The Locked-In Traveler
(Kati’s Wheelchair Traveling Journals)
Planning a trip
Back in 1997, people still went to a travel agent to book their trips. There already was internet, but it was not like nowadays that you could find or do anything by yourself on the web. They had brochures with the necessary information and lovely pictures of this and that. If after you looked at the folder and you still were not sure about something, you would have to make that long-distance call to find out.
The travel agent was amicable and helpful. She showed us some catalogs of tours to Florida. After looking through it carefully, we chose Fort Lauderdale. The hotel seemed nice and close to the beach. We were saving a whole year to make the trip, and the price was reasonable. We even came out under budget for a trip, which included airfare, accommodations, and guided tours.
It all sounded so very perfect. However … nobody considered that we just booked a trip Florida right in the middle of; “spring break.”
When the taxi pulled up to the hotel, we were welcomed by loud half-naked drunk teens. My mother was in shock. To make it worse, construction works were going on right in front of the hotel. In other words; noisy by day, noisy by night.
We immediately called our local tour guide and explained the situation. We asked her to find us another hotel. Almost everything was fully booked, of course. Only the higher-end hotels had vacancies, and, in the end, we went over budget.
Lesson learned though; do not just look at the where, but also look at the when. Check for the local seasons; high or low, weather, holidays, special events, and so on. Also, always, be prepared for eventualities. Physically abled people can be flexible. However, it is not the same when you are a wheelchair user. Options are limited for the less abled.
Nowadays we make all our reservations on the internet. Most airline companies have options on their website where you can inform that you need assistance and what kind. However, if you book via other sites, you do not get this option, and you need to call the airline to inform them of your needs.
You have more and more hotels these days that state that they are accessible when in reality they are only semi-accessible. Even if the hotel seems perfect, we still send them a message informing them of our situation and checking if it all is as accommodating as their ads.
Accessibility is getting better. However, it is still regarded as an ad on to architectural design. It is most of the time; “not esthetically beautiful and sometimes even right down awkward.” Designs should be flowing curves like a slick sports car instead of squares, with corners and stairs. The architecture would be more beautiful and accessible to everyone if a structure would be with a flowing design, which is disabled friendly, and would also be more practical for elders and safer for our children.
(Kati & Henning van der Hoeven)