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Mobility Aids for Wheelchair Travelers
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Mobility Aids for Wheelchair Travelers

As a regular wheelchair traveler, I know that certain pieces of equipment I use in my day-to-day life are going to be equally essential when I travel. Some elements of adaptations are standard and provided in many hotel rooms, such as grab rails around the toilet and grab rails in the shower area. But not every wheelchair accessible hotel room offers these adaptations and it is a good idea to be aware of the options for making the room more accessible. The more my illness progresses, the less adaptable I am to new situations and environments, so it is extremely helpful for me to have familiar pieces of equipment with me. If I want them with me, I must take them with me.

It may also be essential, if you are traveling in a power chair, that you have some reliable means of dealing with awkward steps and curbs. While many wheelchairs come with a curb climber, when traveling outside the US, you may be confronted by a curb or step that is a little bit too steep for your curb climber. As most power chairs are too heavy to be lifted over the obstacle, a portable ramp is a very helpful tool.

Of course, different wheelchair users have different needs so some of these pieces of equipment are only relevant to certain conditions. I, for example, have very poor balance and I really need grab rails around the toilet to help me manoeuvre myself on and off the seat. If the toilet does not have grab rails, however, it is not completely ruled out, because if there is enough space around it, I can use my toilet frame with a removable seat. I have taken this with me to a couple of destinations where the room is wheelchair accessible in the sense that it is flat throughout, but does not have any grab rails in the bathroom. I never fail to be entertained when people put the toilet frame in front of me, thinking it is a walking aid, and not realising that they are placing a toilet frame in front of me!

Fortunately, I have found that most airlines give a free excess baggage allowance to disabled travelers, allowing you to take equipment in addition to your wheelchair.

The following is a list of useful pieces of equipment that I always take with me and some that other wheelchair users who have slightly different leads to mine find indispensable tools when travelling.

Bed Lever

A Bed Lever is absolutely indispensable for me and I never travel without one. I have never seen adaptations that provide bed levers, so I cannot get out of bed if I do not have a bed lever to help me get up. However, most bed levers are quite large as they come in 2 pieces: the lever part, which comes out of the bed and supports you to get up and the other part which goes under the mattress and provides the counterweight to the lever.

Where the bed lever does not fit inside a bed frame, it will need to be secured by a band that loops around the entire width of the mattress. If you do not secure your bed lever, it will skid out of place as soon as you put any weight on it. I spent a long time looking for a bed lever that was small enough to fit in my suitcase. Eventually, I found one! It just fits inside my Samsonite suitcase. Of course, when you are at home an accessible bed with hand-rails is an indispensable asset, but it won't exactly fit in the back of your car, yet alone suitcase!

Toilet Chair that Doubles as a Shower Chair

I have stayed in some rooms that are "wheelchair accessible" i.e. no steps but do not have any adaptations such as grab rails, which I desperately need. This does not need to be a deal-breaker, however, as I can take a toilet chair with me and place it over the regular toilet seat and therefore have a higher seat and armrests that I can use to help me get up. The only thing I have to check is if there is space next to the toilet on both sides in order to fit the toilet frame. Generally, I ask for a photo but if they aren’t able to let me have a photo of the area I ask if they can measure that there is 5 cm clear space on each side of the toilet.

The toilet frame can also be used in the shower so it can double as a shower chair if needed. However, it will not fit in a bathtub and it offers no back support, just armrests. The rubber ferrules at the end of each leg mean it is reasonably reliable on a wet surface.

ELK Emergency Lifting Cushion

if you are going to a country which has stringent health and safety prohibiting hotel employees from lifting you, or if you wish to be independent of assistance, you may wish to travel with an ELK. Using a motor which requires regular plug in.  The cushion is placed under you and slowly inflates to lift you up to wheelchair seat height. However, there is no backrest so you will need to either sit up before it is inflated or Inflate it while your back is supported by a wall.

Smart Phone

In the 21st-century, there are an abundance of apps you can use to check accessibility of a location or you can visit wheelchairworld.org to see what resources exist for your chosen destination. You may wish to refresh your memory by regularly checking your smart phone to see any new information has been added that will benefit your current journey!

Basic Wheelchair Repair Kit

I have not yet bought one but always swear I will purchase a basic wheelchair repair kit. The handyman in most hotels do seem to be equipped with the kind of elementary tools needed for a quick repair but it would be nice to have something to make me feel a bit more comfortable.

This blog details what should be in a basic wheelchair maintenance kit.

These essential items are for my manual self-propelled wheelchair. For motorized wheelchair users these are some recommendations I have heard from motorized wheelchair-using travelers.

A portable, foldable and adjustable ramp

Obviously many ramps can be moved from place to place and are portable but they are very large, heavy and bulky and cannot be easily transported. The key to this piece of equipment is that it is something that can be taken with you, folded up and taken on the back of your wheelchair so that it can be brought out whenever necessary. Before purchasing any ramp, you must make sure that it is wide enough for your wheelchair. There is also a gradient issue, the higher the obstacle the longer you will need the ramp to be so that the gradient isn’t perpendicular. However, this is a workaround, and one of the factors is that the ramp be small enough for you to carry on the back of your wheelchair, so the gradient may end up being much steeper than you would normally expect, but at least you can get your chair over the obstacle! 

Most ramps are single fold meaning that they can be folded in half, but there are some that can be folded twice so they become quite small and turn into their own carry case. You can also get telescopic ramps which allow you to lengthen your ramp when you are confronted by a steeper obstacle, but obviously the bigger the ramp, the bulkier the load!

A portable, foldable hoist such as the Mo lift hoist

The Mo Lift hoist is foldable, lightweight and transportable so it can easily be taken with you if you need a hoist.

A blog post from Simply Emma, who uses a power chair, also details 5 essential things she can’t travel without .

Image credit: Flickr creative commons

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