Traveling While Disabled

While most of our Cedar Point trip was really fun (you can read my trip recap post), there were a few things that went wrong. For most people, they probably would’ve been minor, and they would’ve shrugged them off as no big deal. And while they didn’t derail our trip, they did have a bigger impact for us, because of all the logistics involved around traveling with a disability. So today, I wanted to talk about hotel amenities and traveling while disabled, going beyond grab bars and elevators and lowered peepholes.

Heather, a white woman in a power wheelchair, is wearing a short sleeved leopard print dress. She's posing in front of a carousel horse in the lobby of the Hotel Breakers at Cedar Point.
Processed with Focos

I should start by saying that I absolutely love to travel, but it can also be exhausting for me. Just holding my head up in the car for a three hour road trip leaves my muscles feeling physically worn out when we arrive – it’s just like a workout for my body! There’s also a ton of logistics involved in traveling by car for us – since my sister and I both use wheelchairs, all of the luggage has to be packed carefully around us like a game of Tetris. And a lot of it isn’t clothes and shoes – it’s breathing machines and feeding tube equipment and other medically needed things. And it’s a LOT of things. Because of the tight spacing, and because the whole bathroom process can take a while, my sister and I try not to stop for bathroom breaks while we’re driving, and don’t drink too much to help us avoid needing to go. So when we get to a hotel, we are tired, hungry, thirsty, and have to pee!

Unloading the car can take a while because of all the luggage and equipment. So when that’s all done, the next thing that’s on my mind is FOOD. Because I’m so tired, I like to order in food to eat in the room – that way we can settle in while I eat. When we got to the hotel at Cedar Point and called to place our takeout order at TGIFridays at 8:15 PM, we were told that because they were short staffed, they were only doing dine in after 8 PM. We tried to plead our case a bit – explained that we had just arrived and our disability made it difficult to dine in at that time, made sure they knew we just wanted take out and not delivery, and asked if they could be flexible because it was only 15 minutes after their deadline – but they weren’t having it. (And this is still in the midst of a pandemic… where, in my opinion, making the call to do takeout only rather than dine in only would be the right one!)

So instead, we spent the next hour-ish finding somewhere we could get food from, ordering, and getting it picked up and back to the hotel. It was close to 10:30 PM by the time we were eating! It just got the night off to a very late start, and made all of the medical equipment unpacking and setting up happen a few hours later than it would have otherwise. When we’re already tired from the drive, it just makes everything a little bit harder – all for something that could have been avoided pretty easily, or at least could have been communicated ahead of time so we could’ve planned accordingly.

The rest of the trip had a few more little issues like this – things that seem like no big deal but actually make things much more challenging. We booked a wheelchair accessible room, but there were no desks or tables at wheelchair height – just one low coffee table in front of the couch. So my sister and I had to use an ironing board as a table (and had actually luckily packed a collapsible tray table that we used, too). There was no coffee maker in the room, and no free coffee in the lobby, either. You had to go to either Starbucks or Perkins, both of which had 20-30 minute takeout lines and didn’t open until 7 AM. I take one of my morning medications mixed in with my coffee, so we had to spend 30 minutes each morning when we could have been getting ready just waiting in line for a cup of regular coffee. We had opted for a room on the Concierge floor so that we’d have access to coffee and pastries in their lounge, but that ended up being closed too due to staffing… which we were never told, even when we checked in.

On their own, none of these seem like a big deal – but they add up, and they especially add up when there is already so much involved in traveling for us. The option to get take out, having easy access to coffee – these are typically just thought of as extra amenities, but for us, they really do make a trip more accessible. And when they’re not there, they make everything more difficult, during a time that’s supposed to be about getting away and relaxing. Having grabs bars and an elevator to the room is great – it’s one step, but it doesn’t mean that accessibility needs stop there. In fact, it’s often the little things that make or break a trip for me.

I guess that I don’t really have a call to action for this post, there’s nothing that I need you to do or change. But I just wanted to share a little peek behind the curtain – the less glossy side of what traveling while disabled can be like. The reality isn’t nearly as Instagrammable, but it is real, and I think that’s important to share.

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