It’s only been a few weeks since I joined the ranks of 1.6 million Americans who use wheelchairs, and it has already changed me. I feel helpless in some ways and useless in others. I am in a different world, downsized and looking up, dependent upon others to get me where I’m going.
There is a terrible loneliness to that.
I use the chair only occasionally as the effects of COPD impact my ability to breathe easily, ergo my ability to walk long distances or to remain on my feet in museums or in crowded social functions. Our collapsible rolling chair is never far away.
While I used one on a trip to India two years ago, I was less in need. Our travel agency provided all means of transportation as we toured, and airport motorized golf carts did the rest. As my need grew slowly on trips within the U.S., I found that accommodations for those with disabilities were less than perfect. While federal and local laws provide many advantages for the disabled, some are missed.
Train travel, for instance, defies use of a wheelchair when trying to get from car to car, up narrow stairs and down equally narrow aisles on a swaying, bucking piece of machinery that rarely runs smoothly. One can avoid these by renting a private room, eating in the room and seeing passing views from small windows rather than from the domed, open perspective of a lounge car. It just isn’t the same.
Travel always requires an ability to adapt, and our trips around the world during the past 25 years make the inclusion of a wheelchair a little easier. On that train trip that took us to Seattle a couple of weeks ago, for instance, we invited our 18-year-old grandson Jeff along and he pushed the wheelchair when necessary and never seemed to tire.
So get yourself a traveling chair if you must. You can buy one from a website for as little as $50 or induce your insurance company to pay for one if the need is critical. There are also an abundance of agencies that specialize in travel for those with disabilities. You’ll find that hotels, restaurants and other tourist-oriented facilities will fight to get your trade and will offer perks to the disabled to get you there.
I will probably have to rely on a wheelchair under certain conditions from now on, but I will do as much walking as possible, too, to prove to myself that the man is still within me who can make his own way in the world, on his feet, standing tall and not being afraid of what tomorrow may bring.
Also of Interest
- Getting Around Town
- Is Your Community Walkable?
- Join AARP: Savings, resources and news for your well-being
See the AARP home page for deals, savings tips, trivia and more