Sharon Fuller has over thirty years personal experience using a wheelchair after a spinal cord injury. Currently she is the Social Media & Web Coordinator at Disability Action Center NW. Adept in technology and providing peer support, she advocates for Independent Living by providing content for DAC’s Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Blog and Website. She enjoys educating the general public on all things disability related and currently works from her home in Idaho.
Travelling with a disability is far from easy. But it is exactly what I have been doing for the past 36 years. I’ve had my disability since 1978 after sustaining a spinal cord injury in a car wreck. At that time I was 20 years old and still believed I had the world at my feet and after rehabilitation, I would continue to live my life as I wanted to: working, shopping, going out to dinner, having adventures with friends and family and travelling.
In 1978, rehabilitation meant learning to dress yourself, transfer in and out of your chair, safely cook in a kitchen that was not designed for a wheelchair – basically doing everything just a little bit lower than face level.
The first step in continuing a normal life (pre-injury) I purchased a van, equipped with a wheelchair lift and hand controls. Now I would have my independence back!
It didn’t take long to realize that I was now living in a world that was approximately 90% inaccessible to me without assistance, at least one person to help me with curbs, stairs, heavy doors and other barricades that were not taken into consideration when design was done.
Fortunately, due to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility and accommodation for all types of disability are being considered in the beginning phases of architectural design, city planning, and other forms of daily living. But inevitably, some form of in-access will need to be addressed before venturing into unfamiliar territory.
Here are just a few of the things that I do in before going to an area or building that is new to me.
- I go online (hopefully the business website is accessible) and see details about their accessibility. For example, thick carpet can be exhausting when using a manual wheelchair.
- I Google the “street view” to look for barriers to the entrance of a building. I may even go so far as to drive by ahead of time to see if it’s accessible. I call the business and speak with the manager. I ask if there is accessible parking that is well lit near the entrance? Are there automatic doors, assistance to help with my bags?
- If it’s a hotel is there a lip around the roll in shower or is it flush with the floor? (I dislike doing wheelies)
- Is there a mirror at counter level? If it’s even a few inches higher it makes it impossible to see anything but the top of your head!
By asking questions like these in advance I can save a lot of difficulties and not end up trying to find another business that’s accessible. Most businesses are more than happy and willing to accommodate me. I have even had the staff take photos and measurements of doorways, and decks/balconies and email them to me in case some aspect of the accessibility looks questionable. A website like BluePath will remove this laborious task and make access to a community much easier. A simple search and I can find hotels, restaurants, stores and more that I will be confident are accessible to me.
In closing, I’d like to suggest that, if possible, always carry your cell phone. You never know when you might need to call the front desk from your beautiful ocean view balcony and ask if there might be a staff person available to come help you get back into your room because you inadvertently managed to get your wheelchair lodged between two deck chairs and are unable to untangle yourself…yes that would be me!