I injured my spinal cord in 1979, well before the ADA granted and ensured Civil Rights for the Disabled. Since there was no law in place, I believed the morality of the Constitution would guarantee my equality as an American, so I carried on believing I was equal to all. That being said, I went out into the world to enjoy its many splendors. That was not limited to going to college out-of-state but also traveling anywhere I could and by whatever means was available to me.
In looking at colleges, we drove to various states in the Mid-Atlantic like Rhode Island and Pennsylvania; New England’s Massachusetts and Maine and tapped into the Mid-West via Ohio. Each trip was a great family adventure by car reminiscent of summer vacations. My parents and brother took turns driving while I rode shotgun, dreaming of the day my van modification was complete and I could have a turn as well.
We stopped at diners just off the highway and continued on each day until dusk. We’d stay at cheap no-tell Motels and grab a McMuffin, hash browns and coffee to go. Sometimes I sat in the passenger seat with my cushion under me other times I went commando, orthopedically. I preferred to be cushion free – it felt more sturdy while riding.
Getting in and out of the car was easy, as my brother or Dad could just scoop me up and set me down. My Mom relied on a sliding board to whip me around and one day, approaching Boston, I was done. I preferred the idea of riding in my wheelchair. We finished that trip, and after a bit of research, I found we could rent accessible vans! What a relief. Driving from state to state became a new fun experience.
I can’t remember finding accessible parking spots but we would take two places, parking on a slant. Some fellow drivers were initially outraged, but once they saw the lift there was an unspoken approval in the glances we received. My disability didn’t matter, it seemed, when it came to the open road.
On one occasion, we were burnt out from driving and decided to leave the rental behind and fly home! I was ecstatic! My first flight since my injury! I could do so much of what I have done before. We knew nothing and asked the airline to guide us through. The staff at the counter were lovely and an employee who had coordinated accommodations for the elderly and the few disabled flyers that traveled with them talked us through the process. I learned I was to board first and leave last. My wheelchair could fold and it was checked as baggage and placed in cargo last so it would be close at hand upon landing. Employees from cargo were conscripted to transfer me from my wheelchair to the aisle chair and then to the plane seat. I hated the idea of so many transfers. Luckily, my brother swooped in and carried me from my wheelchair directly to my seat.
In the ongoing years, still pre-ADA, I had my own accessible van I could drive from my wheelchair. I went around touring on the road with either my mother or friends. It seemed easy, but not every hotel or motel was accessible. I dealt with each room at the moment of arrival. Most managers were willing to accommodate and for a buck or just a request, maintenance personnel would move or remove furniture to accommodate me. At one Holiday Inn, we rearranged the entire room and the manager liked the spaciousness. He intended to look into seeing if the room could remain that way. After the ADA had become law, slowly the hospitality business became less hospitable. I didn’t let that stop me. Air travel was becoming easier as more disabled individuals took to the air. At the same time, the market was increasingly offering products that would assist your ability to travel. My favorites are my Quantum Bath bench and my transfer seat, Love Handles.
The one thing I had yet to do was to ride the rails. An ex-boyfriend took me to DC for the day to celebrate my 35th birthday and I fell in love with train travel. You simply roll on, occupy a wheelchair space and park your chair. That’s it. There’s a cubby area for luggage if you have any. I returned to DC with my mother and my caregiver. It was the easiest and most civilized way to travel. I rode the Acela Express and arrived in DC from NYC in a short amount of time. My fellow travelers were as comfortable as I was and so amiable. I had made a few acquaintances onboard.
Now that I’ve moved to Arizona, I intend to take a train ride along the Amtrak’s Starlight Coast, traveling from Los Angles to Seattle in about 10 hours, 423 miles along the Pacific Coast with astounding views of the Pacific Northwest’s natural beauty. Amtrak does have accessible bathrooms and sleeper cars that has room for a wheelchair. It’s the width of the train. No excuses, folks. Take an Amtrak Journey, you won’t regret it!