The world is becoming more accessible every day, but not every tourist attraction or activity has been built to accommodate wheelchairs.
When traveling around the world, I am often presented with opportunities to participate in activities or visit attractions that require me to leave my power wheelchair behind.
I’d like to discuss a few different activities and my thought process in deciding whether or not to make a go of it. I’ve said yes to some and no to others.
Boating Lake Naivasha in Kenya
On my recent trip to Kenya, I was presented with an opportunity to go boating on one of Kenya’s few freshwater lakes, the beautiful Lake Naivasha. Unfortunately, the boat wasn’t accessible. In order to ride, I would need to transfer into a manual wheelchair and be lifted into the boat.
Four men were tasked with lifting me and the manual wheelchair into the boat. The area where boarding took place was shallow, and I determined that the risk of injury was low. It also helped to know that many other wheelchair users had ridden before me, so I wasn’t the first!
When I got out on the water and circled around the beautiful Crescent Island with its giraffes, zebras, buffaloes and more, I was so glad that I had made the decision to go. It was an amazing experience!
Taking a dip in the swimming pool
Speaking of water – have you ever gone swimming?
I used to be a passionate and frequent swimmer, but I haven’t been in the pool since my car accident.
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires self-operating lifts like the one above at all public swimming pools, including those offered at hotels. In reviewing hotel accessibility, I always make sure the hotel has one, but have never actually used one to take a swim.
Because I normally travel alone, my reluctance is partially based in fear. And when I do travel with friends, I’m apprehensive about asking for their help in trying something for the first time. So, I don’t swim. I really need to get over that.
Do you swim? Do you feel safe? Please share your experiences with me in the comments!
Zip-lining in Las Vegas
I wet zip-lining for the first time in 2012, just a few months become my car accident. It was an adventure that took me through the treetops, across top bridges, up ladders and through the forest. After becoming a wheelchair user, I never expected to zip on a line again.
Enter the SlotZilla Zoomline in Las Vegas. It is probably the world’s most accessible zip line experience, and it was something I had to try.
My wheelchair couldn’t come along, but a friend kindly pushed it to the other end. A hydraulic mat allowed for a level transfer, and the ability to be suspended with pressure on my chest and torso eliminated the chance of a pressure sore developing on my backside (where I have had issues in the past). It was a fantastic experience and I highly recommend it!
Riding in a horse-drawn carriage in Egypt
Last month, my friend Michael from TravelZork flew out to meet me for the weekend in Cairo, Egypt. We planned to broadcast a Facebook Live video from the Pyramids at Giza, but found them closed to tourists on account of Ramadan. We were told the only way to get close to the pyramids was riding a horse-drawn carriage. My power wheelchair would have to be left behind.
I initially said no, refusing to risk riding in (and potentially falling out of) a carriage. But, not wanting to disappoint my Facebook fans or pass up a really unique opportunity, I agreed to go. Several Egyptian men helped to push me up too the carriage from my wheelchair, and we were off on what was a ride of about 45 minutes.
Shocker: Our taxi could have gotten us to the same spot. But, it was an experience. We paid a bit too much (don’t pay more than $15 per person and don’t tip more than $5 to the driver), but it left Michael and I with a story we will be telling for years to come. And that is what travel is all about.
As you may know, my greatest joy is being up in the air. But I’ve never gone sky-diving and, each time the opportunity presents itself, I decline.
It’s not a fear of heights that keeps me from jumping, but two concerns that I haven’t been able to resolve:
- No sky-diving outfit can assure me that a “hard landing” won’t occur. My body is fragile, the skin on my body is paper-thin in numerous areas and landing in the wrong way could result in skin grafting, months in the hospital and general misery.
- The answer to how long I’ll be disconnected from a comfortable pressure-relieving seat and my own wheelchair (before, during and after the flight) remains unclear and I always hope to limit that time to an hour or less.
If you have answers and a plan to let me fulfill my sky-diving dream, I’d love to hear! If you’ve been sky-diving with a disability of your own, please let me know how it went!
Riding a roller coaster
I have always loved roller coasters, but you definitely can’t strap a power wheelchair in for the ride.
Last year, I decided to give a relatively “tame” roller coaster—the Freedom Flyer at Fun Spot America in Orlando, Florida—a go, probably being the first triple amputee to ever ride it.
Riding the roller coaster required me to transfer from my wheelchair into the coaster’s seat, and it was certainly a little challenging. But the experience was safe, and I now feel empowered to give more theme park rides a go. I haven’t yet, but hope to in the near future.
If you’d like to ride a roller coaster yourself, be sure to read these tips for riding a roller coaster as a wheelchair user.
Things to consider before getting out of your wheelchair
Before deciding to get out of your chair and take part in an activity, here are some questions you should ask yourself.
- How long will you be away from your wheelchair?
- Will your wheelchair and belongings be secure while you are separated?
- Are people you trust going to be with you?
- Is the activity stationary, or will you be required to move independent of your personal mobility device?
- Can you take your wheelchair cushion with you to reduce the risk of a pressure sore?
- Will the activity be safe, or is there risk of injury?
- What does the “worst case scenario” look like if something goes wrong?
- Do you feel comfortable participating?
While I hope that technology and innovation will ultimately lead us to a world where everything is possible for everyone, we aren’t there yet. Before trying to make an inaccessible activity accessible, we must consider our own limitations and physical needs, weighing those against perceived risks the expected reward.
Are there any activities you’ve participated in that required you to leave your wheelchair behind? I’d love to hear about them inn the comments below!