Wheelchair Travel 101

There’s a lot of different ways to travel and being in a wheelchair can sometimes make things more challenging. Here are some of my experiences.

What to Bring When Traveling with a Disability

Packing is pretty simple. Take what you need: clothes, shoes, etc. Bring extra medicine. If you have an electric wheelchair, make sure you have your power charging cord. Contact information for a local Quantum dealer that is near your destination is helpful too, in case your wheelchair needs emergency repairs.

Traveling in a Car with a Wheelchair

My first time traveling with a wheelchair was probably a couple years after my accident. I went to Chicago, which is about five hours from St Louis. I rode in an accessible van. It was a bumpy ride and definitely a learning experience.

Traveling in a Plane with a Wheelchair

Going through TSA can be a little intense. If anything, it feels more invasive for us electric wheelchair users because of the process that they go through to check over your wheelchair. When you get to the airport, you go to TSA and you go through the line and they scan your ticket and ID and everything, they ask you to come to one side and you can either get a pat down in public or in private. After you go down through the pat down then, they check your electric wheelchair for any chemicals. Once that’s done, you’re free as a bird. It’s not that bad, but some people it may feel a little invasive.  

Getting onto a plane can be easy or difficult depending on your situation, the airport’s accessibility and how accommodating the airline is as well. Most airlines I’ve used had assistance if needed to get on and off the plane, and to get in and out of the plane seat and into my electric wheelchair. The key is to get there early, get your ticket and be up front and waiting for them. Everything moves very fast. Depending on the airline you may sit up front, although other airlines will make you sit in your assigned seat.

The most important thing is to advocate for yourself to the best of your ability. From getting to the gate to the plane, you need to talk to the staff that’s helping you, (or have your caregiver speak to them) so they can do their best to assist you.

Using the Toilet on a Plane with a Disability

When it comes to using the bathroom on the plane, the airline staff is very helpful and discreet. I have a catheter and I have a leg bag. When it fills up, I can empty it straight into a container while sitting in my seat, then thrown it into the bathroom receptacle later. Make sure you’re always carrying a portable urinal as well.

Pressure Management on a Plane

When I’m traveling on plane, I always remove the cushion before the airline staff takes the chair away to load it onto the plane. This way I have my cushion to use while I am sitting in the airplane seat for good pressure management.

Wheelchair Accessibility at Your Destination

Always make sure you plan ahead, not just for traveling on a plane but also for your final destination. I have learned over the years that different cities and states have different ideas of wheelchair accessibility. Look into wheelchair accessible vans through Uber and any other potential transportation methods that are accessible. Always call the hotel in advance to see what kind of accessibility they offer. It’s good to have two or three options to choose from. Most cities are ADA compliant, but you never know. What may be compliant for one wheelchair user may not be accessible for you.  You should always check the hotel for any accommodations, like a roll-in shower or grab bars. They can help with as well with finding accessible restaurants, transportation and tourist areas, as they know your current location better than you.  

I don’t have a favorite city for accessibility because there are so many cities I haven’t been to yet. My  favorite traveling experience in terms of accessibility was when I went from St Louis to Houston, Texas. It was a really smooth transition for me.

About Jesse Cuellar: Jesse is an artist and a brand ambassador for Quantum Rehab®. An accident left him paralyzed from the neck down, so he uses his mouth to paint and expresses himself through his art. Jesse lives in St. Louis, Missouri, and enjoys painting and hanging out with his friends. Click here to learn more about Jesse.