, but it gave me something to do and was easier than talking about it), did a lot of shopping to feel good and get it off my mind. I was shopping all the time to keep my mind occupied. I was still able to go to the gym. I wasn’t involved in any organizations and still thinking, this is not what I have I was still just dealing with a lot of emotions.

When I approached the one-year mark of being diagnosed and now, experiencing the symptoms of MD regularly, acceptance was soon to come. Writing a blog post on Tumblr was my first step to real acceptance. That moment was like my reckoning. I posted it on social media and the response was overwhelming. A lot of people were hearing about the condition for the first time and beginning to understand what I was going through. It’s like my diagnosis became a PTA that everyone needed to know about. It was that year I found out about the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA), started connecting with people my age and more opportunities and more. A friend recommended I start using hashtags when posting on social media related to my condition and started connecting with so many people who were experiencing the same symptoms and lifestyle changes. I started going to conferences, meeting more people and being invited to speak at different events about my experience.

Since then, I have continued to stay connected to my local MDA chapter, continue to speak, raise funds and spread awareness. Started my clothing line, Girls Chronically Rock (GCR) and continue hoping for the best. I told my employer just last year that I had MD and am waiting on a response. It took a weight off my shoulder to just be honest with my boss. I feel so relieved. My condition has progressed since then. I am regularly tired, need the use of a cane, still have issues walking and not getting tired and occasionally need a wheelchair.

You don’t know how it feels until it happens to you. I often feel like it controls my life. I’ve considered getting a Personal Care Assistant (PCA) to help with everyday life. My friends with MD have PCA’s, and I am exploring my options as well. I don’t want to put on a front anymore. I’m tired. Taking it day by day. Still doing me. Because everything affects my productivity: my energy, pain, the weather or physical demands of a regular in-person job still offer challenges, but I am confident that I can still be successful at anything I do.

If you are in a place where denial is all you have, consider these steps and get your joy, peace and freedom back:

    1. Maintain your normal routine as long as you can: remember, a diagnosis is not the end of your life. It’s another opportunity to educate yourself on how to still live your best life in spite of any obstacles. Make the necessary changes, but not all at once.
    2. Use the first few weeks to educate yourself: on the symptoms, the best practices, the resources and support groups available
    3. Reach out to others with the same chronic illness: This is where getting connected to local organizations that can point you in the right direction of condition specific communities becomes key to getting past the initial shock and follow-on emotions that can come with a diagnosis.
    4. Support Groups: Support groups can give you the on-going relationships, information and wisdom needed to get through living with a chronic illness or whatever condition you may have
    5. Writing is healing: It wasn’t until a friend recommended that I share my story in a post that I finally came to terms with having MD. It was both freeing and therapeutic to write out my experience. Consider journaling your journey. Your future self will thank you.
    6. It will take time to accept it: Give yourself time. There isn’t a timeline on how long it may take fully accept what is happening to your body. You may need a few days, weeks, or longer. Don’t feel like you have to be “strong,” in order to get through this. It takes more courage to accept and let yourself feel than it does to hide behind phrases like, “I’m okay. Everything is fine.
    7. Understand that this doesn’t mean your life is over: I want to re-emphasize this point to you: life will go on after your diagnosis. Your dreams don’t have to fade. Your goals are still valid. Will how you fulfill those goals look different? For some yes. For some maybe. For others, no. Keep dreaming. Keep grinding. Keep reaching for your best life. This is just another part of your story.
    8. Seek out help to deal with depression: One of most prominent side effects of any unfavorable or bad news is the symptoms of depression. For some, this is just a natural way we all react when life throws us curve balls and may last no more than a few hours or days. In other cases, sometimes depression (or a what seems like a gray cloud) can hang over us for more than just a few days. More like weeks or even months. Never feel like asking for professional help is the last resort to help navigate through the feelings you may be experiencing. You have a right to be able to laugh, have joy and enjoy life while you process what’s happening to you. Sometimes, we need help figuring out what we can do to help relieve stress and take off some of the pressure we may be feeling. You are worth the time and money to feel like, “you” again.

I share all this to say, there’s beauty in acceptance. There’s a freedom that we gain when we open up to others and no longer have to carry the heaviness of a condition or chronic illness by ourselves. You got this!

” At the end of the day, I have no control over this disease, this disease has control over my body. As much as people from the outside try to comment on what people with disabilities can do to heal, please stop, you have no idea what it’s like untillyou living with a chronic illness every day.” Every day I wake up, I see what my body decides what we are going to do and I go from there and take it each it each day at a time.”

 

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The Mighty Blog Post

Thank you to “The Mighty” for sharing my story. 💪🏽🙌🏾❤️ I really do enjoy blogging and expressing myself in a way I totally didn’t see myself doing a few years back. I will continue to blog and share my story of my everyday challenges and more. Thank you for the support! 💪🏽💪🏽❤️❤️💕https://themighty.com/2018/08/tips-for-owning-a-business-with-chronic-illness-muscular-dystrophy/