Using a wheelchair, scooter or power chair provides enhanced mobility in and around the house. Sometimes wheelchair users want to go further — across town, across the country or around the world — and the wheelchair has to go, too. Transporting the wheeler and wheelchair is a challenge not met without accommodations. Options are public transportation and private transportation. Today I am talking about wheelchairs and public transportation within the city and beyond.
The best solution is to live near shops, museums and restaurants, all connected by accessible sidewalks and over-street-walkways. In the real world, however, you must rely on transportation that accommodates both you and your chair, and that means adjustments must be made. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) sets specifications for vehicles transporting common wheelchairs.
A "common wheelchair is a mobility aid belonging to any class of three or four-wheeled devices, usable indoors, designed for and used by individuals with mobility impairments, whether operated manually or powered. A common wheelchair does not exceed 30 inches in width and 48 inches in length, measured two inches above the ground, and does not weigh more than 600 pounds when occupied." This definition includes any mobility device that fits the criteria, including scooters or POVs and power chairs.
The transporting vehicle operator must provide "safe and nondiscriminatory transportation" and may not deny boarding because the chair may be difficult to secure or may require high vehicle insurance rates.
Let's start with public transportation that is available to get you and your wheelchair around town.
Public Transportation within the City
Public transportation usually means cabs, buses, small rail or subway systems and, hopefully, paratransit systems. The Federal Transit Administration ensures compliance to ADA specifications.
Cabs — My scooter breaks down and easily fits into a car trunk. I have seen cab drivers who handle it well, who have a difficult time with it, and some who actually said they could not take the cart. It is awkward without experience, but it can be done.
Buses — Lift-equipped buses lower the front or open the back to allow wheeled entry. I have heard of complaints because it takes so long for the bus to allow wheelchair boarding. Diane J. Standiford tells us Seattle buses installed shields for driver safety, but they prevent scooters from boarding. There has to be a better way.
Subways — Subways require gap covers between the car and the platform for safer, easier boarding. Some cars, clearly marked, have special positions for wheelchairs/scooters, tie downs, and wheel locks. Some cities have accessible subways, and others are not quite there yet. New York, for example, is proud of accessiblity for buses, but I could find nothing about the expansive NYC subway system.
Paratransit — Many cities have door-to-door paratransit services that provide service for people who cannot ride fixed schedule buses. Individual trips are scheduled based on need. Vehicles are often able to transport mobility aids larger than a common wheelchair.
Public transportation does help wheelchair users move about the city, but we also use public transportation to travel the country and the world.
Traveling with Wheelchairs
Travel using public transportation usually means by air, rail, and bus. The Department of Transportation ensures compliance to ADA specifications.
Amigo's Friendly Wheels issue published earlier this year includes an article with Amigo owner Dan Rashal talking about his international travel and air travel tips. There are a couple of tips specific to POVs, that work with any brand. Be sure to plan ahead so you know where to go in the event there is a problem with your chair or scooter.
When traveling, it is important to relax, start early, plan ahead, and prepare to be flexible. Call ahead to the airport, rail or bus station and ask for a personal disability assistant to help organize your airport or station experiences. A manual wheelchair can be folded and a scooter can be broken down for storage. There may be questions about your batteries, but they are usually dry cell and cause no problem. Before you leave, brush up on your rights to minimize your chances of problems.
Air Travel — When flying with a disability, you will be among the first to board and one of the last to debark. Even if you have pre-arranged for your wheelchair to be ready right off the plane, remind your attendant. Most air carriers make use of an aisle chair to get you down the narrow aisle to your seat. There are helpful travel tips for everyone, but there are also tips for travel with wheelchairs. About.com talks about air travel when physical challenges are a factor. One way to travel light is to leave your wheelchair at home, and when you land, have a scooter waiting in the trunk of your rental car. Avis is the first rental car company to offer mobility scooters as well as other devices for disabled travelers who have rented a car.
Rail Travel — Travel by rail can be quite accessible as there is space on passenger trains for wheelchair accommodations. It is a good idea to reserve your space even on routes not normally booked by reservation. Here are some stories from 2005 just to give you a feeling of rail travel. Stories include a group that asks for special accommodations; Scotrail's very strict size limitations; Fall foliage in Maine on an accessible vintage train, and more. These stories entice you to try it, but remember that rail travel requires planning and flexibility, too.
Bus Travel — Lift-equipped buses follow the same guidelines for a city bus. An accompanying personal assistant may receive a 50% discount for the entire trip. A wheelchair damaged when stowed with baggage is covered for a limited amount around $250. Like rail, there is more information available for bus travel in Europe than in the US.
Group Tours — Groups arrange accessible tours and cruises for people with mobility problems and their families. They ensure travel vehicles and accommodations are accessible so you don't have to. They often provide licensed travel companions when needed. All of the planning is done. Your job is to select a tour and simply enjoy.
Your life is becoming mobilized. Whether you stay in your own town or travel the world, be sure to do your research to enjoy a stress-free time with your wheelchair. It's your world — enjoy it!
Next I will talk about private transportation issues covering cars and vans that accommodate and transport wheelchairs and scooters.
Notes and Links:
A Guide to Disability Rights
Questions and Answers Concerning Common Wheelchairs and Public Transit
Air Travel Tips
Published On: November 04, 2009